Smart Media 360:
Web Aruba was established in its current form as an independent company in January of 1992, and subsequently incorporated alongside with Elmar under the holding company Utilities Aruba. Please share with the readers of Newsweek how WEB Aruba´s seawater desalination through advanced Multi Stage Flash Evaporation and Reverse Seawater Osmosis, provides safe, clean drinking water for Aruba´s citizens today, and its crucial importance since Aruba lacks its own fresh water resources?
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
Next year WEB Aruba is going to be celebrating 85 years on the island, not as WEB Aruba N.V. but as the predecessor companies. It is important to mention that for 75 years we actually produced water in the same manner using a desalination process through evaporation using steam as a medium. We also have been generating power starting around the 1950´s. That was also based upon an interconnected system using steam in order to spin a turbine that generated power, and using that same steam for water and desalination. It was like that for about 70 years, and then in 2006 because of increasing fuel prices in the primary fuel, which is heavy fuel oil, and a very volatile global oil market, we started looking at alternatives. That is when we began considering seawater reverse osmosis (RO) and other means of generating power. This enabled us to utilize renewable green energy.
On the water side we basically produced distilled water by means of desalination through evaporation. After that we would treat the water by means of an installation which we called the coral house. It was built to desalinate water by running it through coral rocks in order to get some of the taste, and as a means of adding minerals. The quality of the water is controlled by our own laboratory on site that is internationally ISO certified. Our water production processes and water distribution networks have also been ISO certified as well. The water quality is also controlled in-house by monitoring chemical components.
We have a government controlled laboratory that deals with microbiological issues. In addition, we have external audits from the World Health Organization and other labs that certify the water within a certain time frame every year when they come and perform an audit. We have sampling points throughout the island where on a routine basis, we sample locations to make sure that the water quality not only leaves our facilities here, but also reaches the final customers in the best possible conditions. If there are any deviations whatsoever, it is reported and actions are taken immediately.
We take high pride in the quality of our water and have a total production capacity of about 38,000 metric tons per day, which is close to the entire consumption of the island. With the reverse osmosis process that began in 2006-2007 we started with a relatively small processing of 8,000 cubic meters per day; in combination with the multi stage flash unit which purely uses steam. In order to try it out and make sure we could maintain the quality of water we had to do a two stage reverse osmosis procedure. Usually you just do it in one stage because the water is clean and pure enough, but in order to maintain the highest quality of water we now produce, we prefer to use this two stage process. Therefore after the first stage, we then pass it again through another set of membranes, in order to make it as pure as possible. And then, by gaining experience in that area since 2006, we managed to maintain the purity of the water throughout the entire reverse osmosis process, and the quality has not changed and been maintained at this high standard over the past few years.
Smart Media 360:
An important strategic change at WEB Aruba took place back in 2009 when the Government of Aruba set out an innovative long-term strategy for its utility companies in order to embrace its current green energy vision to have a majority of energy on the island produced from renewable sources by 2020. What impact has this ambitious strategy had at WEB Aruba in terms of reducing the overall utilization of heavy fuel oil as feedstock and integrating greater levels of renewable and alternative energy sources?
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
Over the past seven years we have produced water and generated power by the same means. But indeed in 2006 we set out to increase efficiency by using less fuel oil. We switched to a system of reciprocating engines running on diesel or heavy fuel oil. As we are located on an island we had to start slowly at first. We installed a first stage of engines, then we gained valuable experience and went onto a second phase. During that time we also introduced our first wind park. Initially we were aiming towards producing 10 MW.
Now considering that the average demand is 100MW a year, we figured that 10% of renewable energy was a positive change that we would be able to manage. But then when looking at location and Aruba being so small we considered that we did not have that much land available. So we changed the project in order to capitalize upon the land utilization that was available to us. Accordingly we changed the terms of the project in order to fully maximize upon the land use. Thus our first wind park went from 10 MW to 30 MW. Therefore we tripled the facility´s capacity. So if you consider the 100% of energy production, we have added 30% of installed capacity in one shot. Initially it took some getting used to it because we have a lot of strong trade winds in Aruba and wind speeds fluctuate quite a bit.
