If you live on an island in the ocean, energy and climate issues come together in a palpable way. Most small island developing states depend heavily on imported fossil fuels, especially diesel, for their power. For remote islands, in the Pacific for example, the fuel must be shipped over long distances. It’s expensive, the supply is limited and intermittent, and paying for it stretches government budgets. Because of this, low-income families and communities often rely instead on kerosene, and wood or other biomass for lighting and cooking.
Then there is the climate angle. Even if the fossil-fuel-based energy consumption of island-dwellers constitutes a relatively small carbon footprint, the sea-level rise associated with climate change driven by the much larger carbon footprints of others hits small islands first and hardest.
To address this, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) developed the SIDS DOCK initiative  in 2010 to match these vulnerable countries with climate finance.
At the same time, the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), UNDP, AOSIS, and the governments of Denmark and Japan set up the SIDS DOCK Support Program . It’s designed to help developing island countries build sustainable energy systems.
Part of this effort is an awards competition for energy innovators and entrepreneurs from small island states. These ‘Awards for Small Island Developing States’ constitute a new category for the already well-known Ashden Awards. I had the honor of presenting these awards at a ceremony in London June 20. I was inspired by the people behind these innovations. They have found ways to deliver affordable energy solutions that are tailored to life on their islands. I was inspired by the people behind the Ashden Awards too—they are making this innovation known to others who can use this knowledge to transform lives. Four finalists were chosen:
- The National Development Bank of Palau, for its program to integrate energy efficiency promotion into mortgage lending for new homes. The bank provides a subsidy to borrowers, based on energy efficiency measures verified in the final home inspection. Since 2010, nearly all newly-built homes in Palau have included energy-saving features, reducing demand for energy-intensive air conditioning has gone down.
- D&E Green Enterprises produces and sells the EcoRecho stove, a cleaner and more fuel-efficient alternative to charcoal stoves used by over 95% of Haitian households. The January 2010 earthquake destroyed D & E’s factory, but production continued in tents. The business is doing well now, having sold 33,000 stoves in three years, and reducing pressure on Haiti’s severely depleted wood resources.
- Using an innovative distribution model that includes direct sales as well as working through youth groups and microfinance providers, Vanuatu’s Green Power has sold over 40,000 affordable solar lanterns since late 2009. With community leaders often buying lanterns on behalf of households on more remote islands, the majority of the island’s off-grid households now have clean electric light.
- The public-private partnership of Cabeólica in Cape Verde, off the West African coast, has harnessed wind power to help it reduce diesel import costs and increase its energy security. In its first year of commercial operation, 25.5 MW of windfarms have generated over a fifth of the electricity consumed on the country’s four main islands.
I was impressed that all four finalists went beyond proposing an idea. All had put their ideas into practice. All of them came straight from their daily lives, adapted to island conditions, and priced so that local people can afford them. All could be replicated on other islands. And Ashden made that replication possible by shining a spotlight on these innovations.