Unije Island is part of the Cres-Lošinj archipelago and constitutes the westernmost part of Primorje Gorski Kotar County (PGKC).  With its 16.77 km2 of surface and 36.6 km of coastline it is actually the third largest island of the Cres-Lošinj archipelago.

Figure 1: View of Unije island

The name Unije derives from the Greek word “heneios” meaning field, referring to the fertile Unije Field. In 1921 Unije reached its highest population count (783), but after that date many islanders emigrated.  Today, the island has about 80 permanent inhabitants, living mostly on agriculture and, of course, tourism, due to which the number of people in summer months goes from 80 to 800.

Currently the island of Unije does not have any significant generating capacity so regarding electricity supply Unije relies on the power cable that connects it to the island of Lošinj.  There are also no water sources except from the recently installed desalination unit so the island depends on weather conditions and water imports from the island of Lošinj. All this creates certain challenges concerning the stability of energy and water supply on the island.

Figure 2: Unije’s desalination unit installed in 2019. A 7KW rooftop PV system is connected with the island’s electricity distribution network contributing to its energy autonomy

“Unije: self-sufficient island” project started in 2015 as a collaboration between PGKC, Krk Diocese and the City of Mali Lošinj with the objective to revitalize Unije Island and make it energy independent. INSULAE partner, Regional Energy Agency Kvarner coordinates the project on behalf of the County PGKC.  With H2020 INSULAE, renewable energy activities on Unije were given a significant boost. The Croatian energy utility company HEP in 2021 plans to install a 1MW PV plant that is to be hybridized with INSULAE battery storage system. Preparatory activities leading to the development of main project design are currently in progress.

Next, INSULAE foresees the smart integration and control of water and energy systems. This entails continuous coordination with ViOCL (local water company) and local government. Water pipeline works will soon be completed and a 7 kW PV on a desalination plant ready to be complemented with the new meteo station installed in May, smart meters and sensoring, leading to smart utility management.

Figure 3: A modern meteorological station was installed on the ViOCL desalinator facility

Finally, the empowerment of islands’ energy communities is planned through 5G and IoT technologies for flexibility services. HW/SW adjustments were made for the EnergyBox to be compatible with several planned sensors and the EnergyBox testing was done at Ericsson Lab in Zagreb. The backend infrastructure operational (IoT Consolidator) will be in Ericsson’s cloud who also made the frontend design for data monitoring (energy consumption, temperature, etc.). First installation of equipment in several houses on island is soon to be realized.

And here we reach the most important point. All this smart technology would be completely redundant if the islanders refused to embrace it. Therefore, the local community at the island of Unije is regularly informed and consulted about every activity, and their support is considered of utmost importance. As Søren Hermansen, the “energy magician” of Danish island of Samsø, once pointed out: The islanders don’t like new things, they are sceptical people. But in fact, the Self-Sufficient Island Unije project isn’t something new. Same as the Samsø’s and other zero energy islands’ projects, it is built on well-known principles of self-sufficiency, good housekeeping and harnessing local resources. It isn’t rocket science, it is common sense, and our islanders know it.

Figure 4: Insulae’s Croatian members met locals to present some modern, and free for them, technological solutions to improve the quality of life on the island