By Erik Johnson
Fundraising and Strategy Coordinator, Solar Head of State
Small island developing states (SIDS) are some of the most susceptible to the effects of climate change. Accordingly, they have taken strong initiative to scale back emissions and embrace renewable energy. Guadeloupe, Haiti, and Saint Martin have committed to sourcing at least 50% of their national energy consumption from renewables before 2030. Aruba and Grenada have both pledged 100% by 2020 and 2030, respectively. Costa Rica (not an island itself, but with many similar features to SIDS) has been running entirely on 100% renewable energy for the past two months.
In the Caribbean, Saint Lucia has ambitious plans to increase its use of renewables. The 180,000 islanders are currently paying a staggering US$0.38/kWh for their electricity, most of which is generated from imported diesel. The island aims to reach 35% renewable energy by 2020, using a mix of wind, solar, and geothermal resources.
To kickstart this campaign, the island last week took the historic step of installing solar on the national executive residence, Government House, as part of the Solar Head of State program. This makes Saint Lucia the third country in the world to have solar panels on their leader’s official residence, following the United States and the Maldives.
Solar Head of State is a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, that assembled a coalition of donors to carry out the installation. Panels and were donated by Trina Solar and installed by Free Island Energy in partnership with local company Noah Energy. Enphase Energy contributed inverters for the installation, and further funds were donated by Sungevity and the California Clean Energy Fund. Support was also received from Elms Consulting, a London-based strategic consulting firm working to accelerate sustainable development on islands. Australian firms Wattwatchers and Solar Analytics provided system-monitoring expertise and equipment.
Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, is a key supporter of the project. “It’s wonderful to see this type of leadership for a cleaner and brighter future in this region that I love so much — and from a small island too! Congratulations, Saint Lucia and Solar Head of State on this fantastic initiative that sends a positive and strong message to the world,” he stated.
The array serves to spur further pro-renewable policy, and stimulate political action around the world. By installing panels on such an iconic government building, Saint Lucia’s leaders hope to encourage other political figures to take more urgent action against climate change.
James Ellsmoor, Executive Director of Solar Head of State, said, “Saint Lucia contributes to only 0.0015% of global carbon emissions, but is aims to be a leader in decarbonization. This installation is a very visible statement of the need to pursue clean energy at a global scale and is a way for Saint Lucia to showcase its goals to the rest of the world. Other world leaders see that island countries are already making tangible actions, and that creates a very encouraging environment to push for more progress.”
Solar Head of State Advisors Danny Kennedy, co-founder of Sungevity, and Mohamed Nasheed, Former President of the Maldives, were featured in Al-Jazeera this week to discuss the role of island nations like Saint Lucia.
“Many people don’t yet realise that renewables are winning against fossil fuels. Coal, oil and natural gas are on the way out and their decline is irreversible,” said Kennedy.
Nasheed added, “Island nations are leading the charge towards renewable energy. Saint Lucia has already ratified the Paris Agreement and this solar installation on Government House is symbolic of the work that small island developing states are doing worldwide to transition their economies to a clean energy future.”
For Saint Lucia, this is just the start of a journey. Next year the island’s first utility-scale solar project will be installed — a 3MW system that is expected to meet around 5-8% of national demand. Combined with upcoming investments in other projects, Saint Lucia could very soon be a model for larger nations to look to when they implement renewable energy.