Smart Media 360:
As you mentioned, Aruba is ideally positioned to capitalize upon abundant sunshine and strong trade winds for both solar and wind energy projects. To what extent is WEB Aruba working in partnership with Wind Park Vader Piet N.V., in order to utilize the energy produced by the wind turbine park, and what has been its impact in terms of increasing WEB´s overall environmental sustainability and operational efficiency, and what kind of future do you anticipate for wind energy in Aruba in the near future?
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
One thing that is important to mention is that since we are the sole provider of power on the island, and accordingly for the entire Aruban economy, everything depends on WEB Aruba. It is absolutely crucial for us to guarantee continuity of power supply. Also since we are a small community it is important to try to maintain the rates we charge as low as possible. At the recent Green Aruba VII Conference they mentioned the “RAS framework” or “energy trilemma” which stands for reliability, affordability and sustainability.
When we began working with Vader Piet it initially took some getting used to, but over the years our operators got more comfortable. Although initially they were curtailing the power generated; over time we have since received 100% of what is produced. It is good to mention that we control the wind park, even though it is not ours. It is a partnership whereby they carry out the maintenance, and we procure everything as much as possible, but we actually control it. If the weather predictions show a lot of fluctuations in the wind we can curtail wind power generation. We have a maximum limit in terms of what we can curtail per year, and along the same lines their contract stipulates that if there is wind, they have to produce the maximum amount of energy.
In overall terms it has been a very positive experience and with the wind park we have achieved a great deal in terms of renewable energy production. It is important to mention that at night the demand for electricity drops and that is when the wind speeds are the highest. In Aruba the wind is highest from night time to the very early morning hours. So we have reached a 42% renewable energy penetration taking into the 30 MW of production versus the 73-74 MW of power demand at night. We have a very high capacity factor for the wind farm which is approximately 52%. In other areas such as the United States, Belgium or The Netherlands, they target 35%. But because of the wind conditions we have reached the aforementioned 52 % capacity factor which is very high.
By doing that we have also learned that the challenge is to balance our production. We recently introduced a solar park at Reina Beatrix International Airport. Currently we are in the process of installing more solar capacity. The reason we did not utilize more solar energy before is that the prices for solar panels were still quite high then. But now the prices for solar technology are dropping and we are looking more and more to capitalize upon the potential of solar power.
In addition, we have begun a partnership with a municipal company that picks up the municipal solid waste. They have installed a generator that produces eco gas. They collect the garbage and do the segregation in terms of removing metals and concrete which cannot be used for this process. But with the rest of it, they crush the waste and use make pellets that they put into a pyrolysis system that generates bio gas. We have a contract with them where we are buying the gas and in turn producing energy. Initially we were looking at 2MW but are now planning on increasing that all the way up to 9 or 10 MW over the next couple of years. That will then add another 10 MW of renewable energy that helps us capitalize upon transforming waste to energy. We are also looking at other technologies that are also in development. But in order to incorporate them all on the island, being the sole power producer has its own set of challenges. It is not like in the continental grids where you have multiple utility companies connected, whereby if one falls, the other ones can step in. We do not have that luxury so we partner with other companies and institutions. For instance, we have set up a partnership with (NREL) the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in the United States which is an international renewable energy association that is supporting us.
We also work with The Brattle Group as partners and the Netherlands-based TNO research institute. In addition, we have established a partnership with the Carbon War Room and the Rocky Mountain Institute in order to help us maximize upon all the utilities and renewable energy potential in Aruba.
