A closer look into the demonstration islands and the impacts of the current outbreak

The outbreak of COVID-19 is sweeping across the world. Many of us feel like we are in a constant state of both overreacting and underreacting at the same time, while we wait for things to calm down. But many are already discussing the impact that this will have on the environment, and how isolated communities will be able to cope.

Samsø: interview with Jan Jantzen from Samsø Energy Academy

Jan, what is your island doing to prepare for the pandemic?

Many people work from home; but not the heroes who pick up waste, or those who work in the health care. Ferry passengers stay in their car during the crossing (up to 1.5 h). Islanders returning from abroad are staying 14 days isolated in their homes, kind of like a house arrest.

How will Samsø community be able to cope with the impacts of coronavirus outbreak?

Many people in Samsø have learned how to have an online meeting over the Internet and work remotely. However, that is not the case for everyone in every sector, i.e. the tourism will be affected greatly in Samsø, the sector will lose money especially during summer and have already greatly affected during Easter. On the other hand for some the outbreak did not make a lot of difference, i.e. the farmers keep working in the fields as usual, particularly now after a very wet winter.

Did the coronavirus and its impacts cause any delays on the progress of SMILE from your side?

The Ballen marina may see less boats this Summer. This means some of the data we have collected will not be representative for the project anymore and this might significantly affect the demonstration of the overall system. Therefore, it would be nice if we could extend the SMILE project to include the summer season of 2021. However, we will proceed with the project as planned, since most hardware deliveries are already in place. Besides, there is a high chance that the upcoming consortium meeting on Samsø in June will be affected from the current situation.

Madeira: interview with Isabel Andrade from ACIFCCIM 

What is your island doing to prepare for the pandemic?

The Regional Government of Madeira has implemented several preventive measures, since the middle of March (before we had any positive cases here), which have been successively more restrictive. Schools have closed, most people are working at home (this is our case), and only those companies that are strictly necessary (e.g. bakeries, supermarkets, pharmacies) are open to the public, and with strict rules (e.g. few people inside, mandatory safety distance).

Portugal has already been in a State of Emergency for 1 month, and so it will remain until May 2 . Unfortunately we had a significant increase of cases in a parish near Funchal (about 30), which led to the implementation of a sanitary fence, starting on Sunday (19/4).

How will Madeiran community be able to cope with the impacts of coronavirus outbreak?

Due to legal issues, the regional government cannot impose the restrictions it wanted at the airport from the start. But now, the majority of tourists have already returned to their origin and we are now only receiving 100 passengers a week (mainly Madeirans who want to return home). Arriving people are forced to go to a hotel prepared to quarantine, and only after security conditions are verified, they are sent home to continue isolation.

Madeirans can only leave the island for health reasons, with a declaration from the health services. Right now we have 83 positive cases (13 of which recovered) and the goal is to prevent this number from escalating. Leaving home is only allowed to supply the essentials, work, assistance to third parties and physical exercise close to home (up to two people together).

The effects on the economy are already catastrophic, mainly because we are an island whose main activity is tourism, which currently does not exist. The national and regional governments have launched a series of support measures, such as credit lines, simplified layoff, exemptions / moratoriums on payment to social security and finance, among others. However, despite the importance of these measures, we are aware that the negative impact will be brutal, that many companies will not resist and many families will be in difficult situations.

Currently, the gradual reopening of the economy is being studied, bearing in mind the importance of doing so with great caution, in order to minimize the risk of increasing the number of infected people.

How did the virus affect the current developments on the island regarding the progress of SMILE project?                                

The necessary equipment is almost already installed and we are in the monitoring phase. However, behaviours have changed, which will be reflected in energy consumption habits, since people are practically 24 hours a day at home. On the contrary, companies are consuming less. Tukxi, for example – the garage for small electric cars – is closed, so the lack of data will certainly delay deploying algorithms. Restaurants can only operate for take-away, and if they comply with the rules stipulated for that purpose.

