Second in a seven-part series on Energy in Costa Rica
For Eduardo Gómez, saving energy is as good as gold.
“The best source of energy is energy conservation,” Gómez said. “Efficient energy use benefits everyone. It reduces costs for the user, and it doesn’t stress (power) plants that generate and distribute electricity.”
Gómez is the finance manager for Ener-G Technology Investments, a Costa Rica-based energy efficiency company, and he has seen too much waste in his day.
Outdated equipment and inefficient light bulbs are just two of the things that turn off Gómez when he conducts an energy audit.
“Owners and directors of companies think that the electricity bill is a fixed cost, but that’s not the case,” he said.
Gómez said that using modern equipment and converting to independent, renewable energy sources, such as solar, can help companies reduce their energy bills and their carbon footprints.
But such changes usually come with a hefty price tag and they often can have a long payback time. Some solar panel systems won’t begin generating savings that justify investment costs for up to 20 years after their installations.
The struggle, Gómez noted, is to convince companies to think in a long-term fashion and to help them ease the start-up costs of energy efficient systems.
In 1994, the Costa Rican government published the “Regulation for the Rational Use of Energy,” designed to help companies reduce energy use and offer incentives to implement efficient systems.
The law created a program, administered by the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET), to identify private companies that consume more than 240,000 kilowatts of electricity.
The idea was to create an index to determine how best to distribute electricity as well as identify companies that were candidates for incentives to reduce their overall use of energy, including that generated from petroleum derivatives.
Although the database contains some valuable information regarding energy consumption by the nation’s private companies, experts agree that the program hasn’t functioned to its potential.
Gómez noted that some companies are not aware of the law while others don’t submit any information to MINAET because the law is poorly enforced.
Javier Orozco, director of integral expansion and electrical planning for the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), noted that he wasn’t familiar with all of the specifics, but he said that it might be worth taking a second look at the law and searching for better alternatives.
“We need something like this (law),” he said, but a lot can change in 15 years. As for incentives, the Regulation of the Rational Use of Energy offers some fiscal encouragements.
It states that companies will receive “50 percent co-financing” for the application of energy efficient technologies that have “high costs or investments.” Those are defined as expenditures “superior to 15 percent of the annual energy cost of the company.”
While agreeing this incentive could be helpful, Gómez said that actually receiving the 50 percent co-financing is rarely easy.
“There are no resources for this kind of rebate and, in reality, it doesn’t apply,” he said. “You can present a request and go for months and even years without a response.”
But while large consumers, consultants and governments agencies bounce energy reduction stragies back and forth, everyone seems to agree that energy conservation should start on a small and, often, behavioral scale.
Daniela García, director of the office of sustainability at the NationalUniversity, regularly leads workshops for campus offices and private companies on how to preserve energy with an immediate payback time.
“It doesn’t cost anything to turn off a light or unplug a phone charger,” she said. “But many people aren’t even aware of the ways they waste electricity.”
Gómez said companies can reduce electricity consumption by an average of 15 percent per month if they simply disconnect equipment overnight, when it’s not in use.
“These small behavioral changes are the best ways to start to conserve energy,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy 75 percent of all energy used is consumed by devices that are plugged in but not turned on. An appliance that is not in use but connected to the outlet can still draw up to 10 percent of the electricity it would use if it were operating.
“Just think of the savings, both in terms of money and electricity resources, if we could eliminate this one behavior,” García said. “Everyone just needs to do a little bit, and the end result will be huge.”
Next week: Water Power