Some Ideas to Help Aruba Become the Greenest and Happiest Island #Sustainability #Planning #Architect #Island #Eco #Green #ilmaBlog

Having recently visited Aruba earlier this year, and have fallen in love with the island, I would like to take this moment to reflect on ways that the little island nation can achieve its sustainability goals over the next several years.  Over the past few years it has come a long way but there are still many things left to be addressed if it is to be the greenest happiest little island in the Caribbean as it has set out to do.

One Happy Island

Some background information before we begin — Aruba contains 70 square miles (178.91 square kilometers) of happiness and a population of 116,600 (as of July 2018).

The tiny island gem is nestled in the warm southern Caribbean with nearly 100 different nationalities happily living together. We welcome all visitors with sunny smiles and a warm embrace.

Aruba is an island and a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the southern Caribbean Sea, located about 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) west of the main part of the Lesser Antilles and 18 miles (29 kilometers) north of the coast of Venezuela. It measures 20 miles (32 kilometers) long from its northwestern to its southeastern end and 6 miles (10 kilometers) across at its widest point.

Together with Bonaire and Curaçao, Aruba forms a group referred to as the ABC islands. Collectively, Aruba and the other Dutch islands in the Caribbean are often called the Dutch Caribbean. Aruba is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Saint Maarten; the citizens of these countries are all Dutch nationals. Aruba has no administrative subdivisions, but, for census purposes, is divided into eight regions. Its capital is Oranjestad. Unlike much of the Caribbean region, Aruba has a dry climate and an arid, cactus-strewn landscape. This climate has helped tourism as visitors to the island can reliably expect warm, sunny weather. Fortunately, it lies outside Hurricane Alley.

Aruba’s economy is based largely on tourism with nearly 1.5 million visitors per year, which has contributed to Aruba’s high population density.

Despite having one of the world’s smallest populations, Aruba does have a high population density at 1,490 per square mile (575 people per square kilometer), which is more than New York state.

During the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, the island announced it aim to cover its electricity demand by 100% renewable sources by 2020. In the same year, Aruba together with other Caribbean islands became member of the Carbon War Room’s Ten Island Challenge, an initiative launched at the Rio +20 Conference aiming for islands to shift towards 100% renewable energy. The benefits of becoming 100% renewable for Aruba include: reducing its heavy dependency on fossil fuel, thus making it less vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations, drastically reducing CO2 emissions, and preserving its natural environment.

(Sources: https://www.100-percent.org/aruba/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aruba; http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/aruba-population)

Some of the areas where Aruba seems to be excelling includes their recent ramp up of wind power – capitalizing on the constant wind that keep the tiny island habitable.

Other areas that they can improve on include the following:

Electric Vehicles

A whopping 87 percent of the entire power generation in the Caribbean comes from imported fossil fuels, and because so much of the region’s fuel comes from faraway sources, electricity costs are four times higher than they are in the United States. The economies of these islands are basically at the whim of global oil prices

The Caribbean has some other reasons to be enthusiastic about electric cars powered by a solar electric grid. The islands, on the whole, are small and low in elevation. The vast majority of islands in the Caribbean are smaller than 250 square miles and are fairly flat, with isolated peaks at most. 

This combination makes them ideal for electric vehicles in ways that, just for example, the U.S. is not. Most electric vehicles have limited ranges, with some only offering a hundred miles or less per charge. The higher-end vehicles can go further; the Nissan Leaf boasts 151 miles per charge, the Chevy Bolt 238 miles, and the Tesla Model S 315, but with still-long waiting times for a full charge, that’s about all you’re getting in an individual trip. That’s not great for hour-plus-long commutes from American suburbs, but for smaller islands with fewer hills to climb, that sort of range is just fine.

Customers who drive electric experience common benefits.

  • Charging up with electricity will cost you less than filling your tank with gas. Clients are experiencing savings of up to 50 percent on fuel costs and very low cost of maintenance.
  • Produce no-to-low tailpipe emissions. Even when upstream power plant emissions are considered, electric vehicles are 70 percent cleaner than gas-powered vehicles.
  • “Fuel” up with clean, Aruban-produced electricity and help our island achieve more energy diversity.
  • Drivers enjoy electric vehicles’ silent motor, powerful torque and smooth acceleration.

Although “solar” vehicles would be even better for this region, the ability for the island to “leap frog” ahead of other counties by building in an electric fueling infrastructure would help set it apart from other island nations.

