Sustainable energy: the example of Aruba

Toespraak door de Prins van Oranje bij de Green Conference, Aruba 30-10-2011

It’s wonderful to see how a small country can sometimes be great. To realise that no dream is unattainable if you really believe in it. We saw that two weeks ago on a baseball pitch in Panama, and we’re seeing it now in Oranjestad.

It was only recently that the Aruban government decided to go all out to become a leading regional player in the field of sustainable energy. When Prime Minister Eman and Minister De Meza unveiled the new Aruban energy policy last year, they showed that they were ready to aim high. At the very first Aruba Green Conference, they had Al Gore as a guest speaker – quite a convenient truth, may I say?!

And perhaps even more importantly, the conference was well attended. Countless government officials and business leaders from the Caribbean were inspired by Aruba’s enthusiasm, vision and leadership.

In short, Aruba made a flying start. In a key strategic policy area. For there are few issues that combine so many topical developments as the question of how we will obtain our energy in, say, 2050.

Everyone knows that fossil fuels are a finite resource, and will become scarce in the foreseeable future. As with water and food, this means that – apart from sticking our heads in the sand – there are three possible strategies: to consume less, to recycle more, and to develop alternative energy sources. In practice, all three will have to be pursued simultaneously. This energy mix will be our reality for at least the decades to come.

What is more, fossil fuels do not always come from the most stable regions of the world. If supplies are threatened or even worse, if markets predict or speculate on suspected stability and supply, prices shoot up, de-stabilising economic development. So a smart energy mix is best, with diverse sources and suppliers. And producing part of your own energy can also be a good investment in stability.

And sustainable energy production is of course crucial in view of climate change. There is growing concern about the effects of climate change: storms and torrential rain, floods as well as droughts, melting polar ice, a rising sea level and the threat to biodiversity.

Climate change is a fact. The exact extent to which we humans are responsible does not change our duty to minimise its impact. There is a great deal of debate about the causes and pace of climate change, and the feasibility of various measures – and that is a good thing. But the effects of climate change confront us with an economic and social necessity that is inescapable.

We have committed ourselves internationally to a maximum increase of the earth’s average temperature of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists calculate for us that we need to cut CO2 emissions by 90% by 2050 and, although there are many more dimensions to fighting climate change, governments worldwide have endorsed these cuts. Of course it is not easy to translate a long-term target into concrete agreements on short-term CO2 reductions – for the period to 2020, for example. But there is a growing sense of urgency worldwide. Including in developing countries.

So I am optimistic about the UN summit on sustainable development next June: Rio+20. In Rio we will discuss how to green the global economy and ensure the wellbeing of present and future generations. Commitments made are essential for all of us, and that includes Aruba as well as the Netherlands. For it is the small island states and the densely populated low-lying river deltas that will suffer first, and most!

For me, this debate revolves around the tension between water, food and energy. As these become scarcer, we have less room for manoeuvre, making these three resources more and more interlinked. Take the possible impact of biomass energy on the food chain. Or the effects of increased meat consumption on the water intensity of agriculture. The links are complex and the consequences may be far-reaching.

As chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), I view these matters mainly from the perspective of water. In Rio, UNSGAB will aim to secure global access to safe drinking water and sanitation, wiser use of wastewater and greater water efficiency in agriculture.
But water is a source of energy as well as life. Water moves, propelled by currents, waves and river gradients. This motion can generate electricity. And no water need be lost for other purposes in this process. Though we must of course treat the natural environment very carefully. In a delta country like the Netherlands, energy can also be generated in the transition from freshwater to saltwater.

Water can also be a major supplier of heat and cold. Sea and river water will increasingly be used for cooling purposes, especially in an area like the Caribbean. In densely built-up regions, like the Netherlands, groundwater can be used for storing heat and cold. This could greatly increase heat and cold storage capacity.

Our primordial source of energy – and one that never runs out – is of course the sun. Fossil fuels are nothing but reserves of stored solar energy, and even the movements of water and wind are ultimately controlled by the sun. Every half hour the earth absorbs enough sunlight to provide the planet with energy for an entire year. Every half hour! The key question is how to harvest it effectively.

In the Netherlands, we calculate solar power efficiency by a figure of 850 peak sunlight hours a year. But here in the Caribbean, there are about 2,500 peak sunlight hours a year! New materials are making it easier to cover roofs and perhaps even roads with solar panels. And technology is developing so fast that solar energy is getting cheaper and cheaper. So photovoltaic solar energy will become increasingly important. In Europe, too. Take Desertec, an impressive project that aims to generate electricity in the Sahara for the Western European market. Instead of seeing deserts, which are abundantly available all over our planet, as arid wasteland, we should cherish them as future harvesters of sustainable energy.

