Monday, March 22, 2010

Island Sustainability Primer: Trends on Income, Energy, Tourism*

The goal of this on-going research project is to collect and summarize rich data sets and data sources for world’s islands. Fifty islands for which complete data could be collected are currently in the database. Islands may be part of a country or a country. Islands with population of less than 50,000 people were excluded.

Nine major variables were used for each island: Population , Area (km2), Density (citizens/km2), Political Status (independent country or part of a country), Gross Domestic Product or GDP (million U.S. dollars in 2008), Annual Electricity Consumption (Terra Watt hours), Carbon Dioxide or CO2 Emissions (million metric tons), Annual Tourist Arrivals, and Combined Road and Rail length (km per 1000 people). Some of the early results are highlighted below.

For developed islands the incremental cost and needs to serve large numbers of tourists are relatively small, thus tourism can be quite cost effective. But for small and less developed islands the cost to provide for tourism is high in terms of energy and pollution.

In general, the higher the GDP per capita is the higher the electricity consumption. For electricity consumption higher than 6,000 kWh per person, the relationship curve flattens. Also, electricity consumption per person is proportional to CO2 emissions per person.

When electricity consumption is in the range of 6,000 to 11,000 kWh per person the CO2 emissions appear to be low for a group of islands (9 to 11 metric tons per person) and higher for another group (16 to 19 metric tons per person). The islands in the low group of carbon emissions have approximately equal GDP with the islands in the high group of carbon emissions. The high group of islands consists of the Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, Maui, Big Island), Bahamas and Australia whereas the low group consists of European islands (Ireland, Iceland, UK, Cyprus) as well as Japan and New Zealand. Availability of hydro and nuclear power is likely what makes this large difference in carbon footprint.

Japan, with the highest population of all islands, has the 9th highest GDP per capita; however, it is 44th in tourists per capita, 12th in infrastructure per capita 10th in electricity consumption and 13th in CO2 emissions.

New Zealand is 16th in GDP per capita, 30th in tourists per capita, 4th in infrastructure per capita, 8th in electricity consumption and 16th in CO2 emissions per capita. As shown below, Oahu has woefully inadequate infrastructure when compared with Japan and New Zealand.

Similar to both New Zealand and Japan, our extremely large Pacific Ocean “neighbor,” Australia, is the largest island in the list, is in 7th place in GDP per capita, 37th in tourists per capita, 3rd in infrastructure per capita, 4th in electricity consumption and 5th in CO2 emissions per capita.

Table 1 summarizes the Hawaiian Islands rankings out of 50 islands with population over 50,000 people. Oahu, Maui and Big Island make the population cut, but Kauai does not.

In terms of GDP, Oahu ranks very high at 5th highest, with Maui and Big Inland in 17th and 18th position, respectively. In terms of income, Hawaiian Inland residents fare much better than average compared to other island populations. The Hawaiian Islands are major international tourism destinations: Tourists per capita shows that Maui is in the top spot, followed by Big Island on 5th and Oahu on 8th.

When it comes to road and rail infrastructure to accommodate residents and tourists, the Hawaiian Islands fall far short of their island counterparts. Only the Big Island makes it to the top 10 in the 7th place, Maui is another seven spots down at 14th and Oahu is near the bottom at 41st having too little land transportation infrastructure for its population. The result is its abundant congestion that threatens its long term quality of life and tourist attractiveness, which, in turn, degrade its sustainability.

The advanced quality of life in the Hawaiian Islands and the fact that they host over six million tourists per year results in a large consumption of electric power. Both Maui (3rd highest) and Oahu (9th highest) make it in the top 10 and Big Island is close to them at 13th. Hawaiian island dependence on oil is worrisome and the presence of fairly large population of residents and tourists does not bode well for low productivity sources like solar and wind energy. The latter has some potential but its visual impact is usually too large for Hawaii’s scenic landscapes.

Wave and tidal energy is difficult to harness and requires large shore structures, which again render then unappealing although some deployments may be feasible. This leaves nuclear as a major sustainability choice, either with small power plants (like the seven to twelve 110 megawatt nuclear units in large Navy submarines stationed in Pearl Harbor on any given day) or a largely invisible large floating platform 10 to 12 miles offshore.

As expected, an advanced life style and energy generation from coal and oil translate into a high environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. All three Hawaiian Islands examined are in the top ten among this set of 50 islands. However, due to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the strong prevailing winds, local air pollution is not a problem in the Hawaiian Islands.

Two future changes can dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in Hawaii: Electric vehicles charged overnight by large scale wind farms or smaller neighborhood wind turbines, and nuclear power for the bulk of daytime power needs.

(*) Based on Research by Lambros Mitropoulos, Panos Prevedouros, and Michelle Coskey at University of Hawaii, Civil Engineering, Traffic and Transportation Laboratory