tirsdag 30. september 2014

Decentralised mini-grids based on renewable energy - Case Study: Svalbard

Group work, NorRen Summer School, by
Sara Ghaem Sigarchian, PhD candidate at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
Chiara Bordin, PhD candidate University of Bologna, Italy
Dr. Gideon Goldwine, Ben-Gurion University, Israel
Fabio Buonsanti, Head of Operations Norway at Aega AS, Norway
Georgios Fytianos, PhD candidate at NTNU, Norway

What we would like to focus on is something that could be considered a bridge between policy and science section, and something that lies on the edge of this summer school and that reflects both our interdisciplinary backgrounds and the interdisciplinary nature of the research institutes to which we belong to.
Svalbard is the vastest and northernmost wild area in Western Europe, that sixty percent of the archipelago is glacier and it is a paradise for rare species of seabirds.

As a country with well-established traditions in environmental and climate research, it was highly surprising to learn about the controversial choice of Norway to encourage a coal enterprise on Svalbard.
This circumstance seems clearly related to the interpretation of the Spitsbergen Treaty, which allows citizens from signatory countries to benefit from the same rights as Norwegians when it comes to engage in industrial activities as mining, fishing or hunting, and to conduct scientific research. That explains the presence of a small Polish scientific base in Hornsund and the Russian mine in Barentsburg. 
Such clauses though can also be considered as “open doors” for countries like Russia, ready to claim the whole archipelago in case of Norwegian abandonment. From a Norwegian political perspective, building a strong community, Longyearbyen, with its campus and a raising business around tourism make a lot of sense. What is less clear, though, is the push for a systematic and extensive exploitation of mineral resources in such a fragile environment.
On one hand, despite an extremely low production and productivity, Russia unexplainably keeps on running its mine in Barentsburg, on the other hand Norway is afraid to slow down its production of coal because uncertain are the reactions of the community settled in Longyearbyen, which is believed to directly or indirectly make a living out of the coal enterprise.
Norway’s official position was once made no secret by Robert Hermansen, former managing director of SNSK, a partially State-ownded Norwegian mining company: “To keep control of Svalbard we have to have a community here. If we left, the Russians would immediately claim it”. With these words Hermansen implicitly stated what’s politically needed is only a stable settlement, not a polluting mine! 

In these terms it becomes quite complicated for Norway, an oil producer, to justify the subsidies given to the only coal industry of the country and the embarrassment of the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament) grows even more with the boosted production after the new mine that was opened in 2013, a decision that explicitly admits the failure of the much advertised goal to make Svalbard “one of the best-managed wilderness areas in the world”. Norway is today the world’s sixth largest exporter of oil, and the second largest supplier of natural gas to the EU. These data do not necessarily collide with taking an international leadership in environmental politics, especially if we consider the possibility for industrialized countries to achieve the targets ratified in Kyoto by action abroad, rather than at home.
Internationally, Norway chose to justify its oil and gas as products by arguing that they pollute less than coal. In such perspective oil and gas become "green" options as opposed to coal.
The emission of CO2 within the archipelago in 2007 surprisingly account for only 1% of the carbon dioxide emitted from the mainland in the same year (KLIF 2009). This is a very small number, as seen in these terms. If, instead, we espouse the more sustainable sharing theory of per-capita emissions and consider Svalbard as something apart as they say, then we realise how intolerable is the current situation, where the per-capita emission of CO2 in 2007 is 181 tons: 3 times more than that of a citizen of Qatar, the country with the highest per-capita emission in the world (55.4 tons); 20 times more than a Norwegian living on the mainland (9.1 tons); 36 times more than a Chinese (5 tons); and 129 times more than an Indian (1.4 tons).

Our feasibility study showed that there are big untapped resources of wind and sun complementary assets that, if exploited, could potentially free Longyearbyen from its energy dependence on a polluting and finite fossil reserve (measurements are taken at the airport = sea level. +30% of wind on top of a hill). Of course, today’s logistical, operational and engineering challenges, especially when it comes to exploiting wind, are enormous, from storage- to permafrost-related issues and crossing seabirds danger. At the moment, PV is the only practicable renewable technology on Svalbard, although only for a few months a year (basically from April to August). The almost nonexistent cloud coverage, scarce level of precipitations, low temperatures, and land availability, make Longyearbyen a theoretical perfect place for its implementation. Even if alone it will hardly reach the same potential of wind in meeting Longyearbyen’s energy demand, it could still play an important role in terms of immediate reduction of local GHG emissions. Thus, I argue the need to prioritise its diffusion as soon as possible.

The quality of PV projects in Polar environments has already been tested. Summit Station in Greenland, and most of the research stations in Antarctica, for example, use photovoltaic panels as a complementary source of wind turbines  to enhance reliability in less windy or dark periods, feeding common battery banks in so called “hybrid systems”
A reduction of local GHG emissions may not only slow down Svalbard’s ecological degradation and buy precious time for humans and other species to adapt to climate change. It would certainly lead to the loss of CO2 per-capita emissions’ world record, which today belongs to Svalbard’s inhabitants.

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