European islands often face significant challenges when it comes to energy supply and energy costs. Due to geographic location, small economies of scale, and limited or absent interconnection to the mainland or to other islands, many islands are still heavily dependent upon costly imported fossil fuels to generate electricity or to meet their heating and cooling needs. To tackle this issue, the European Commission is now launching the Clean Energy for All Europeans Islands Initiative, which aims to accelerate the clean energy transition on islands, ensuring secure and cheap energy to their citizens, and create local jobs.
Some of these islands, especially those of volcanic origins, show great potential for geothermal development. Unlike other intermittent energy sources, geothermal energy could provide a stable, sustainable, and affordable energy supply for a wide variety of potential uses that are not restricted to electricity generation, but encompass many types of direct uses.
In fact, as small-scale economies that are often heavily based on tourism, islands could particularly benefit from the utilization of geothermal energy for space heating and cooling, including air conditioning for hotels and other facilities; for recreational uses such as for bathing and swimming; and for applications in the agriculture industry, such as greenhouse heating, or agriculture drying.
This potential, however, remains largely untapped. In the Spanish Canary Islands, for example, despite the development of geothermal energy being under discussion for many years now, only few facilities make use of geothermal energy. All islands of the Canaries offer plenty of options for harnessing the heat of the earth, but their enormous geothermal potential still lies unutilized.
Another region with significant potential is the Caribbean. Thus far, however, the French territory of Guadeloupe is the only Caribbean island that uses geothermal energy for electricity, with a 15.7 MWe geothermal power plant. But the total potential is estimated to be far greater than that, up to 3500MWe.
The Mediterranean region also offer many possibilities: Sicily, Italy, for example, or the Aegean Islands in Greece. The latter particularly show potential both for high and low temperature, but only a small share of this potential is currently exploited, mainly for greenhouse heating and balneological uses.
The Azores Archipelago, however, has set quite the successful example. With a power production from geothermal that presently meeting 42% of the electrical consumption of São Miguel Island, and over 22% of the total demand of the archipelago, the Azores have shown that geothermal energy can provide a local, stable, and clean energy source that can help EU islands achieve the energy transition.