(Sources: http://nymag.com/developing/2018/10/more-like-electric-car-ibbean.html; https://www.elmar.aw/about-elmar/sustainable-energy-and-electric-cars)

Solar Power

Although solar has come down over the past decade I was surprised that not more individuals capitalize on the sunny region with solar roof panels.

The recently constructed government building, Cocolishi, is one of the first buildings on Aruba with a solar roof. The solar panels provide 30 kW of renewable energy.

On the rooftops of the Multifunctional Accommodation Offices (MFA) in Noord and Paradera solar panels are installed. The MFA in Noord is an energy neutral building, this means it produces the same amount of energy as it consumes. The surplus during sunny days will be added to the grid.

Previously, solar panels were installed on the Kudawecha elementary school. These panels produce 175.5 kW solar energy.

The largest school solar rooftop project is installed on the Abramham de Veer School elementary school. This rooftop project produces 976 kW renewable energy.

The Caribbean’s first solar park opened in 2015 over the parking lot of the airport in Aruba. This solar park provide 3.5 MW solar energy and is one of the first renewable energy projects making use of the Free Zone of Aruba.

In Juana Morto, a residential area complex, solar panels are installed on the rooftops of different houses. Together the solar panels generate 13 kW of green energy.

Elmar, the electricity provider of Aruba, installed solar panels on the roofs of their offices. These buildings together provide 9.8 kW solar energy.

There are different decentralized solar projects on Aruba. Together they consist of 5 MW solar PV part and 3 MW rooftop schools & public buildings PV systems. Once built per the 2017 plan, the installation will provide an additional 13.5 MW providing power for approximately 3,000 households.

Given the amount of sunshine this island receives, expanding their solar portfolio seems prudent.

(Source: https://www.freezonearuba.com/business-opportunities/solar-projects-aruba/)

Wind Power

Wind Park ‘Vader Piet’ is located on Aruba’s east coast in the Dutch Caribbean, this wind farm consists of 10 turbines with an actual capacity of 30 megawatts (MW). Aruba’s current wind power production represents about 15-20 percent of its total consumption, which places it fourth globally and still some way behind Denmark, the current global leader, which produces 26 percent of its power from wind. But today, with a second wind farm about to be deployed, Aruba is set to double its wind energy output, placing it firmly in first place.

It’s hard to believe that just a few windmills are able to produce an output of 30 megawatts of energy, suppling 126,000 MWh of electricity to the national grid each year, displacing fossil fuel-generated energy and supporting the island’s transition towards renewable energy sources.

Given that the wind is a constant, exploiting this resource seems like a profitable and intelligent thing to do.

(Source: https://www.utilitiesarubanv.com/main/embracing-the-winds-of-change/)

Off-Roading

I love that the island has embraced off-road vehicles (ORV); it is a great way to experience the beauty around us in a challenging and fun way adding to the experience.  However, it would be very wise to develop designated areas for off-road vehicles to eliminate (or at least minimize) the human impact on the beauty of this island.  Because it’s greatest commodity is the natural beauty – Sun, ocean, nature and wildlife; Aruba (and other island nations) need to consider how to balance the fun aspect with some regulations that will preserve the beauty of the natural world for future generations.

As you may already know, the use ORV’s on coastal beaches is an activity that attracts considerable controversy amongst beach users.

ORV driving is considered as main contributor to land degradation in arid regions.

The most obvious physical impacts of ORV on vegetation include plant crushing, shearing, and uprooting. Such destruction of vegetation in arid ecosystems can lead to land degradation and desertification. Desert plant species exhibit varying degrees of vulnerability to vehicle use intensity, which results in changes in vegetation composition, height, biomass, reproductive structures, cover and seedbank.

(Sources: https://serc.carleton.edu/vignettes/collection/35397.html; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X18301153)

I also notice that many locals and tourists park their vehicles on the shorelines which are inhabited by indigenous plants and animals of all varieties.  This too should be lightly regulated through education or ordinances so that leaky old (or new) vehicles do not stain the natural shorelines that not only belong to us but to our grandchildren’s grandchildren as well.  We need to educate people to be more responsible and not disrupt the natural world with our cars , especially when it can be easily avoided with very little cost impact to the planning of the island.