Even though we have a great deal of sunshine on Aruba, it also fluctuates, you may not feel it on your skin at first, but because the island is small, even a cloud can affect the photovoltaic systems in place. We have wind fluctuation and solar fluctuation and realize that our conventional generating equipment needs to balance the demand with better storage capacity. As demand increases we have to increase generation, and as demand drops, we also have to drop generation. Together we realized that we have to move into storage solutions and recently began construction of a flywheel system and have a partnership with Temporal Power, a Canadian-based company that is going to help us install 5 MW of flywheel storage capacity for 13 minutes to be exact.
We have also signed partnership with TESLA to use their batteries as well. With what we have on the table we will basically need 10 MW of storage capacity in order to be able to manage and guarantee power supply and enable us to optimally manage the wind and solar generation infrastructure we now have in place.
On the solar side we are working on another large-scale solar site for Aruba of about 5 MW on one location and then there is going to be one that is slightly larger than the airport which is 3 MW right now. We are also installing solar panels that you might have seen on the roofs of schools and other public buildings. The whole idea behind it is that as WEB Aruba we want to contribute to the environment, but by doing what I mentioned with the schools and public buildings, the intention is to not pay for new land but instead use existing roofs to install them and distribute these throughout the existing schools.
Smart Media 360:
When we recently interviewed Drs. Franklin Hoevertsz, at Utilities Aruba he spoke about the macroeconomic impact framework they use to gauge how green energy is actually contributing towards the island´s long-term growth and improving the overall well-being of Aruba´s citizens. Please share with us how you at WEB Aruba are also carrying out this strategy in support of your country´s national socioeconomic development objectives?
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
Yes we have also been involved in a campaign targeting all consumers in order to promote saving on both power and water, and in turn to help reduce the consumption of heavy fuel oil. But it was not entirely successful initially, so about two or three years ago we decided to change our approach and went directly to the schools. Our goal is to educate the children and promote awareness since they are the future of our country. WEB Aruba started this as a pilot project but now it is a yearly event. We print educational material, our engineers go to the school and explain it to the students. Our company sponsors them with educational packages where they can experiment with solar and wind energy. Also on the water side we explain what it takes to produce drinking water, so that they can see that the whole process is fairly energy intensive. The goal is to try to help them to convince their parents to be more conscientious about energy and water utilization and efficiency. The initiative is what is known as green schools project. There is also the smart community project that is being developed. Aruba does not normally have a lot of rain, except for this past week, and usually the island is very dry. Therefore we are exploring ways to utilize rainwater so that instead of it being used for everything from watering plants to washing cars and flushing toilets. In this manner it simply goes into the sewerage system. We are working with the Government of Aruba to see if instead we can collect it and re-use it. But there are different partners involved so it takes time and in some cases longer than expected.
Also, a couple of years back, one of the high schools in Aruba received a donation for a water reclamation system, but it never worked. But now WEB has committed to make it happen and donate whatever is necessary to make the system work properly. That way the students can see it in action and we can use all of the water that will be collected for irrigation and for the school to use and thus make it more green and sustainable.
And here, in this very building that houses WEB Aruba, it is currently being cooled by a hybrid system that uses ice storage. We have a daily energy swing with two peaks. One of these is around three in the afternoon. Then it starts dropping off when all of the businesses close and everybody starts going home. At that point at night around eight or nine there is a second peak that occurs from people turning on their air conditioning units, ovens and related electrical appliances. But during the night hours the demand slowly drops. But we have more wind blowing at night and our end generators are kind of like engines. For instance, if you drive a car on cruise control it helps you save fuel, versus city driving which is more stop and go and thus less efficient. Using that comparison one could say that WEB Aruba is currently city driving. But the intention is to go into highway driving where we everything is smooth. That is why when we have excess energy being generated, we want to store it and use it when we need it. The objective is to maintain our production unit as stable and smooth as possible. That will help us save a great deal of fuel and as you know it is fuel that is causing all of the negative environmental hazards and ecological impact.
