Aruba welcomes Harvard faculty to study its burgeoning wind and solar power sectors
By Lisa Matthews
ruba is well known for its white sandy beaches and turquoise water. Now the island country, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is making a name for itself in the area of green energy, too, as 10 wind turbines on the eastern coast provide close to 20 percent of the country’s electricity. Another 10 turbines are in development, which will make Aruba the country with the highest percentage of electricity generated by wind in the world. Unlike many places in the world, where the low cost of burning fossil fuels makes wind energy cost-prohibitive, in Aruba electricity is generated with expensive, imported oil, making sustainable energy more than a win-win.
“It’s striking when efforts to promote sustainability make common economic sense,” says Jonathan Losos, a faculty member in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, (who is also Curator of Herpetology in the Harvard Museum of Natural History). Losos was one of seven Harvard faculty members who traveled to Aruba in January to participate in a workshop on sustainable development hosted by the Aruban government. Other members of the Harvard delegation include: Daniel Schrag; Michael Aziz (SEAS); George Baker (HBS); Peter Huybers (Earth and Planetary Sciences); David Keith (SEAS and HKS); and Henry Lee (HKS).
At the workshop, Mike de Meza, the Aruban Minister of Finance, Communication, Utilities and Energy, described the challenges of sustainable energy development on the island. Despite the excellent wind resource, he emphasized that backup power or energy storage is essential. To meet this need, they are seeking outside expertise to exchange knowledge on new technologies in the field.
George Baker, who has experience managing the intermittency of wind power from his work on Vinalhaven, Maine (see Environment@Harvard, Vol 3, Issue 2), discussed at the workshop how Aruba would benefit from a transactive grid, where consumers and businesses could buy discounted electricity during off-peak hours. He envisioned that the island’s major resorts, accounting for 40 percent of the overall energy demand, would choose not to turn on their air conditioning at 4 pm, when they would have to pay full price for electricity. With a transactive grid, the resorts would have an incentive to invest in new technologies, such as ice-based air conditioning, which takes advantage of low energy prices at night when the turbines are most efficient to store cooling power for use in the day. “If Aruba can solve the issue of grid management…then Aruba could become the number one country in the world in utilization of renewable energy,” says Dan Schrag.
The workshop was designed in part because the Aruban government is working to make the country a hub in the region for sustainable energy technology testing and certification. The government has entered into an agreement with the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research to establish the Aruba Sustainable Research Institute, a clean-technology research center that aims to take advantage of the island’s near constant wind, waves, and sun. The government hopes the center will provide educational and training opportunities for Aruban residents, international students and professionals.
Prime Minister Mike Eman emphasized that Aruba is still saddled with a fossil fuel-dependent economy in the short term—their oil refinery operation accounts for 15 percent of GDP and employs approximately 5,000 people (amongst the few non-service sector professional jobs on the island). “As Prime Minister,” he noted at the workshop, “you are faced with long-term development of your country, and of the world. The role that our leadership can play is to mark the difficulty of the conversion to renewables.”
As Peter Huybers noted at the workshop, “Aruba has a visible role abroad. Many people come here to relax, but also to be inspired. I think you can help lead the international community, to show what can be done."
This article originally appeared in Environment@Harvard, Volume 4 Issue 1.