July 25, 2018 / 11:34 AM / 3 months ago

Smart move: English islands fight fuel poverty with clean energy

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Solar panels and smart batteries could help cut electricity bills by almost half for people on the Isles of Scilly, a British energy storage provider said as it launched a renewable energy program on the group of Cornish islands.

The Smart Energy Islands project aims to slash climate-changing emissions, improve the power supply and lower costs for “fuel-poor” residents of five inhabited islands, 45 km (28 miles) off England’s southwest coast, energy firm Moixa said.

The Isles of Scilly aim to generate 40 percent of their energy from renewable sources, and make 40 percent of vehicles driven there electric or low-carbon by 2025.

A 55-km undersea cable is now the only connection between the Isles of Scilly and the UK’s national grid. Last year, islanders had to rely on diesel generators for almost two weeks after the cable was damaged by a fishing boat.

The isles’ dependence on imported fuel has left many families with unreliable heating systems and expensive bills. Electricity costs per household are about 30 percent higher than in Cornwall, according to Moixa.

Of the islands’ 2,200 residents, about 15.5 percent cannot afford to heat their homes, compared to roughly 11 percent across England, a government report said this year.

The project, costing 10.8 million pounds ($14.2 million) and partly financed by the European Regional Development Fund, will install solar panels on more than 70 council houses, as well as smart water heaters and smart batteries in homes and businesses.

The islands will cut planet-warming carbon emissions by nearly 900 tonnes per year once the solar panels are operating, according to Moixa.

The combined technologies, due to be installed by this autumn, will provide islanders with a reliable electricity supply year-round, and could reduce their bills by as much as 40 percent, said Chris Wright, Moixa’s chief technology officer.

The smart batteries put in by the company will store surplus power and release it when demand peaks, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The system delivers flexibility and manages the load on the grid,” he said.

The project, led by Hitachi Europe Ltd, offers a blueprint for other small islands and cities across Europe, Wright noted.

“The Isles of Scilly are a small community but can be seen as a prototype city,” he said.

The project is “a precursor for what energy systems might look like in a few years’ time”, he added.

($1 = 0.7598 pounds)

Reporting by Isabelle Gerretsen. Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

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