The idea behind the ice storage system is that since we have our generators running during the day, in combination with the wind park, at night the demand drops but instead of shutting them down and starting them back up, which can cause mechanical problems and inefficiencies, we instead maintain them in operation and make ice at night, as part of a pilot program we have in place.
The largest demand for power generation on Aruba is for cooling. So we use the ice made at night to cool the building and that way you do not have to use your compressors. We are still taking readings from this pilot project but the idea is to roll it out on a larger scale throughout the island for some of the largest power consumers such as hotels, shopping malls, or super-markets who can go over to ice storage systems instead.
Another area we are looking to change is the introduction of a night tariff for electricity. Right now Aruba only has one tariff whereby the consumer pays the same rate for the electricity consumed at night as during the day. The intention is to incentivize demand patterns and therefore make such projects more attractive for large scale users. This will help us achieve greater savings in fuel. Up to now if I go back to 2006 to the present day, we have already saved about 42% on fuel. Thus we are using much less fuel and producing the same amount of water and power. Naturally this has a huge impact on the Aruban economy. Because otherwise, if you are paying for imported fuel to be used to power generators, then these are all funds that go abroad instead of staying on the island.
Right now we are also looking at other technologies for energy. Reverse osmosis is the best solution for us to produce potable water and it only consumes electricity. We therefore have to work further on the electricity side. We recently introduced a new project called the intelligent generation management system, (IGMS). Although we have a lot of automation in place throughout our systems, our operators are still monitoring the impact of solar and wind energy, the demand side, and how the units are running. The idea behind the intelligent generation management system is to have an automated system that basically takes all of the renewable energy available in order to maximize production. It helps to push all of the units to operate at their most efficient capacity when they are operating. Right now operators make manual adjustments to some of the equipment depending on conditions. But the goal is to have all of this done automatically, and in so doing we expect to gain more efficiency, and of course to also reduce maintenance costs by ramping the generators up and down much less.
On the other side, with regards to the reliability and sustainability of our operations, and their impact on the community, we now have eight or nine power lines going out for electrical distribution. When we have an interruption for whatever reason, we have to switch off one of those distribution lines. Thus a whole neighbourhood can lose power until we get back online. If the problem is large enough, then unfortunately we might run into a blackout on the island, and then we have to start up and power up the facilities little by little. But through our intelligent generation management project we also want to incorporate what is known as load-shedding.
This basically means that if we have only a small disruption we will only drop a small percentage of electrical supply and because of this automation system, it will know exactly which areas can be dropped and those that cannot. In that way we can greatly reduce the risks of brown outs or blackouts and the actual time needed to restore power will be reduced, because it will be smaller areas affected, instead of large areas. The system is therefore highly integrated and of course requires a lot of automation.
We have a project to renew our whole IT system in order to have more back-ups and operate a fully redundant system. It is important for us to keep up to date with the latest state-of-the art technologies so that we can handle the entire automation process in the most efficient manner possible.
Smart Media 360:
The launching of our report on Aruba is specifically timed to cover the successful and recently concluded Green Aruba VII Conference. In recent years there have been a steadily growing number of delegates, international investors and participants from other Caribbean nations attending. What impact do you believe that top events like this conference can do to showcase Aruba´s role as a pioneer in renewable energy, and to serve as a potential example to inspire others to follow in light of the growing challenge of climate change and reducing CO2 emissions worldwide?
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
We are where we want to be and have taken the lead in the area and have set out very ambitious goals to reach 100% penetration of renewable energy. It puts a great deal of pressure on my staff, but on the other hand also gives us a lot of pride that we are able to be in the driver´s seat. It is a good opportunity for us to showcase what has been achieved so far. But also as a utility company, Web Aruba also wants to be an enabler and a growth engine for the island. In the past we only purchased fuel oil and generated power. Now we create job opportunities for the wind park as well as the bio gas installation. We are also looking at other technologies. For example, the flywheel I mentioned earlier is something we will be doing ourselves. The solar power projects placing solar panels on the schools help generate jobs, and we have still not decided if we will be maintaining it ourselves, or giving it to local contractors to maintain.
