This is an editorial piece written by Alexej Parchomenko as part of the work as an UArctic intern at the UiT-the Arctic University of Tromsø, Campus Alta.
The Arctic is definitely an energy region and most attention is directed towards the hydrocarbons underground. But the same Arctic is also a region of energy poverty. Some evidence is given by the high fuel prices in remote areas and the full dependence on shipments or fly-in transportation in regions with poor or non-existent road connection. Buying expensive fuel from outside also means that less money is left for other expenses of the families.
The sparse populated areas are seen as one reason of the problem. The small size of the market is often used as another argument and finally there is a high risk due to technical complications. All these arguments can be reversed. The low population density represents a great opportunity for independent, small-scale, off-grid solutions. In contrast to macro projects, these solutions are likely to have positive environmental and social impacts which help to overcome expensive transportation to remote areas. The provision of affordable, safe, clean and reliable energy in the Arctic opens a huge market, consisting of all remote areas, be it in the Himalayan, the Sahel or Pacific Islands.
Renewable energy development does not stop at the provision of electricity and heating. Locally produced energy has an impact on local economy, governance, employment and education. Enabling the use of smart phones and computers means also to connect and share information with other circumpolar communities and the rest of the world. Access to education via e-learning courses and other services like repair instructions and health consultations are just a few other examples.
The pure demonstration of locally self-sufficient and sustainable energy societies in the North would empower local communities and change the perception about the North, which is still too often seen as a resource pit for the South. Starting with renewable energy and avoiding history to repeat itself in making the same mistakes by building rigid, centralized and inefficient energy systems is a great chance for the North. That a mind-shift is possible, shows the development of renewable energy policies in the world. In 2005 there were only 15 countries with renewable energy policies, while only ten years later the number changed to 155, representing around three-quarters of the world.
The good thing is: There are people who already think further. One example is the UiT-the Arctic University of Tromsø which demonstrates the high priority of the topic by the resources it allocates for the research. The Department of energy and climate employs three full-time and three part-time professors, two Post-docs and nine PhD students, who work on different topics from wind to solar energy. The low population density and strong winds make the arctic the perfect place for windmills. True, permafrost is an issue, but nothing new for Arctic construction. Interestingly, most people outside the Arctic view the North as a dark place with few hours of sunshine which makes solar power impossible. But exactly these myths have to be destroyed. In sum, some places in the Arctic receive as much solar energy as southern regions in Europe. Low temperatures and snow reflections even increase the efficiency of the modules. It is the seasonal distribution of incoming energy that is a challenge. But energy storage is not only an Arctic issue and the whole world works on solving that problem. All that demonstrates what positive impact the Arctic can have not only on its own development but for the whole world, and not barely in the traditional topics of climate change and resource extraction.