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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Option analysis and design of a renewable energy system for Flatey, a remote island in Iceland

In the face of climate change, much sustainable development has been focussed on urban centres where the majority of global population growth is predicted to reside. Remote islands and communities have sometimes been forgotten in the storm surge that climate change presages but have the potential to play a crucial role for themselves and, through innovation and successful pilot projects, impact a wider environment. Difficulties with increasing the sustainability of an island stem not only from a lack of investment from the surrounding region but also from an impossibility to apply a one-size-fits-all solution. This is because the complex and varying conditions of each island force unique and most often expensive solutions which cannot take advantage of economies of scale. Delivery of resources is constrained by sea or air transportation, an increasing disadvantage in today’s highly globalised and connected world.

This research seeks to answer the questions: what are the main driving factors which determine the success or failure of remote island communities and how can these drivers be used to increase the sustainability of remote islands? The main aim of this research is to develop a replicable framework to allow remote island communities (RICs) become more sustainable, making an impact both on the local community and the wider climate change issue. The framework is tested through a case study of Flatey, an island off the coast of Iceland. This analysis aims to find the optimal solution that the residents of Flatey will accept and can implement. The options for increased sustainability are simulated through the HOMER Pro software using measured and predictive data.

In existing literature, two common drivers contributing to the unsustainability of remote islands are identified as outside influence and sustainable development. The outside influence of neighbouring regions can create social and political tensions. In terms of environmental degradation in today’s changing climate, islands are particularly susceptible and, if they are to adapt to future environmental changes, need to embrace sustainability as a priority.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) go a long way in addressing the actions that societies must take to develop sustainably, but they do fail to address the particular issues facing RICs. However, following the recommendations made by the SDGs and applying them to islands by using the identified drivers, fills a gap wherein islands can aspire towards increased sustainability in an efficient way.

The case study of Flatey puts this framework into practice while highlighting the disparities which can arise between RICs and their mainland counterparts. This framework is used to identify several gaps in the sustainability of Flatey, compared to the rest of Iceland.

My findings suggest the implementation of a renewable energy system would serve several SDGs. The implementation of a wind/solar/battery system with diesel as backup reduces the identified gap in several key areas; CO2 emissions reductions, renewable energy share and material footprint are all improved without compromising on energy security, setting Flatey on a path towards increased sustainability.

The framework developed by this research has the potential to identify the key areas for RICs to focus on for increased sustainability. This research could pave the way for future endeavours into the assessment of sustainability measures for RICs.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.