The meaning of energy islands: Towards a theoretical framework

E. Rettig*, I. Fischhendler*, F. Schlecht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The term ‘energy island’ encompasses contradicting interpretations to electricity connectivity and isolation. Scholars and practitioners use the same term to describe contrasting scenarios that address different problems and widely divergent policy goals. These may include physically secluded islands trying to connect to the mainland to increase their energy security, or countries wishing to actively isolate their electricity systems from a hostile surrounding region, or artificial islands that enable more integration of renewable energy systems, or microgrids that enable communities and regions to voluntarily disconnect from their country's national grid for political purposes. The understanding of energy islands as either an opportunity to pursue or a vulnerability to overcome can thus differ based on factors such as economic constraints, technical capabilities, security of supply, or political aspirations for sovereignty and independence. This study provides a comprehensive framework for unpacking the term 'energy island' and analyzing the various factors that influence its development. It does so by conceptualizing energy islands as a spatial interaction between three boundaries: a physical boundary, a political boundary, and an electricity service boundary. By examining the interplay between these boundaries, this study identifies six different types of energy islands that represent six distinct configurations of electricity isolation, as well as seven policy trajectories that allow them to transition from one type to another. This novel theoretical framework facilitates a better understanding of why and when policymakers choose to either abandon or strengthen their country's electricity isolation and identifies the physical and institutional solutions they employ to achieve their goals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number113732
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
StatePublished - Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Whether applied to large or small physical energy islands, physical solutions such as renewables or interconnections need to be backed by institutional solutions as well, which can prove rather challenging. For renewable-energy-focused strategies, these include proper funding schemes, adequate investments in technological solutions, and incentive policies, as shown on Reunion Island [4]. For interconnections, it requires long-term and binding political agreements with other countries or islands, as well as price regulation and standardization of distribution technology. Adding to these challenges is the fact that enabling a transition into a self-sufficient energy island goes beyond energy production and includes socioeconomic changes such as increased citizen demand for participation in energy system design and decision making [51,52]. As such, even when relevant knowledge and technologies exist, the transition in practice can be challenging to island communities. Research on how to overcome these difficulties is growing among both academic studies and policy reports. For example, the ‘clean energy for European Union islands initiative’ is an ambitious scheme that offers institutional support for small islands within the European Union during the transition [20], with successful examples including the Danish island Samsø, which managed to shift towards 100% renewable electricity in 2005 [27].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Boundary
  • Cooperation
  • Electricity
  • Energy island
  • Grid interlink
  • Interconnector
  • Isolation
  • Microgrid
  • Political island
  • Renewable energy
  • Service area
  • Vulnerability


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