» Testing grounds for sustainable development: energy efficiency in the Canaries
09.07.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Testing grounds for sustainable development: energy efficiency in the Canaries

© Cipriano MarinWind Powered Desalination plant in Fuerteventura

The efficient management of waste, energy, water and food are key to managing island territories. In the Canary Islands, several biosphere reserves are implementing smart initiatives to become energy- and water-sufficient.

By the end of 2012, the island of El Hierro will be the first electricity-sufficient island territory in the world relying entirely on renewable energy sources. The project resolved the inherent intermittency problem by combining a wind farm with a hydraulic accumulation system. The wind farm supplies electricity directly to the network while simultaneously feeding a pumping unit that stores water in reservoir dam. A hydroelectric plant uses this stored energy, ensuring continuous power supply and network stability.

Thanks to the hydro-wind project, the island will no longer need to import 6,000 tons of diesel by boat, saving costs and cutting its CO2 emissions down by 18,700 tons annually. El Hierro biosphere reserves aims to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions further with a Sustainable Mobility Plan (PDMS), since 50% of the energy consumed on the island is used for transportation. The plan will combine public transportation alternatives and innovative solutions.

La Palma Biosphere Reserve is tackling public lighting, which accounts for 17% of energy consumption worldwide. By using intelligent lighting systems that are energy efficient and minimize light pollution, the biosphere reserve was able to bring down its energy needs with the added bonus of clear, starlit skies. The island is exceptionally situated for star gazing and is participating in the Starlight Initiative in partnership with the MAB Urban Futures Programme. It has become an important starlight destination, developing tourism activities that combine science and observation.

In Fuerteventura, the challenge is both water and energy sufficiency. Its Renewable Water project is multifaceted, linking the water cycle with the production of biofuels. In Corralejo, a wind farm is associated to a water desalination plant, while the University of La Laguna is developing a biofuel production project using jatropha curas seeds. The project uses non-conventional water sources for irrigation, including desalinated water surplus and treated wastewater. The islands natural surface and ground-water resources can only cover about 10% of the demand at present. This crop’s ability to fix soil against erosion also contributes to fight against desertification on an island where the risk is high.

Many other initiatives are being tested and implemented in the biosphere reserves of the Canary Islands in an effort to build the green societies we need today. They promote public/private partnerships and technology transfer between sectors, improve information and decision systems through the use participatory management tools, involving the local community, and encourage the production of high quality products made sustainably.
All of these projects and initiatives are part of the strategy of energy sustainability and promotion of sustainable economies fostered by the Canary Islands Government with the support of institutions such as the ITC, a pioneer in renewable energy and integrated water management, and the UNESCO Centre of the Canary Islands.

These are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO-MAB) to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. The International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) is meeting on 9-13 July 2012 to consider new sites for inclusion in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. As the MAB-ICC prepares for its 24th session, we will present other examples of successful sustainable development initiatives that are currently being tested and implemented in biosphere reserves. Look for them on our website!

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