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In search of energy independence

In an age of energy volatility, providing your own supply is the Holy Grail for both nations and localities. One such case study is the tiny Spanish island of El Hierro, which will get all its power from renewables by the end of the year.

The 10,000-strong island has never been on a power grid, but has previously had to rely on imported diesel for generators. Now, it’s all about the five massive wind turbines and hydropower for its energy needs, with a smart system installed so the hydro kicks in when the wind dies down. Not resting on its imminent achievement, the next aim is to have 100 per cent electric cars on the island by 2020. In the UK, energy independence is taking on a similarly local flavour in the Cornish town of Wadebridge - just under 2,000 people short of the population of El Hierro. 2020 is the key year here, too, with the target to be generating all its energy from renewable by then.

Driving this mission is the award-winning Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (Wren) whose remit ranges from giving householders energy efficiency advice to helping large-scale projects get off the ground locally. Energy self-sufficiency is far from the goal of just the plucky ‘small person’ - though there are certainly vastly differing ways of achieving it.  Influential observers have suggested that the USA, will be energy independent by 2035. In this case, fossil fuels, in particular shale gas and oil are set to be the largest factor. Carbon emissions will be less this way than relying, as had been previously the case, on coal, but it’s far from a ‘clean’ option. All the same, the geopolitical and industrial repercussions of energy independent US could be vast. Back to Wadebridge; a place that has come full circle from a fossil fuel-based independence to a clean energy future.

A hundred years ago the town was energy independent, albeit from the local gasworks and electricity supply company. This sparked a range of innovation, including only the third railway line in the world. Perhaps plans for smart energy infrastructure and community ownership will make this South Western town a big player again.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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