Sun, wind and sea – what more could a tourist wish for? In the field of renewable energy Aruba can expand its potential with these elements. But not only the local population will profit from this.
Aruba depends on fossil fuels to meet its electricity demand. A precarious situation. It’s a small island which misses the effectiveness to insist on a solid position in the oil market, nor does it have the resilience to cope with fluctuations in oil prices. In addition, relatively significant investments are needed to build and maintain power plants and drinking water supplies. Add to this, the excessive economic dependence on tourism in recent years and it becomes obvious that a new direction is essential. The ‘Smart Island Approach’ offers perspective.
Future vision Aruba
In 2011 Aruba and TNO signed an agreement to make Aruba a sustainable island. For example, Aruba wants to be self-sufficient in energy to a large extend. The island also wants to serve as a role model for other, similarly small islands and remote areas. It is about overall solutions which preferably lead to lower costs (certainly not more expensive), greater independence and healthier environment. In addition, these solutions are future-proof.
Innovative solutions to enter microcosm
For TNO the agreement is a perfect opportunity to work within this micro-cosmos on innovative solutions in the field of renewable energy. This is not only significant for the island, but also provides useful knowledge to other sectors and fields. For instance, in the application and verification of smart grid solutions for a relatively simple electricity grid where the fluctuating energy mix (sun, wind, geothermal versus diesel) requires new solutions to prevent power fluctuations and failure. But it is also about solar panels research and their yield in tropical conditions, the search for feasible ways to store electrical energy, or cooling hotels with seawater.
‘I come across things I have never encountered before. It is a real challenge investigating all the possibilities,’ says Jan Ebbing, director of the TNO Caribbean in Oranjestad. He has seen nice solutions for sustainability but the biggest yield comes in the shape of an integral approach. ‘Energy does not stand alone. This island is confronted with a waste problem, expensive drinking water, and exhaustion of natural resources. The waste volume is too low to make export profitable but it is expensive to process it in full here on the island. If it is seen from a sustainability perspective, then possibilities become prominent.’
Collaborating with other islands
Ebbing: ‘Energy is amongst others generated from waste. The islands can thereby collaborate, which is mainly a logistic challenge. We also incorporate drinking water into our approach. Energy storage is needed to stabilise the fluctuating energy mix. One of the measures we may take is to fill an old stone quarry with water creating a reservoir that can serve as energy storage, like a battery.’
Added value deployment of local people
Ebbing currently works with a team of twelve from the Aruban TNO office. There is deliberately mainly opted for local people with knowledge of the region. ‘Working with local people provides absolute added value. Many Arubans don’t return to their island after having studied abroad. Thanks to the knowledge-based economy owned to “sustainable, Aruba”, there is a future ahead of them.
‘Working with local people provides absolute added value’
Opening doors to Dutch industry
Due to in part to the efforts of regional knowledge workers, TNO not only provides added value to Aruba but also in other parts of the world. In this way TNO can supply competitive transfer of knowledge and impact in low-wage countries. I am convinced that internationally we will become much stronger and more visible, and certainly open for the Dutch industry.’
On 14 February of this year, an agreement was signed to build the Smart Community, a sustainable neighbourhood of twenty homes designed and to be built together with local stakeholders, (inter)national companies and the Aruban government. The neighbourhood has to be self-sufficient in terms of energy and water supply as well as waste processing. In this ‘laboratory’ – an open knowledge platform – partners can gain knowledge and experience in sustainable solutions (‘real-life testing’), under the supervision of TNO and its partners. Delivery is expected to be completed by the spring of 2016.
The power of the Smart Island Approach
The Smart Island Approach is an integral, sustainable approach to problems that are characteristic for independent small islands and remote areas. It improves the financial empowerment and reduces the interest in the use of finite fossil fuels. Which activities does TNO carry out in Aruba?
- Sustainable R&D projects with local government bodies and companies
- Facilitating a Summer School in cooperation with educational establishments in the Netherlands and the United States
- Test and certification context for renewable energy technology
- opening a regional desk for Geological Service in the Netherlands.