In addition to water and sun, wind too should become an integral part of a sustainable energy mix, even though this entails a serious space problem. So large-scale wind farms at sea are increasingly seen as an option worldwide, especially in Northwest Europe. Here too, technological advances will further reduce the cost price. Picture a future in which wind farms in the North Sea with a capacity of around 10,000 MW supply electricity to Britain, Denmark, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands by 2050. As I said, it is a long-term prospect. But here in Aruba wind turbines are already profitable, thanks to at least 5,000 guaranteed working hours a year. And as you know, in Aruba you often get more sun and wind than you know what to do with!

Water, sun and wind, together with geothermal and biomass energy. These are the truly sustainable energy sources that must form a substantial portion of our power supply by 2050. Combined with vastly improved, large-scale storage systems. And much more energy-efficient economic systems.

This does not mean that gas, oil, coal and nuclear energy will disappear. But here, too, efficiency needs to be greatly improved. Countries can’t all make the same choices, but a harmonious energy mix must be a universal goal. Gas and oil will continue to play a role for some time to come. And there will be countries which cannot make the transition without nuclear energy or coal, supplemented with biomass.

In the long run, we all need an energy supply that is both sustainable in the sense of CO2-neutrality, and in the sense of energy-security. In this conundrum, gas is a crucial transitional fuel, thanks to its relatively low emissions. And even though nuclear energy is clearly not an option for small island states and has its very obvious hazards which we will have to try and find solutions for, I do not want to leave it unmentioned. In the energy mix available to us today, nuclear is no doubt the largest source of available power that could help us fulfil our own commitment to reducing emissions in the near future. Also, uranium is generally mined in stable democratic areas of our world. But, having said that, uranium is also a finite resource which eventually will become scarce. So nuclear can never be seen as the sustainable solution to our hunger for energy!

All in all, some countries will be able to move forward faster than others. And Aruba is one of them.

Aruba is ambitious, and already has the highest percentage of sustainable energy of all the countries in the Kingdom. When the current ten wind turbines at Vader Piet are running at full capacity, they provide almost 20 per cent of the island’s electricity requirements. In the world rankings you are second only to Denmark – and not by very much!. But you are already working on a second wind farm, which will almost double the generating capacity. This raises complex questions about how to integrate the wind turbines into the grid and about storage capacity. You are pioneers, and we in the Netherlands and elsewhere look forward to learning from your findings.

Aruba also has advanced plans for solar power. With almost 2,500 peak sunlight hours a year, Aruba has an economically sound business case. This morning we witnessed the start of an ambitious project in Juwana Morto, combining the latest thin-film solar panels with LED lighting, and with social and economic initiatives. In the Netherlands we stress the need for energy-policy to be sustainable, decentralised and community-based. That is exactly what we are seeing here.

At the same time, the turbines for producing electricity and for the refinery are switching from heavy fuel oil to LNG. That will directly help to cut emissions. And of course I welcome the fact that you are working with the Dutch Gasunie to achieve this.

The latest milestone is the establishment of a TNO branch office in the Caribbean, destined to become a regional training and knowledge centre for sustainable energy. There will be summer courses with input from Dutch and American universities, and also facilities for testing and certification, and for research and consultancy.

The fact that, after setting up an office for the Gulf in Qatar, TNO is now setting up an office in Aruba, says a lot. A lot about Aruba as a regional springboard, and about the potential of the Caribbean and Latin America as markets for sustainable energy technology. And the fact that Aruba is embracing TNO says a lot about what cooperation between the countries of the Kingdom can achieve in this regard. I wish all those involved a very sunny and windy future!

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I’ve said, the global community has made undertakings that entail a very strong commitment to sustainable energy. A recent study commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature showed that it might even be possible to achieve 100% sustainable energy by 2050. We will have to wait and see how feasible that really is, but if current policy is continued, Aruba will undoubtedly be one of the frontrunners. And whatever happens, it is the final goal that counts, and every step in that direction is a step forward.

Mr Prime Minister,

I have heard you speak about harmony. Harmony with nature, harmony between people, and harmony within the Kingdom. I would like to praise the Aruban government for its efforts, and for its ambitious approach to its goals – including this major Green Conference. It will help make the world we pass on to future generations a little better.

Thank you.