Regarding EV charging in the EEM garage, the completion of the installation of equipment and integration into the system is also dependent on the development of this whole pandemic situation, since the entry of people outside the service is very conditioned. Consequently, the analysis to be done with drivers is also delayed.

The development of the “EnergiasMadeira” web page, in which it is intended to provide useful information on renewable energies and to be a decision support tool for the general population, is also suffering delays, with regard to tests with users, and consequently at the launch of the platform.

Based on what we are experiencing, we foresee a project delay of 3 to 6 months, but we emphasize that the degree of uncertainty is very high, being all dependent on the evolution of the pandemic.

Orkney: Interview with Arabella Kennard from Community Energy Scotland 

Arabella, how is the current situation in Orkney?

Since the end of March Orkney’ society has entered a period of lockdown and social distancing, falling in line with national government policy being implemented across the whole of the United Kingdom. Orkney’s residents are banned from public gatherings of more than two people and can only leave their household to; acquire essential goods, care for vulnerable members of the community, perform one form of daily exercise or to conduct essential work. As a result, all public venues such as; bars, restaurants, gyms and non-essential stores have been forced to close temporarily. Schools have also been shut down and people are working remotely from their household where at all possible, including the members of staff at Community Energy Scotland.

What are the current impacts you already observe on the island community?

Usually at this time of the year Orkney would be experiencing extremely high foot traffic, with streets full of tourists from all over the globe. However, this is no longer the case with cruise ships not permitted to dock in Kirkwall harbour for the foreseeable future. Both of Orkney’s life-line connections to mainland Scotland via ferry and plane have been reduced and restricted to those only in need of essential transport.

Orkney is classified as a remote and rural community with 20 inhabited islands, which poses different challenges and benefits when tackling the coronavirus outbreak. Formal and informal support networks have been developed across Orkney, which we hope will reach the most vulnerable and isolated households due to Orkney’s close-knit community. The Orkney Coronavirus Community Support Hub has been set up by NHS staff and volunteers, as well as multiple local groups offering support such as local food deliveries, online/remote services and advice. Orkney also has a brand-new hospital which opened in 2019. Equipment and facilities are considered state of the art, and hopefully will provide high-quality care during the coronavirus outbreak. Right now there are just two confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in Orkney, however this number is expected to increase significantly in the near future. The island is responding in kind with great community spirit; organising to form various mutual aid groups and provide NHS volunteers which can be mobilised to assist local services in a moment notice.

The government has released a series of financial and social policies to support public services, people and businesses who will be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Notably among these schemes is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which allows employers to claim for 80% of furloughed employees’ wages. This will undoubtedly benefit a large proportion of the community in Orkney, particularly those who work in the service industry and are unable to work due to the restrictions and business closures in place.  Orkney, however, has a reasonably diverse economy with many working in industries classed as essential including agriculture, aquaculture and energy, whose roles will continue as usual in some form or other. 

How will the progress of SMILE Project be affected by all these changes?

Community Energy Scotland staff members are now working from home, and will be able to continue developing and coordinating the project since much of the administrative and operational tasks can be completed remotely.

The main impact of the coronavirus on the project delivery will be on the final properties where the equipment has not yet been installed. CES have been working with the project delivery partners RS Merriman Ltd and Heat Smart Orkney Ltd to ensure project participants are well supported in the present time, while taking extra precautions to prevent any risk of the disease spreading. It has been agreed that all non-essential work or installations will be postponed until further notice from government officials.  Orkney’s project delivery partner RS Merriman Ltd will be operating a reduced service for the foreseeable, attending to essential or emergency work (e.g. loss of heating or hot water).  The project delivery strategy and emergency contact details during the coronavirus outbreak have been communicated through our Orkney SMILE e-newsletter and via a phone call to all project participants. 

Due to the uncertainty associated with the coronavirus outbreak, it is difficult to put a definitive timescale on these potential delays to the equipment installs, but Orkney is confident that the wider project delivery should not be hugely affected.