The development of alternative energy systems is a crucial issue in many small-island situations, often almost totally dependent upon a steady supply of seaborne petroleum products. In the last couple of decades, virtually every avenue that might contribute to greater self-sufficiency for island communities has been explored, including feasibility studies, demonstration projects and commercial development of a range of energy sources including hydropower, wind, ocean waves, solar and geothermal energy, municipal solid waste, and biogas. In many cases, progress in alternative development has fallen short of expectations. Shortfalls between hopes and accomplishments have been attributed to many factors, including inadequate resource assessments, poorly conceived projects based on unworkable assumptions, and opposition by environmental and other groups.
The main focus for UNESCO work on renewable energy is provided by the Organization’s programmes in the basic and engineering sciences, and more particularly in its involvement in the scientific underpinnings of efforts for harnessing clean energy sources. This work, which dates back to the mid-1950s, was boosted in the 1990s by the World Solar Summit process (1993-1995). As part of this process, a series of learning materials in engineering sciences was prepared in cooperation with the International Technology University, including modules on new and renewable energy.
Furthering renewable energy technologies as a tool for sustainable development has subsequently provided the focus of UNESCO’s contribution to the United Nations World Solar Programme (1996-2005). Capacity-building aspects include the Global Renewable Energy and Training Programme (GREET). Other component activities include support to the development of ‘solar villages’ and other high priority national projects on renewable energies. Examples in Barbados include the installation of solar photovoltaic systems for making ice at fishing villages, for lighting at governmental headquarters and at Harrison’s Cave (the island’s most popular tourist attraction), and for computer laboratories at local high schools.
Capacity-building activities include summer schools and ‘training of trainers’ sessions, designed to enhance the knowledge of managers, engineers, technicians and trainers on the use, application and management of renewable energy technologies. A «Renewable Energy Training Platform» comprises an adapted training tool for diffusing renewable energy knowledge for decentralized electrification.
At the regional level, support is provided to the promotion of sustainable energy in Pacific island countries, which focuses on training and research in engineering science and technology, in particular renewable energy applications and appropriate community technology. Joint UNESCO-UNDP activities involve cooperation with a range of national bodies and regional organizations, including the South Pacific Applied Geosciences Commission (SOPAC) and the University of the South Pacific (USP). Recent and ongoing activities include support to a national energy policy and strategic action plan for Tokelau, a feasibility study on power options for 24-hour power for Apolima Island (Samoa), technical assistance to grid-connected wind power on Niue and the increased use of renewable energies in the Cook Islands, publication of teaching and information materials on renewable energy issues, training in photovoltaic solar home systems.
Experience in the Pacific has also been central in the elaboration and testing of a UNESCO toolkit of learning and teaching materials on solar photovoltaic, comprising a technical training manual and a companion volume for teachers. The overall goal of the toolkit is to provide wide-ranging information and training material for the development of solar photovoltaic systems, with special emphasis on their use for domestic purposes in rural areas. Aspects addressed include installation, operation, monitoring and evaluation, management, maintenance, rehabilitation, awareness-raising, advocacy, innovation, policy and planning.
Related training and information materials include a multi-authored technical guide on geothermal energy and geothermal exploitation, with each contributing author addressing a specific area relating to the uses of geothermal energy, effects on communities, and economic and regulatory aspects. Among the materials for non-technical audiences is a set of videos with accompanying booklet on the history and prospects of renewable energy in the Pacific Islands.
- Regional Workshops on Renewable Energy
- Mondialogo Engineering Awards
- Rays of Hope: Renewable Energy in the Pacific Islands
- Teaching and Learning Materials
- INSULA and Insular Energy
- UNESCO Focal Points for ‘Renewable Energy’ in SIDS Regions