We also have other technologies that I do not even want to mention yet that we are exploring. But the whole idea of the Green Aruba Conference is to bring people from abroad since it is an excellent platform. We have visitors from around the world who come down to Aruba. It supports the economy, benefits hotels and restaurants during that week. And the participants get to see how we are switching from having 100% reliance on fuel oil and instead going towards our goal of utilizing 100% renewable energy.
Being on an island it is difficult to be travelling all the time and meet other companies and developers. Therefore Green Aruba is a great opportunity to meet other players in the renewable energy industry. We usually send many of our employees to the conference. This year was more challenging due to some internal issues that have now been resolved, but our technicians, operators, engineers, and administrative personnel meet with people from abroad, learn from their technologies, and also explain how we are experiencing the change here in order to achieve the results we have shown to date.
The technical part is easily changed but the human element is equally important. We have some technicians and operators who have been with WEB Aruba for over 40 years already. For 30 of those years we only produced water and power in one way; but over the past ten years there have been dramatic changes.
Smart Media 360:
Mr. Oduber, our report features the top leaders in Aruba’s, renewable energy sector, political, scientific, and business community. You have a distinguished track-record in energy having worked at Aruba´s Refinery as well as holding multiple positions at WEB Aruba in technical, reliability, maintenance, operations overseeing and executing numerous complex projects. What have been some of your biggest professional satisfactions to date leading WEB Aruba and now supporting the ambitious vision of Prime Minister Michael Eamon of a Green Aruba
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
One of my biggest achievements so far at WEB Aruba has been the wind park. It was very challenging at first. In the past most projects were done on a turn key basis. So being a small island we used a lot of consultancy from abroad. The wind park was a very difficult project. We had been working on it initially for several years and it was not successful, but I was part of the team that decided to do it as a kind of hybrid turn key model whereby the wind part itself was turn key, but the grid connection, the electrical interconnection and related aspects were all done locally. That is the only way we were able to justify the project at the time and we succeeded in signing a very good contract. That actually opened the door to a number of other projects such as our generators, the reciprocating engines were also turn key, but the last one was not. Instead we contracted the supplier of the equipment to do the core, but everything else such as the civil and electrical engineering and instrumentation was done largely on our own. By doing that we ensured that our people had an opportunity to gain exposure, learn and develop their human capital, and at the same time reduce the overall project cost. The importance is acquiring the knowledge here on Aruba and not simply hiring consultants. Not that I have anything against consultants, but developing the skills and expertise of our people is more important in the long term, and this approach created far more opportunities for the island. I believe that strategy is paying off very well since today we have a tremendous team that is very dynamic. One of the biggest things that I have emphasized is always pushing for change. Now I am in charge so I need to be equally receptive to those changes. My biggest challenge right now is not staying in the comfort zone, but rather continuing to challenge my employees, and to accept their challenge to keep innovating and moving forward.
Smart Media 360:
Finally, in a few words what would be your final personal message to the more than 8 million readers of Newsweek worldwide, about Aruba and the country’s remarkable potential for investment, and as a business hub between Europe, Latin America and the United States, to encourage them to come and discover this unique island for themselves today?
Mr. Luis H. Oduber:
I would say that from a tourism standpoint Aruba is a wonderful place to visit. We have outstanding beaches, nice hotels, excellent food, as well as very friendly and hospitable people.
On the professional side we have a great staff of whom I am very proud. We have tours every week that let us show who we are. Our goal is to share our experience and knowledge and in the future we are also looking at being able to export our know-how so that our engineers can go and support others. Once we reach our target, then WEB Aruba will be the one doing the consulting for other companies.
Smart Media 360:
Thank you very much for your time and comments.