Reunion island, showcase of innovative technologies and public policies for bio-economic development

A graduate of the Political Studies Institute of Aix-en-Provence and former French MP, Didier Robert has been President of the Regional Council of Reunion Island since 2010. Reunion Region has just joined the cluster of CPMR islands within the SMILEGOV project, which aims to help EU islands identify and overcome barriers to multi-governance when drawing up their sustainable energy action plans. As part of the activities of the project, Didier Robert describes the characteristics of his island’s energy policy and the unique advances in renewable energy implemented in the region, which is a real powerhouse of expertise and innovation.



1 - What are the specific features of your region that are influencing its energy policy?

Reunion Island is a French and European region that is one of the furthest away from France and Europe.

A volcanic island located in the tropics, it has over twenty microclimates and a striking array of landscapes. Since 2011, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The features of this small area of land in the Indian Ocean make it an exceptional territory vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and therefore particularly involved in tackling this phenomenon and developing renewable energy.

As a general rule, all the specific features related to our insularity strongly influence public policies on energy.

Since we are classed as a non-interconnected area, this implies the need to develop local means of production capable of meeting the energy needs of the population, e.g. thermal and hydroelectric plants, wind and solar farms.

The characteristics of our humid tropical climate (high temperature, high humidity, lots of sunshine, regular force of the tradewind, southerly swells) are constraints we need to address with strategic town planning policies (bioclimatic housing, passive energy buildings) and energy management policies (Energy Solidarity Network with energy ambassadors working on the ground giving practical advice to households). But they are also assets enabling us to develop innovative projects, especially in marine energy - both thermal and dynamic. We are working on the OTEC and PELAMIS wave power technologies, and have already managed to bring into service on a reduced scale the first European prototype for ocean thermal energy (PAT ETM).

It might well be small, but thanks to its mixed race population and its attachment to France and the European Union, Reunion is spreading its influence throughout the Indian Ocean, and presenting itself as a showcase for innovative technologies and public policies to promote a low carbon economy and support jobs.

Reunion wants to set an example. Showing a political will to develop local renewable energy while preserving the natural resources and biodiversity of the island is the major focus of the strategic guidelines implemented by the island, which is already well on its way towards a bio-based economy.

For all vulnerable and outermost island territories, Reunion aims to become a world laboratory for “green policies”.

This is because the energy policy we are introducing is commensurate with our goal of achieving self-sufficiency in electricity production by 2030.

In this regard, being part of France and the European Union is an advantage that allows us to draw on significant funding for flagship projects, to benefit from a legal and legislative framework and be part of a national and international dynamic.

Our energy policy aims to be proactive, dynamic and ambitious, but above all innovative in order to transform the constraints of remoteness and insularity into assets for bio-economic development.



Do you have a strategic plan or an action plan for the energy sector and transport sectors in your region?

French legislation requires regions, in liaison with their associated prefecture, to draw up a strategic document defining the territory’s guidelines and objectives with regard to tackling climate change (mitigation, adaptation) and air pollution.

The document, called the Schéma Régional Climat Air Énergie or SRCAE (Regional Plan for Climate, Air & Energy), which we have developed jointly with national government departments, was approved at the end of 2013.

It now serves as the reference document setting out strategic guidelines and targets for the two main regional challenges that have been identified.

  • The “GHG” challenge (Greenhouse Gases): this consists in reducing CO2 emissions related to the combustion of fossil fuels in the transport and electricity production sectors, which represent the bulk of Reunion Island’s GHG emissions.
  • The “Energy” challenge: this is a proactive policy to manage energy consumption and develop renewable energy sources that we are implementing in order, as I said, for Reunion Island to become self-sufficient in energy by 2030.

To assess our progress, Reunion’s SRCAE sets five quantitative targets:

  • Achieve 50% of renewable energy in the electricity mix by 2020 and achieve self-sufficiency in 2030
  • Reduce GHG emissions by 10% in 2020 compared to 2011
  • Improve the overall energy efficiency of power consumption by 10% in 2020 and 20% in 2030 compared to mainstream trends
  • Reduce by 10% the volume of imported fossil fuel for the transport sector in 2020 compared to 2011
  • Provide 50-60 % of homes with solar-powered hot water by 2020 and 70-80 % in 2030

 

How is governance on energy organised at the regional level and with which other partners?

The governance system we have put in place to implement the energy and GHG guidelines set out in the SRCAE is a true partnership-based system made up of organisations involved in energy and environmental policies. This gives us an overall strategic vision of the issues, enables us to share and converge projects, and above all allows for constructive dialogue. It is organised into three components:

  • A strategic steering committee with the Region as leader, in partnership with the State, ADEME (Government Environment & Energy Agency), the County Council, SIDELEC and EDF, where:

EDF is the operator in charge of power production and transmission;

SIDELEC is the union of municipalities managing the electricity distribution network;

ADEME is the government structure financing the renewable energy policy.

  • A technical coordinator and facilitator: SPL Énergies Réunion
  • Seven working committees including:

- Five committees responsible for implementing the strategic guidelines on renewable energy, energy efficiency, fuel poverty and spatial planning (with a climate, research and innovation component).

The advisors and partners of these committees are private and public sector bodies (Nexa, Agorah, Témergie, Club Export, La Réunion Économique, University of Reunion Island)

- Two cross-cutting committees, one dealing with financial and legal engineering for major flagship projects (Marine STEP in the south of the island), and the other on regional and international cooperation.

