Canary Islands: 100% Electricity from renewables is possible and economically viable

The Canary Islands could meet their entire electricity requirements from renewable energy sources by 2050, thereby establishing a sustainable, zero-emission and economically viable long-term energy supply, as demonstrated by a recently published study produced by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on behalf of Greenpeace. Systems analysts at the DLR Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics describe and compare two different development scenarios for the Spanish archipelago’s energy supply: the energy [r]evolution scenario describes how a near zero-emission energy supply can be achieved by 2050 by implementing efficiency measures and fully converting to renewable energies. The reference scenario describes the situation if the existing energy production system is continued.

Converting to renewable energy is also economically viable

The Canary Islands currently meet almost all of their electricity requirements from oil, yet their surroundings are favourable for the intensive use of renewable resources such as solar, wind and marine power. The energy [r]evolution scenario shows how the dependence on oil can be stopped, thereby eliminating emissions and the cost of purchasing fossil fuels – without having to swap to natural gas during this transition phase. DLR researchers estimate the total investment costs required to implement this scenario by 2050 to be 20 billion euro. This is offset by a saving of 42 billion euro in fossil fuel resources for the same period. “According to our calculations, the money saved from not having to purchase oil would cover the entire investment and also allow the construction of additional supporting infrastructure, such as energy storage systems and power networks, for example,” summarised DLR researcher Sonja Simon, who had the overall responsibility for the regional energy scenario developed at DLR. There are also significant differences in the costs of electricity generation: in the energy [r]evolution scenario, the price of a kilowatt hour in 2050 will be 17-20 cents, including storage systems and network expansion, and in the reference scenario with no additional infrastructure, this will be 23 cents.

Falling demand for energy and extensive electrification

With regard to the overall energy demand, the study assumes that this will fall by 37 percent in the progressive scenario – mainly as a result of extensive energy efficiency measures – without having an adverse effect on the energy reliability and comfort. At the same time, the share taken up by electricity in the overall demand will increase. One reason for this is the electrification of transport thanks to the rapid introduction of electric vehicles, as envisaged by the study. The transport sector on the Canary Islands sees a high proportion of private vehicles. At the same time, the islands provide most favourable conditions for eMobility, as for geographic reasons only short distances are travelled.

Solar and wind power as dominant technologies

To fully convert the archipelago’s energy system to renewable energies, turbines with a total output of 12 gigawatts must be gradually installed by 2050. Photovoltaic, wind and solar thermal energy will therefore be the most widely used technologies and together they will supply over 80 percent of electricity. Geothermal, biomass and marine power should also be used. “It is important for us that a balanced combination is made, which is not too one-sided and dependent on a single technology. We aim to use each technology according to its benefits and create redundancies, so that we can also offset specific uncertainties in the future technological developments,” explains Simon.

Network expansion affects generation structure

In three sub-scenarios, DLR researchers also investigated how the expansion of the electricity network across the entire archipelago (Grid+) and by demand side management (DSM) differ from the base scenario, which mainly relies on the existing network infrastructure and planning and only connects the islands to a limited extent. These differences lie mainly in the generation structure and respective installed capacities. Potential network expansion (Grid+) has a specific impact on the role of offshore wind farms. In all three sub-scenarios, photovoltaic power will play the biggest role in electricity generation and be the principal contributor by 2020, together with wind power. In addition to the further expansion of photovoltaic and wind power, solar and geothermal power will come into play, especially to ensure that the minimum load requirements are reliably covered.