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Bermuda's renewable future

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Queen Beatrix International Airport, Aruba (Photograpgh courtesy of Rabelink Logistics)

“Our goal is an ambitious one: to increase the social, environmental and economic resilience ... through an efficient use of natural resources and an implementation of projects that will create and sustain high-quality local jobs for current and future generations.”

This is what we all want; this is the future of our island, whether the “natural resources” referred to here are our skilled local workforce and robust institutions helping us to attract financial institutions, our stunning beaches, golf courses and abundant sea life, attracting tourists, or the natural energy incident on our island through abundant sunlight, waves and wind.

The opening quote comes from Mike Eman, the Prime Minister of Aruba, in 2013; the words missing at the ellipsis are “of Aruba” — although they could be replaced easily by “of Bermuda”.

Aruba shares many physical characteristics with Bermuda: it has no natural source of freshwater, no opportunity for geothermal power, a similar-sized population and very similar peak electricity demand to Bermuda. It differs dramatically from Bermuda in that has made a commitment to be 100 per cent fossil fuel-free by 2020, and is more than halfway to that goal. Aruba made this commitment, as Mr Eman said, because they believe renewable energy is the best option for the island.

Aruba has achieved this transition not through government subsidies or financial incentives, but through public commitment, a central authority, the Green Aruba Forum, which identifies cultural and technical barriers to renewable energy, and through internal and external partnerships. The local utility has invested heavily in education, efficiency, new renewable energy generation, and a “smart grid” to micromanage supply and demand.

The island’s efforts have also attracted new investment and interest in the form of research investment from TNO, a Dutch innovation organisation, and partnerships with the University of Arizona, Harvard University, the University of the District of Columbia, and Richard Branson’s think-tank, the Carbon War Room.

In contrast, Bermuda has no commitment to renewable energy, no significant efforts to educate, support or enforce energy efficiency, and less than 1 per cent of our energy is supplied by renewable power. Instead, we have a robust plan to reinvest in fossil fuel — at the expense of the environment and, ultimately, at the expense of residents and businesses on the island.

Aruba’s successful pathway shows up over and over again in other places. In fact, the steps to a sustainable energy future are so well recognised that the United States Department of Energy has documented them in its publication Energy Transition Initiative: Islands Playbook. The steps are as follows:

1, Make a commitment to an energy transition: make it public, on the record and include all island decision-makers

2, Establish a leadership team and set a vision; include explicit goals and timelines

3, Assess opportunity pathways; identify policy, market, cultural and operational barriers to realising the vision

4, Involve stakeholders in policy and operational reform efforts; these could range from transitioning to solar hot-water heaters to implementing “bankable” power purchase agreements for new projects; then track the quality and impact (both positive and adverse) of the projects

5, Establish energy-efficiency monitoring and verification; maintain resources, education and commitment

6, Continuous process improvement: what is working, what is not, what is changing globally, what is available today

The energy efficiency and renewable energy wave is accelerating, and Bermuda is so far behind this wave that we can barely see the crest far in front of us. The examples of jurisdictions who are improving their economic, social, environmental and population health by ditching outdated fossil fuel-based energy generation and replacing it with a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy generation continue to multiply.

Here are some examples from a range of different-sized jurisdictions, with different natural resources and different political systems:

• This year Portugal operated for almost five days without turning on their fossil fuel plants

• The city of Lancaster, California (population 160,000) was “net zero” last year, producing more renewable energy than it used

• Last year, Denmark, Latvia, Sweden, Norway and Iceland generated the majority of their electricity from renewables

Costa Rica was powered for 285 days in 2015 by 100 per cent renewable energy

Uruguay generated almost 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources; furthermore, it stated that it did this “without utilising government subsidies, or raising prices”.

Ramón Méndez, the National Director of Energy in Uruguay, explained that the components involved in the transition to renewable energy are simple: “clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector”.

We could achieve the same thing here in Bermuda.

•Judith Landsberg has a PhD in physics and a master’s degree in environmental management. She is also a director of Greenrock and has been involved in energy problem-solving and energy advocacy in Bermuda for the past four years

Aruba shares many physical characteristics with Bermuda