Making Islands Smarter
By Giada Forneris
Living on an island like Ibiza brings with it special challenges that are not found in mainland communities. These issues were addressed when representatives of governments, institutions, NGOs and the private sector met in Mallorca for the first Smart Island World Congress. The discussions centred around how to use technology and innovation to improve the lives of the millions of people who live on islands, and those who visit them as well. In addition, they focused on the development of optimal practices for resource management aiming at a more sustainable ecosystem and tourism industry.
The EU defines a smart island as: ‘An insular territory that embarks on a resilient pathway combining climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. The purpose is to create sustainable local economic development and a high quality of life for the population.’ A smart island achieves this by implementing integrated solutions for the management of infrastructure, natural resources and the environment as a whole. This type of management has become possible through the advances in information and communication technology (ICT) blended with innovative and socially inclusive governance and financing schemes. The development and adoption of the best available technologies in finance and regulatory supervision can help to achieve solutions to the modern ecological and sociological challenges. It is believed that islands can contribute greatly to promoting the overall EU policy of progressive change by becoming laboratories of innovation. Islands like Ibiza, with their unique insularity, provide platforms for pilot initiatives on clean transitions that can serve as models for other locations.
The project of Smart Islands involves key areas such as accessibility, balancing peak tourism, preserving nature, interconnection with other islands, economy, technology and overall cooperation. Spain has significant experience with interconnected insular territories as both the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands have been running inter-island projects for many years. The Balearics which host 15 million annual visitors (Brazil receives just eight million) have now embraced this challenge. With the initiative of ‘Smart Mallorca’ the region intends to encourage a more intelligent management of its public affairs. One example is a company named Tirme which, since 1992, has been managing the island’s urban waste with great emphasis on creating a circular economy. Their goal is to achieve as close as possible to zero waste through recycling and using waste to produce energy. In addition to preserving the natural environment and beauty of the island, this program also creates environmentally derived products including compost and green energy. Their waste management system currently recycles 25% of the waste, with a target of 50% by 2020.
Energy is another important part of Smart Mallorca. The demand for energy in the Balearic Islands is supplied by: Solar 2.6%, Waste 5.8%, Combined cycle 12.3%, Gas turbine 1.9%, Diesel engines 17.7%, Connection from the Peninsula to the Balearics 21.1% and coal 37.7%. These numbers are not very sustainable, so there are plans to greatly increase both solar and waste management energy by 2020. New smart bus stops are also an example of the projects that are being implemented across the island of Mallorca. Set in key locations, these bus stops provide visitors with relevant info, Wi-Fi, interactive public panels and more, making the tourist destinations much more accessible. Other opportunities for sustainability that were discussed at the conference include: modular and wooden buildings (which are easily re-used and refurbished, plus designed for lower CO2 emissions); water infrastructure; affordable housing; transportation systems (a shift from private vehicles to public transport and shared rides); energy efficiency (improving heating/cooling in buildings and switching to efficient lighting and appliances).
At the closing ceremony of the congress, Gabriel Barceló Milta, vice president of the Balearic Government, noted that projects like this are the key for the islands and for Europe to move together towards the fourth industrial revolution. “It all contributes like ‘grains of sand’, from the different administrations to the autonomous communities, governments, Europe, and of course the private sector... it creates the basis for a smarter world.” He went on to say, “So we have to take advantage of the new tools that technology has put at our disposal to improve the efficiency of the tourism offered by the Balearic Islands. The aim is to better understand the needs of our customers, in order to achieve total sustainability that does not endanger our precious natural heritage, which includes our culture, identity and the land.”
In summary, the main objectives of the Smart Island Congress were: creating transparent access to public data for enhanced response to citizen demand; mapping energy needs to target green investment; “owning” the streets (Google-type maps of traffic patterns to reduce congestion and plan future roads); seeking autonomy over taxation, spending and borrowing; attracting investments; recruiting talented migrants. By promoting smart approaches across our islands we have the opportunity – in this very interconnected world – to become a model of best practices for all global destinations. It is hoped that Ibiza will also move towards this path so that both residents and visitors can continue to enjoy this paradise, while helping to preserve and care for our precious island with smart planning. •