Geothermal Power Station, Iceland Credit: iStock / DieterMeyrl
Geothermal Power Station, Iceland Credit: iStock / DieterMeyrl
Act short-term, gain long-term

By Kristín Linda Árnadóttir and Inger Johanne Wiese

Around 80 percent of remote Arctic communities depend on diesel as their primary energy source today. How feasible does this make a swift transition to more renewable energy sources? The Chairs of the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) and the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane (EGBCM) share their thoughts and insights. In short: A transition is challenging – but with the right policy framework and support the investments in cleaner, more sustainable energy systems will pay off financially, environmentally and health-wise.

Which trends are you observing in the energy sector – both globally and in the Arctic?

Inger Johanne Wiese, ACAP Chair: On the global level, the situation is improving, with a stronger interest in switching to more environmentally friendly energy systems based on a mix of zero or low carbon energy sources such as hydro, solar, wind, hydrogen and hybrid solutions. There’s an increasing market interest in greening the energy sector and strengthened policy measures by the European Union and financial institutions to focus on climate risks and the need for a transition.

Kristín Linda Árnadóttir, EGBCM Chair: We can see a trend in commitments, policies and funds in the Arctic targeted towards greening the Arctic energy systems. Introducing new energy sources is of course more difficult and expensive in remote Arctic communities but the long-term gain is undeniable. Feasibility studies show that an energy shift is possible, however there’s a need to support communities in this transition. It’s also important to think about the energy security aspect. Transporting diesel to remote areas is risky, while using natural source like wind, hydro- or solar power are durable in the long-term.

What will the transition process look like?

Inger Johanne Wiese: Several pilot projects have been carried through in the Arctic. There are great numbers of success stories. There’s already a shift going on in several Arctic States. In 2020, the largest share of the EU’s electricity production was based on renewable energy for the first time. The climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, the related EU climate and energy regulations and the EU Taxonomy regulations for the financial market will contribute to this – as well as policy measures in other sectors.

Kristín Linda Árnadóttir: We see an increase in specialized policies for change in the Arctic. If we take Canada for example, the country has put funds in place specially designed to enhance the energy shift in remote areas. This is something we are seeing in the United States, Greenland and other Arctic States as well. We know that the technology is there, we know that this is a high investment, but it comes with long-term gains. The question is what speed we’re moving at.

Which timeframe are we looking at for a transition?

Inger Johanne Wiese: Norway fully shares the vision laid out in the Green Deal whereby the EU aims to become carbon neutral by 2050 and welcomes the strengthened commitments for 2030. Norway will work closely with EU on these matters. Such commitments are important to business communities, long-term investments and research and technology developments.

Kristín Linda Árnadóttir: We’re of course following the general climate commitments that states have made, but we need to look into more radical shifts. Even though we’re thinking long-term, we need to act short-term. On a local scale, a hydro plant is very expensive to set up and may not lead to a short-term return of investments but for a long-term climate neutral future, the plant is a clear win. We need to act in the short-term with eyes on the long-term gain.

Every community has its own challenges and assets. It’s therefore extremely important to listen to and look at good local examples. Kristín Linda Árnadóttir

New technology, voluntary efforts, government policies and regulations – which one will be the leading change-maker?

Inger Johanne Wiese: Government commitments in combination with efficient policies and regulations are the most important, but it has taken a long time to reach this point and the pace of the transition needs to be increased. Stronger policies drive the markets, scale up the use and leads to lower prices and technology developments. In an early phase carbon taxes, research and development, voluntary actions, pilot projects and awareness raising have been important in Norway as in many other countries.

Kristín Linda Árnadóttir: High-level policy has to support the general road ahead, but I would like to add to this that it’s important to learn from the experiences from local communities. Every community has its own challenges and assets. It’s therefore extremely important to listen to and look at good local examples and to connect local communities to each other in order to determine what the best way forward could look like.

Could you share some best practice examples from the Arctic?

Inger Johanne Wiese: There are important success stories in Nordic countries, the EU, the United States and the Russian Federation as well, but it’s the sum of pilots and experiences that’s the most important. In the Arctic, specific pilot projects on wind and diesel at the Polmos Tundra in northwest Russia, on solar and diesel in Karelia and the Murmansk bus project could be mentioned as success stories. Let me describe one project in more detail: the ACAP project at the Polmos Tundra Reindeer Farm at the Kola Peninsula. It was based on a switch from old diesel generators to a hybrid wind/diesel power system based on modern energy efficient technologies. The results of this project suggest a great potential to successfully scale up energy infrastructure investments in the Arctic that are cost-effective, reliable and better for the environment. The Tundra community was so pleased with the integrated wind-diesel system that they are in the process of implementing a self-funded photovoltaic system at a second herding post on the Kola Peninsula.

Kristín Linda Árnadóttir: At the EGBCM we are mainly looking at what policies show best results and it’s not so easy to pinpoint one example. We’re urging all nations in our cooperation to put forward and show the good examples of what works and also to highlight what doesn’t work. This is also something we should learn from: what measures and policies aren’t working. You always need to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies you put in place.