Stormwater

Following up on vehicle management along the shorelines, another thing I noticed was stormwater runoff; which is not much but should be managed now to avoid a small accumulation over time.  It is still early enough to employ best practices and manage any future problems by building a robust infrastructure now before things get worse.  Because the island is so small it looks like much of the run off drains directly into the ocean.  Following best practices will ensure that the clear waters stay that way long into the future for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Circumstances alone should prompt islanders to manage stormwater runoff:

  • Traditional community boundaries often centered on natural drainages (e.g., Hawaiian ahupua’a and Samoan village structure), so residents are aware of how land use changes can affect watershed hydrology.
  • Local economies rely on clear waters, healthy reefs, and robust fisheries; thus, BMPs designed to eliminate sediment plumes offer immediate, visible results to resource users.
  • In some locations, rainfall is the primary source of freshwater, so using BMPs like cisterns or storage chambers to collect runoff for potable and non-potable reuse makes water supply sense.
  • Tropical vegetation is fast-growing and plays a huge part in the water cycle, so stormwater management approaches that take advantage of canopy interception and evapotranspiration to reduce runoff have a high chance of success.
  • Island infrastructure is subject to big storms, rising seas, and tsunamis; therefore redundancy within the stormwater system improves resiliency.

Things that should be considered as the island faces increased development includes the engagement of “low impact development” which is an approach to land development that meets the following conditions:

  1. Avoids disturbance of existing vegetation, valuable soils, and wetlands to the maximum extent possible (e.g., minimizing site disturbance and maintaining vegetated buffers along waterways);
  2. Reduces the amount of impervious cover and, thus, stormwater runoff generated on a site through careful site planning and design techniques; and
  3. Manages runoff that is generated through structural and non-structural practices that filter, recharge, reuse, or otherwise reduce runoff from the site.

(Source: https://horsleywitten.com/pdf/Feb2014_IslandBMPGuide_wAppendix.pdf)

Desalinization

Tasked with providing water for a population which more than quadruples with tourists throughout the year, the Caribbean island of Aruba is building a new 24,000 m3/day (6,340,130 gallons) desalination facility to process seawater from beach wells. Paul Choules & Ron Sebek discuss technical details of the installation, set to replace older thermal desalination units.

This is so awesome and could become a really great way for Aruba to expand its market into other emerging countries that are facing water issues.  Abruba could use its extensive knowledge to help other arid climates deal with lack of drinking water, taking Aruba to the next level as a global leader in this realm.

(Source: https://www.waterworld.com/international/desalination/article/16201943/desalination-plant-profile-aruba-the-pearl-of-the-caribbean)

Cogeneration of Power

Justin Locke is director of the island energy program at the Carbon War Room, an international nonprofit. He said it makes sense for islands to switch to clean power.

“Islands currently pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world. At the same time, they also have some of the best renewable energy resources,” added Locke. Aruba’s plan includes building new solar and wind farms, converting waste to energy, and working to increase energy efficiency.

Aruba has set the ambitious goal of becoming the first green economy by transitioning to 100% renewable energy use. Currently, Aruba is at 20% renewable energy use.

Aruba is known for being sunny all year long and its cooling trade winds. By capitalizing on these natural resources, the island can generate renewable energy. The island is lowering its dependence on heavy fuel oil, lowering CO2 emissions, and reducing environmental pollution.

By steadily continuing its momentum with its green movement and implementing cogeneration of power production it will help the island become sustainable and resilient.

(Source: https://www.netherlandsandyou.nl/your-country-and-the-netherlands/united-states/about-us/aruba-and-you/sustainability-in-aruba)

Conclusion

Although Aruba has promised to become green it is not absolutely clear that it will be able to achieve its aggressive 2020 goals.  However, the future is bright if Aruba is able to continue on its path and starts to take these issues into greater consideration making it a premier destination for people to enjoy.  Becoming the world’s greenest island will ensure that tourism continues to flourish and that the country will continue to thrive in an environmentally-friendly way that will help restore and maintain the attributes that has made it what it has become famous for – a place for people from all over the world to come and enjoy the natural world away from the hustle and bustle of city life and experience the world in a way that seems to be reminiscent of a simpler time and offers us a chance to connect with something much larger than ourselves.  As temporary stewards for the environment it is up to us to protect that which does not belong to us so that future generations can also appreciate these valuable experiences.

We would love to hear from you on what you think about this post. We sincerely appreciate all your comments – and – if you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!

Sincerely,
FRANK CUNHA III
I Love My Architect – Facebook



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