Sustainable living on a tropical island is becoming a reality

4 min reading time

Aruba targets sustainability. And that is very do-able, especially because this Caribbean island has powerful sources of energy such as sun and wind. Smart Community Aruba is a new residential district which, when complete, will serve as a testing ground. Here, a consortium consisting of TNO and local partners will study ways in which this transition might take shape. The new district is expected to be completed at the end of 2017.

The Smart Community consists of fifteen houses, says Robert-Jan Moons, programme manager at TNO Caribbean. “The study’s first experiments will start early next year, once the new residents have all moved in. Because that is the nature of the Smart Community. It is both a residential district and a testing ground for sustainable technology, tailored to Aruba, the Caribbean and even the whole of Latin America.”

Save on air conditioning

Moons cites the following example: “Of all the energy consumed on Aruba, about half is used for cooling, mainly in the form of air conditioning. In the Smart Community, we will investigate the use of improved insulation to see whether it can help to keep the heat out and to cut energy consumption.” Another example is drinking water, which, on Aruba, involves high production costs. “Arubans also use it for irrigation or for flushing toilets. In the Smart Community we separate the water flows. Drinking water is just used for drinking, while the district’s waste water is processed by a treatment plant, to make it suitable for other uses. The production of drinking water is energy intensive, so this approach will also cut fuel consumption.”

“The Smart Community will show how a circular economy might work in the Caribbean. We will connect the domains of energy, water, food and waste”

Mix of residents

Other projects focus on financial-economic themes and on the behaviour of the Smart Community’s residents. Moons: “To investigate the latter aspect, the district will have a varied mix of residents, from young professionals to families and the elderly. This will give us an idea of the needs and behaviour of broad sections of the population.”

Measuring effects

The infrastructure needed to measure the effects of these innovative technologies is already in place, says head construction engineer José Paula of the Aruban housing corporation FCCA. “FCCA’s role within the Smart Community consortium involves responsibility for housing construction. A different combination of building materials is used in each house. The study will allow us to make comparisons, which, in turn, will lead to the best possible choices for projects involving renovation or new-build properties.”

José Paula (FCCA) and Robert-Jan Moons (TNO).

Circular economy

Moons says that The Smart Community will show how a circular economy might work in the Caribbean. “We will connect the domains of energy, water, food and waste. It involves everything from improvements in energy efficiency, the decentralized generation of solar energy and wind energy, an understanding of consumer behaviour, to the smart use of electricity and water. Modern agricultural technology and organic waste treatment will be additional areas of research.”

“All in all, Aruba wants to free itself of the need to import fossil fuels. This is why TNO is also participating in the Green Aruba Conference”

A sustainable Aruba

Aruba is becoming sustainable, say Robert-Jan Moons and José Paula. Sunlight on the island is particularly intense, while at night the wind is a useful source of energy. Also, energy consumption could be significantly reduced. Moons: “In addition to the research into insulation, we are experimenting with software that regulates electrical equipment, such as battery chargers that only kick-in when the district’s energy consumption dips. The houses have online displays, enabling residents to track their energy consumption. In the Netherlands, equipment like this has been found to cut consumption by fifteen percent. We are keen to find out exactly what savings could be achieved on Aruba.” The Smart Community will also focus on the effectiveness of solar panels under local conditions. “And we will be doing much more”, says Moons. “All in all, Aruba wants to free itself of the need to import fossil fuels. That will greatly benefit the island’s balance of payments. This is why TNO is also participating in the Green Aruba Conference, where influential government representatives meet with entrepreneurs and researchers from other countries and discuss ideas on how to make the island fully sustainable.”

High penetration of solar panels in residential districts

But how are these ideas being channelled into everyday use? Paula explains that “The FCCA will soon be able to use more effective and affordable materials during renovation work and in new-build properties.” Moons adds that others will also benefit: “Initially, the members of the consortium themselves. The Smart Community is also an Open Innovation Platform, where companies can test or demonstrate products or systems on a B2B basis. For a fee, external utilities can gain access to the research results, including TNO’s unique know-how. A large number of companies from the Netherlands and the Caribbean are already showing interest.” Unique expertise has evolved into the effects of high penetration solar panels in residential districts, and this is particularly valuable to the Netherlands. Aruba is ahead of Europe, in terms of developments in this area.

“While it is not a legal requirement here that the built environment must be energy neutral by 2050, Aruba is studying the matter for reasons of its own. We’ve reached the first milestone”

Energy neutral by 2050

In Paula’s view, cooperation within the consortium has been truly excellent. “Once the first results are available, we will start providing information to the general public. Then the business community and everyone else on Aruba will be able to benefit from the Smart Community.” Moons notes that there are European agreements stating that the built environment must be energy neutral by 2050. “While this is not a legal requirement here, Aruba is studying the matter for reasons of its own. Aruba has now reached the first milestone. The Smart Community is up and running and we can get to work.”

Smart Community Aruba

Smart Community Aruba is a consortium consisting of the Government of Aruba, a housing corporation (FCCA), the utilities parent company (Utilities Aruba NV), the network manager (ELMAR), the energy supplier (WEB ARUBA NV), the telecom operator (SETAR) and TNO Caribbean.

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Robert-Jan Moons Locatie Leiden - Sch + Page 1 Location: Location Oranjestad - Aruba
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