Lessons from Iceland

IN my last column I highlighted a comparison between Iceland and Fiji. This comparison was used to highlight the vastly different economic and social outcomes delivered when countries natural energy advantages are, and are not, developed.

Iceland, such as Fiji, is blessed with natural energy advantages. Iceland made a conscious decision to develop its natural energy advantages and this strategy has been a key factor in the development of Iceland’s remarkable economic and social outcomes. It’s worth recapping those outcomes.

Iceland has a population of 320,000, well less than half of Fiji’s population. Despite this small population, Iceland has a GDP of about $25billion. This is about four times greater than Fiji.

Iceland’s per capita GDP is about $77,000 and from what I can make out Fiji’s per capita GDP is about $7500, give or take.

In July this year, unemployment in Iceland was just 3 per cent and poverty as Fiji knows it does not exist. Now having reset the scene, let’s step back in time to see how Iceland used its renewable energy resources to help create this strong base.

Iceland figured out a long time ago that what they had was an abundance of energy within their very active and volatile natural environment. They realised that a large part of their economic and social evolution was connected to the development of their local energy resources. Not only did they develop their energy resources, they set about attracting global “energy intensive” industries that could use all that energy.

Today, Iceland has one of the largest aluminium smelting industries in the world with four of the largest global aluminium companies established there. Iceland doesn’t mine any bauxite. These smelting companies import bauxite from across the globe to be processed using Iceland’s natural energy advantage.

I firmly believe that Fiji could actually achieve even better results from developing its prodigious, home-grown, renewable energy resources, particularly its biomass.

If there are any doubts about the viability of this then please consider this. Germany, a country of more than 80 million people is tracking towards obtaining 26 per cent of its total energy demands from bioenergy by 2050.

Fiji’s best energy future is predominantly linked to its prodigious biomass resources.

This biomass future can have strong and direct links to the production and processing of food. Lots of food.

Fiji’s biomass-based energy can also be used to support the development of its mineral resources to expand and enhance the outcomes achieved from the development of these resources.

All this has been done before at national scales that are much larger than what Fiji requires to achieve energy independence and support the co-development of an economy many tines large than today’s economy. Until next week.

* This is a contribution from independent biogas bioenergy consultant Ken Davey. Email: nwws@westnet.com.au