La Reunion: the renewable energy labolatory
France has many territories outside the European continent. Almost all overseas territories are isolated islands and because of their geography, they are hyghly dependent on fossil energy imports. In 2013, in most of these islands, the fossil fuels part in primary energy consumption was nearly 100%. Yet they have enormous potential in terms of solar, wind, geothermal, hydraylic and other renewable energies. Indeed, with regard to the 23% metropolitan objective of renewable energy by 2020, the overseas departments are already well advanced.
I decided to take the example of the Indian Ocean department, la Reunion, because its often presented as the renewable energy labolatory. More than 35% of the electricity consumption is provided by sun, water and wind and the island doesn’t lack ambition with the goal of 100% green energy by 2030. La Reunion is on its way to the energy transition for green growth.
Netherless, local elected representatives remain skeptical: Reunion can be connected to any other network in case of energy lack and its population growth is likely to reach 1 million by 2040. Because of this demographic evolution, the increase in electricity demand is very high: between 5 and 8% per year.
The road will be long before reaching energy independance. Currently, 63% of the electricity production remain linked to fossil fuels. Mostly coal from South Africa, as well as gasoline, gas and fuel oil from other countries.
However, many renewable projects are being developped. Indeed, one of the largest photovoltaic power plants in France was installed in 2010 in the south of the island. With more than 6,000 panels spread over an area of 10,000 square meters and benefiting from an average annual sunshine of 1,350 hours, it will produce 1.350 MWh per year, equivalent to the average consumption of 300 EDF customers.
There is an experimentation of new solar migro-grids this year by EDF in Mafate, an isolated community of Reunion. It should enable this community to have an autonomous power supply with photovoltaic panels and hydrogen batteries with a very long storage capacity.
Finally, 12,000 homes have been equipped with solar water heaters, notably thanks to public financial aid (local, national and European), a voluntary local businesses approach and a gradual population awareness.
To win the energy bet and its energy autonomy, over prominsing projects are being developped as the exploitation of marine and geothermal energies, but also in over sectors.
Pierre LE HIR, “La Réunion face au défi de la transition”, Le Monde Hors-Série, Novembre 2015 – Janvier 2016, pp. 78-81.