Aruba, like many countries, is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels for energy. Currently, nearly 85% of the energy is generated by heavy fuel oil but that is going to change. Aruba pledged to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2020, particularly variable wind and solar.
This 19 mile long island launched it’s Green Gateway Initiative in 2011 at the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. With the support of Carbon War Room, an international nonprofit, Aruba created its plan of action beginning with wind farm development, a waste-to-energy plant, and a Airport Solar Park. They are taking the Smart Growth Pathway that addresses many different areas of an expanding economy, such as; eco-tourism, incentives for household retrofitting and commercial energy efficiency, the sustainable agriculture practice known as controlled environment agriculture, urban planning that supports this transition, and investments in innovation. This plan focuses on three components of growth: Energy, Transportation, and the Built Environment with a four-phased approach. As more renewable energy sources are configured into their system, their fossil fuel dependence will decrease.
In order to achieve 100% renewable electricity, Aruba will have to be at the forefront of storage capacity and demand response innovation. Justin Locke, director of the island energy program at the Carbon War Room, says 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.” Aruba has excellent wind and solar resources. Wind and sun sources are consistently strong, although this kind of energy is “intermittent” which require other sources of energy to be available on standby to make up for fluctuations and spikes in demand. An issue they face is land. The ability to be fossil-free will depend on Aruba’s available land, 180 sq kilometers, and the inevitable investment in more expensive, offshore sources. Another issue is their electricity usage per capita. While renewable energy production strategies make the supply more sustainable, reducing the demand for energy is equally important.
Aruba’s move towards renewable energy can create a significant number of jobs, whether in the production of energy itself, in the retrofitting of the existing building infrastructure to accommodate renewable energy systems and the installation of energy efficiency and conservation measures and systems, and the booming eco-tourism. The job-generating capacity of renewable energy is well documented by several sources, including in a recent working paper by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Renewable Energy Jobs: Status, Prospects & Policies”.
As the largest source of economic activity in Aruba, the tourism industry is a particularly important focus for energy efficiency efforts. Almost three-quarters of Aruba’s gross national product is earned through tourism or tourism-related activities, drawing in almost 900,000 visitors to the island annually (Aruba Tourism Authority 2012). As the centerpiece of Aruba’s economy, integrating sustainability efforts across the tourism industry will be vital to the country’s aim of transitioning off fossil fuels. Furthermore, by demonstrating its far-reaching commitment to sustainability, the tourism industry in Aruba can differentiate itself from its island neighbors while insulating the island’s economy from price fluctuations in the cost of imported fuels.
The Government of Aruba aims to balance quality of life and environmentally friendly economic growth through what they call a sustainable and shared prosperity. To achieve these goals, Aruba promotes economic growth, social equity, and environmental awareness through various educational programs and community projects. Aruba has designed an initiative to develop the island as a Green Gateway between Europe and the Americas in the areas of green technology, business support services, and creative industries, which is intended to bring greater economic diversification, stability, growth, and increased sustainability to Aruba.
Thanks to this strong platform and leadership, Aruba has shown strong early progress on the path to true sustainability. Leading our countries in how a low-carbon transformation does not need to hinder the pursuit of an improved quality of life and a healthier economy, but rather that it can power sustainable economic development and prosperity.