“In the Faroe Islands, Fish Is King”

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The Story

“In the Faroe Islands, Fish Is King”
by Sarah Witman
Pacific Standard, June 13, 2016

The Pitch

[Witman notes: This was a cold pitch to a new editor and publication, inspired by a tweet I had seen asking for pitches.]

Nordic fishing nation spearheads “smart” renewable energy system


I’m a science writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, responding to your tweet about fishing/economy pitches. The story I propose is about a tiny, remote fishing nation that has gone on the offensive against frequent power outages by becoming a global pioneer in “smart” renewable energy technology.

Spanning across a beautiful archipelago in the northern Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Iceland and Norway, lies a small, seabound nation. The Faroe Islands is home to around 50,000 people, nearly all of whom make their living through the fishing industry: Fishing accounts for 95 percent of the country’s exports. Whole, fresh salmon from the Faroe Islands are shipped to key markets around the world: the US, UK, Russia, China. While the local fishing economy is booming, it has one notable pitfall: ~30 power outages a year, including 1-3 nationwide blackouts, due to the country’s small size, powerful winds, and isolation from mainland energy sources. Without power, fish living in tanks with electric-powered pumps are deprived of oxygen and can die within 15 minutes, costing millions of dollars.

In order to protect its livelihood and improve residents’ overall quality of life, the nordic island nation has signed on to be a guinea pig for “smart” energy technology that could have future applications around the world. In 2012, it became the first country to implement a type of energy system that, in the event of a power failure or other disruption, will automatically (in less than a second) cut off power to a select few major energy users, stabilizing power across the rest of the grid. In this case, the three biggest users, making up 10% of all energy consumption for the Faroe Islands, are companies in the fishing industry — and they’ve agreed to this system, despite the temporary outages, as it helps prevent longer-lasting blackouts (so far, the system has been activated more than 50 times and prevented at least three blackouts).

The stability offered by this smart-grid system is especially important for the Faroe Islands as it increases its use of cost-saving and eco-friendly (and locally abundant) renewable energy sources — hydropower, wind power, and tidal power — which are known to be inconsistent and trickier to harness than oil. The country has set an ambitious goal to be 75% reliant on renewables by 2020, and 100% renewable by 2030 (much higher than the rest of Europe). So far, more than 50% of its electricity comes from renewable sources (a combination of wind and hydro), which is up from ~40% in 2010. Three wind turbines were installed at Neshagi wind farm in 2012, and 13 more were installed at a new wind farm, Husahagi, near the capital city in 2014.

Looking ahead: A first-of-its-kind energy-storage system (a type of lithium-ion battery — originally scheduled for late 2015) is planned to be installed at Husahagi in 2016 to stabilize fluctuations in wind-power output. “[It is] vital that we maintain grid stability and reliability as the penetration of intermittent generation increases,” said Terji Nielsen, project manager at SEV, the country’s main energy company, in a statement. According to an email with Nielsen, SEV has plans to install two turbines on the remote island of Suouroy, and possibly more, in 2017. SEV is also looking for partners for a tidal power project (a collaboration with another energy company, Voith, was “postponed” last year, Nielsen said). In a statement, SEV’s CEO Hákun Djurhuus said, “We see ourselves as a live laboratory, where new and innovative solutions could be developed and tested in a small but full-scale environment.”

I propose to write an article on this quaint fishing nation-turned-laboratory — providing updates on its progress toward 100% renewable energy, the smart grid’s performance thus far, and developments on the forthcoming energy-storage system.

This story is likely to be new to Pacific Standard’s audience (it’s been covered in trade magazines and local outlets but very few U.S. publications) and is especially relevant to West Coast readers, as California is one of the few U.S. states considering adopting a similar smart-grid energy system. There are a number of photos available of the wind farms, the local landscape, and satellite imagery of the islands that could provide visuals, as well as video of the newest wind park, Husahagi.

Does this sound like a good fit for your web package?


Sarah Witman

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