Below is a diagram of the governance structure (see image gallery *)

 

What resources or arrangements have been set up to overcome governance barriers related to the implementation of actions / projects, and are they sufficient?

The Working Committees on Energy Governance have to provide feedback to the Strategic Steering Committee concerning any legislative, regulatory and financial aspects hindering the development of projects.

The Region or State-led departments intervene with the Government, businesses or regional decision-making bodies to highlight any sticking points. However we do not yet have enough experience of this new form of governance, which was established in January 2014, to know whether the actions will be sufficient.

 

 

What are the main sustainable energy projects that have been completed / are running / are planned in your Region?

Right from the start of my term of office, as part of the programme “Reunion, solar island, land of innovation”, we have been exploring all possible areas of development to achieve our goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2030:

 

Photovoltaic Solar Power

There are over one hundred large photovoltaic farms throughout the island with a total capacity of more than 180 MWp and an energy production of about 200 GWh.

The number of photovoltaic installations in Reunion totals 2736 (figures at end 2012), which represents nearly 152MW connected to the grid, putting us in fifth place in the European ranking.

 

The Photovoltaic Cheque

This cheque worth 3000 euros allows individuals to equip themselves with a photovoltaic power system producing between 3 to 9 kWp. The aid is increased by 3000 euros if a storage device is installed.

 

The Millener Project (“smart grids”)

In relation to energy management and the regulation of supply and demand for electricity, the Region, State and EDF have set up the MILLENER plan (One thousand energy management facilities in the islands). 750 families should ultimately benefit from this scheme which includes two concrete actions:

> Energy gateway, or 500 “smart boxes” supplied and installed free of charge. These boxes connected to household electrical devices will allow families to view their electricity consumption and thus be able to monitor and adjust their energy behaviour.

> Optimisation of photovoltaic energy, known as intermittent energy, by funding the installation of 250 storage batteries in homes equipped with solar panels. This will help to regulate and balance the grid for this type of power. Electricity can be stored in “smart” batteries that can restore power on demand.

Reunion Region has put 1.5 million euros into this project.

 

Solar Water Heaters

This type of installation can reduce the CO2 emission rate by 25% for a family of four. By way of a reference, at the end of 2012, around 125,000 individual solar water heaters were in use, that is nearly 500,000 m² of panels installed producing a total of 187.1 GWh.

For collective dwellings (social housing, hotel complexes) we have registered 27,000 m² of solar panels producing 16.6 GWh.

Thanks to its proactive policy, Reunion Region ranks second in Europe in terms of solar thermal power.

 

The “Energy Solidarity Network”

To promote energy management and develop the use of renewable energy in the majority of homes on the Island, Reunion Region has launched the energy solidarity network, in collaboration with SPL Énergies Réunion, the Family Benefits Fund and the Abbé Pierre Foundation. This scheme helps to educate, support and assist families in rationalising their energy use. Information campaigns and personal advice services are led with families, especially among the poorest households, to help them reduce their electricity consumption. Adapting consumption habits enables an energy saving of around 5 to 7%.

30 advisers, known as “Energy Ambassadors” have been recruited to carry out this task.

This scheme aims to assist 65,000 households in the long term, carry out 5,000 diagnoses in individual homes and support the installation of energy-efficient equipment in 3000 households.

 

The Ecosolidarity Scheme

This scheme is designed for low-income families, selected in consultation with EDF, the island’s social welfare offices (CCAS) and SPL Énergies Réunion. It allows them to receive a subsidy from the Region to finance 80% of the cost of installing a solar water heater, together with a 500 euro grant from EDF. With the first wave of this scheme, 600 individual solar water heaters were installed, in other words 2400 m² of solar collectors.

These operations are eventually expected to save 900 MWh and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 737 tonnes of CO2. The scheme is currently in the process of being established on a permanent basis: more than 930 additional solar water heaters were installed in 2013.

 

Marine Energy

Among all the studies and research carried out in collaboration with the University of Reunion Island, ADEME, EDF and local, national and international organisations (IOC, UNESCO) in the fields of marine ecology, agronomy, geology or aquaculture, the OTEC project: ocean thermal energy conversion was presented on 23 March 2012 alongside the company DCNS, world leader in maritime high technology and marine renewables. Using our island’s own natural renewable resource, this project aims to use the thermal energy potential of the ocean, in other words exploit the temperature gradient between the shallow and deep waters of the ocean. An experimental phase saw the construction of a prototype that is the only one of the kind in the world. This model built to a scale of 1:150 is serving as a test bench to model, simulate and optimise the energy performance of this type of process in order to produce reliable and cheap electric power on a continual basis.

The Region supports other innovative projects such as SWAC (Sea Water Air Conditioning) and projects related to ocean swell; “Southern Swell” OTEC technology), Pelamis.


In 2013, the regional authority began work on the construction of the first Maritime Cluster project on Reunion Island.

As a member of France Énergie Marine - the Centre of Excellence in carbon free energy - Reunion Region has officially become a national platform for experimenting in ocean energy.

 

Innovation

Innovation is one of the cornerstones of our regional economic policy with the development of regionally and internationally renowned research and technology facilities. The development of these facilities aims to foster the emergence of start-ups and young innovative companies in the fields of biotechnology, healthcare and satellite imagery. These structures will be grouped into clusters based on targeted priority areas.