Q&A Dr. Frank Hoevertsz – Managing director of Utilities Aruba
Dr. Frank Hoevertsz, as managing director of Utilities Aruba, is leading the charge to transform Aruba into a hotspot for sustainability and renewable energy, and hopes to inspire other countries around the world with the same enthusiasm. He met with The Report Company to explain the challenges, both technical and social, of increasing sustainability and talked about what Aruba can offer to the rest of the world as a hub for green development.
The Report Company: What are Utilities Aruba’s main objectives?
Dr. Frank Hoevertsz: Utilities Aruba is a private state-owned company with two working companies, WEB and Elmar. WEB, besides producing both power and water, also takes care of the distribution of water, while Elmar is the owner of the power transmission and distribution grid. Five years ago a new vision was introduced by government, which was adapted by all the utility companies. A cleaner environment and a more sustainable way of living should also become the objectives for the production of both power and water. We knew that utilizing heavy fuel oil in our power generation, due to its high level of CO2 emission, was besides not being sustainable, but also its many uncertainties in supply and demand, would drew HFO prices on the oil market to even higher levels and reach limits beyond $200/barrel. The Aruban economy, which depended largely on tourism, but also its residents, would be highly affected by raising energy tariffs. The new vision brought the challenging strategy of becoming independent of fossil fuel, by introducing more renewable energy. But even more complicated was keeping tariffs also affordable. Our new framework “RAS” consisted of Renewable, Affordable and Sustainable was adapted.
TRC: What is the thinking behind this strategy?
FH: The Caribbean represents only 1 percent of the global carbon footprint, and even Aruba being one of the many islands in the Caribbean, with our vision and strategy we could demonstrate the world that something had to be done with this growing global footprint problem. Everyone on planet “Earth” agrees that this emission problem will conduce to climate changes, which is a threat to humanity. We know that by Aruba becoming 100 percent sustainable tomorrow morning won’t a difference on the global scale in terms of carbon footprints. But we can pass the enthusiasm of our activities and experiences to the rest of the world, becoming the forerunner and a pioneer. Our mission is to reach 100 percent sustainability by 2020. Some will say that is too soon, but it doesn’t really matter, a target has been set and achieving it what matters. Kennedy said that in ten years they we would put a man on the moon. People laughed, but he made it in ten years. But if he had made it in 12 years, it wouldn’t have made any difference. It’s about the vision, creating targets, and the bigger picture. Whether or not we make it by 2020, the most important achievement would be contaminating and convincing the rest of the world with our state of mind.
Aruba, going green, being sustainable, creates specific challenges as an island. We can only rely on ourselves for energy production and supply. UK, also an island, besides having many production plants, between the UK and Europe these is a power cable connection, so as it suits one or the other, energy will be supplied from one point to the other. We don’t have that luxury! Further in Europe, for instance, Holland is interconnected with Belgium, with Germany, with Norway, so even if all the plants in Holland went down, they could switch over to power from Belgium or Germany for example. They can even switch for foreign power, when tariffs suites them better. Again, that luxury we don’t have, we have one production plant with its production costs!
Technically and financially it makes the challenge even bigger. Wind and solar are the most proven renewable energy sources up to now. We have a good solar regime but effectively we’re talking about five to six hours (average) a day for full solar power production. Wind is a better source because wind typically blows 24 hours per day but we cannot control the variation in speed or the direction. These types of energy sources are intermittent, and this creates challenges for the grid because you push intermittent power into your grid, which creates instability. We have to invest in other sources to create stability and to mitigate this effect. That creates the need for buffering and storage. But we also cannot look at neighbouring islands and learn from their experience, because no island has gone so far with its effort. We will be leading many other islands, but these are exciting times, as well as challenging times. Dealing with the challenges requires a lot of studies, investment and financing.
TRC: How are you putting your strategy into place?
FH: We make a division in our energy policy and strategy, between supply side management and demand side management. On the supply side, we have three pillars. One is reaching a higher degree of efficiency in our actual conventional energy and water production. Secondly we are trying to replace the heavy fuel oil with natural gas (NG) as a transitional fuel, transported to the island in liquid form (LNG). The third pillar is increasing the penetration of renewable energy in our grid.
On the demand side, there is one big adage: “The greenest energy of all is the energy you don’t use”. The idea therefore is to retrofit the island and change electric appliances for more efficient ones. In Aruba, 50 percent of the energy demand comes from cooling. This is basically a low-hanging fruit. If we can reach more efficiency in cooling then we will have a big gain in energy savings. There are no subsidies being provided, however we are providing fiscal incentives and recently we introduced lower import duties on efficient equipment, especially refrigeration and air conditioning, with a certain energy efficiency level. Also solar panels and wind mills falls under this category. Soon an extensive replacement of all existing streetlight fixture to more efficient led fixtures will start, but also energy audits for efficiency purpose in government building and schools.
TRC: How important is creating awareness among Arubans of energy sustainability?
FH: Awareness and consciousness is another part of our challenge. To change a light bulb for a led is easy, but changing people’s behaviour, there is need for a broader approach. People often have a certain budget for their energy bill and when consumption drops, because of efficiency effort, they tend to raise their comfort level by installing new air conditioning units, so at the end the consumption stays the same.
