For small island states that face the daunting challenges of high energy costs and climate change, abandoning fossil fuels in favor of solar energy would appear to be an attractive solution. Many, however, have not adopted cheaper, cleaner energy. To understand why, the Law School’s Frank J. Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy and Land Use Law is bringing representatives of island nations together with a solar energy company to explore the barriers to implementation of solar systems.
On October 1 the Guarini Center will lead “Cleaner, Resilient Power for Island States,” a workshop featuring keynote speaker Lyndon Rive, CEO and cofounder of SolarCity, a leading provider of solar power that is sponsoring the workshop, and invited representatives from the energy ministries and utility providers of Palau, the Seychelles, the Cook Islands, Republic of Marshall Islands, and other island nations.
Bryce Rudyk LLM ’08, climate program director at the Guarini Center and the senior legal adviser to the Alliance of Small Island States, will co-lead the workshop as an expert in international climate negotiations. Rudyk will give opening remarks, putting the workshop in the context of international efforts to secure commitments toward renewable energy in advance of the 21 Conference of the Parties in Paris in December. Guarini Center executive director Danielle Spiegel-Feld ’10 will also serve as co-lead and will moderate a panel on adoption challenges that have stifled renewable energy development in small island states in the past.
Since the islands have minimal access to fossil fuels and are in remote locations, all gas is imported by boat and transportation costs are high. In addition, boat deliveries are sometimes delayed by hurricanes or cyclones, creating energy insecurity. Switching to renewable energy could have many benefits, including reduced costs.
The leading culprit blocking the adoption of the technology appears to be cost outlays. For small island states that have yet to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, said Spiegel-Feld, “the intuition is a lot of this has to do with a lack of creativity in how to overcome the financing or legal impediments.”
Companies in the solar energy industry have been examining the challenges around adoption of solar technology. Having identified financing and the daunting upfront costs as major obstacles, they have developed financing arrangements to enable leasing of equipment in place of large, initial expenses.
NYU Law faculty and scholars at the Guarini Center have been exploring issues surrounding the climate and energy strategies of small island states for the past few years. Sarah Herring Sorin Professor of Law Katrina Wyman, who serves as energy program director at the Law School, has written extensively about the legal implications facing inhabitants of island states that are shrinking from rising seas and climate change.
For Rudyk, getting small island nations to implement solar energy is a key step to moving the world forward on reducing fossil fuels. In 2013, he proposed such a “building block” strategy in an essay he co-authored with University Professor Richard Stewart, John Edward Sexton Professor of Law and faculty director of the Guarini Center, and Michael Oppenheimer, a regular visiting professor of law. Rooted in decentralized approaches to climate action, the strategy leverages non-climate benefits that also coincide with climate benefits. For instance, microgrids would increase energy security and decrease energy costs for small islands over time—both non-climate benefits. But the side benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is decidedly a climate benefit.
If the workshop succeeds in eventually ushering small islands toward solar microgrids, it would benefit international climate negotiations by putting the pressure on larger nations, says Rudyk.
“If a small island can move to 100 percent renewable energy,” said Rudyk, “it puts the pressure on other countries to do the same.”