TRC: Other than wind and solar energy, what other renewable energy resources are you exploring?
FH: A lot is dependent upon industry. Currently in Aruba we have a growing portion of intermittent renewable in our energy mix. What if we reach 100 percent and then we have three or four days of no wind? What if these days are also rainy days with limited sun? We need to have a renewable energy source for our base load that is not intermittent. One possibility could be OTEC, ocean thermal energy conversion. This technology uses the difference in sea temperatures and in combination with heat exchange this technology would generate energy. There is a company working on this new technology and obtaining good results with a pilot project, but with limited capacity and thus not really shelf-ready yet. A second possibility could be geothermal, but we have not determined yet the feasibility of such source in Aruba.
TRC: What does Utilities Aruba think about this potential that Aruba has to set the pace for the rest of the Caribbean and become a hub for green technology?
FH: We hold an annual green conference, Green Aruba, which this year would be a “lustrum” (five years), and we noticed an increase in participation from the other islands. Many Caribbean islands know of our efforts and success in our energy efficiency projects, which resulted in lowering our daily HFO consumption, while demand grew, in the last couple of years from 6300 to 3800 barrels per day. Further more, Aruba is considered to be the highest in wind penetration in her energy mix, and increasing this portion, while we have one of the lowest energy tariffs in the Caribbean. This set the pace for other Caribbean islands.
TRC: What sort of collaboration can we anticipate between the UK and Aruba in this domain?
FH: We need strategic alliances to get enough support, to structure the right energy mix, financing, regulations to reach a higher degree of sustainability. Getting to the 50% of our energy mix from renewable sources is already in progress where enough storage capacity has become an inevitable support to the existing energy mix. Getting above this 50 %, or even beyond this point we need stronger alliances. Several Dutch alliances were chosen, a particular one to mention is TNO who, in 2010, opened a Caribbean office (CBOT) in Aruba. Other strategic alliances choices were several universities in the USA, while in the UK the alliance made was with a more idealistic organisation, Carbon War Room, of Mr. Richard Branson. Carbon War Room declared war against carbon emission and that vision creates for Aruba, together with the other foreign partners, the necessary balance. Both Mr. Branson and the CEO of Carbon War Room, Mr. Jose Maria Figueres (former president of Costa Rica) are strong believers of Aruba’s potential and recently presented to us, their report, “Smart Growth Pathways, building a green platform for sustainable Aruba”. A project we did not mention in our demand side management is the “Smart Community”, basically “a living lab”. Real life testing and demonstration is a must to move sustainable technologies from concept to practical application. Smart Community Aruba (SCA), a 20 unit residential neighbourhood aimed at sustainable living, is inviting Partners to research, test and demonstrate sustainable technology. So an open invitation to other UK partners, to join our effort in this SMA project and together with CWR, Aruba would have a strong link with the UK.
TRC: What are you expecting for 2014?
FH: On the energy mix side, we are practically done with the second wind farm, and it’s ready for deployment, and becoming operational late 2015. A small Solar Park of 3,6 MW is under construction at the airport, which will become the largest Caribbean solar energy source, and also the first parking area, covered with almost 14.000 solar panels. Other smaller projects, like “Waste to Energy”, producing bio fuel for production, are also underway as we speak. On the storage side, we are now going to start a pilot with underwater compressed air. Basically, we will use the excess unused or curtailed wind energy to drive air pump and store this volume of compressed air in underwater storage tanks. It’s basically a large underwater balloon, and whenever energy is needed, a valve will be opened to let the air flow in the opposite direction, which drives a generator and produce the required energy. Furthermore on the storage side, studies are on-going for pumped hydro and ice storage, which in combination with fly wheel should bring the solution for the instability of the amount of renewables (wind and sun) penetration
TRC: What would you like to achieve during your time in your role?
As managing director of Utilities and responsible for supervising both working companies WEB and ELMAR, and as “Guardian” of the vision of our shareholder, our first accomplishment will be to structure and execute all the projects mentioned above, technically and also financially, so energy production would be more reliable, affordable and sustainable. Furthermore also achieve the necessary attention and urgency from the demand side, to convince more people to follow our mission, persuade them to be more conscious of their energy consumption, induce awareness into others of our role for our community, a cleaner environment, which all will lead to a more sustainable earth, we all live in, and have to cherish. After all, there is only “One Planet Earth”, and after all we are all astronauts on this planet.
Hopefully our message will be adapted by your millions of readers in the UK, and everywhere else, who really wants to make the difference. We would like our initiative to become an inspiration for others, and where action meets ideology.
Sustainability does not know a finish line; it only knows higher levels. It’s like innovation, you’re never done innovating, it’s an ongoing process. Many Caribbean countries, large organisations like the American Council of Renewable Energy (Acore) are looking in our direction. Our neighbouring islands are getting in touch with us to assist them into moving to a cleaner fossil fuel. Aruba is becoming a reference point for the rest of the region, and hopefully to the world.