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Energy Efficiency Promotes Sustainable Development in the Caribbean

October 15th  marks the launch of the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in the Americas, an event that is being hosted in Santiago, Chile by President Michelle Bachelet in conjunction with the United Nations and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The event and subsequent conference will highlight the fact that sustainable energy is sustainable development, and will define the vision of the SE4ALL in Latin America and the Caribbean for the next decade. SE4ALL has three key objectives: to ensure universal access to modern energy, to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. In LAC, which already has the highest rates of energy access and use of renewables of any region in the world, energy efficiency is an area where great strides can be made.

There is nothing sexy about energy efficiency, which is perhaps why the subject receives less attention than it deserves. However, it is one of the best investments governments, businesses, and residents can make to decrease pollution and lower energy bills. The IDB recognizes the importance of promoting energy efficiency in the region, and has diverse programs that promote energy efficient technology, education, and energy audits. For example, the Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Action Program (CHENACT), which was funded by the IDB, has met with success since its 2009 launch. It is an energy and climate change project in the tourism sector that helps hotels assess and invest in energy efficiency measures. Something as simple as choosing energy efficient light bulbs can dramatically lower energy costs for individuals and businesses alike. For example, incandescent light bulbs cost around $1.50 and last 1,200 hours. Although LED light bulbs require a greater initial investment, $7, they last 50,000 hours, which produces savings in the long-term. The program focuses on how renewable energy and micro generation can help hotels become more competitive over the long-term.

Energy efficiency projects are projected to reduce electricity consumption by 20-30% and yield a net savings of $280,000 over a seven-year period for small hotels (less than 50 rooms) and $975,000 for large hotels (200 rooms). The total investment for hotels is between $200,000 and $500,000 depending on the size of the hotel, and the average period for recouping the initial investment is 2.5 years. The program also connects hotels with the SMART Energy Fund to create a cash flow model and a financing plan.

In Barbados, the CHENACT program supported detailed energy audits in 31 hotels and a pilot PV hotel demonstration that provided information about specifications, selection criteria, and other important issues to take into consideration when installing PV panels. The pilot was important because, despite the high and rising cost of electricity in Barbados, energy efficiency has proved to be a challenge for hotels there.

For the 2,270 hotels across the Caribbean, annual electricity consumption is 4.36 GWh. Energy efficiency measures have the potential to save 1.05 GWh and reduce 885,000 tons of CO2 emissions. As the CHENACT continues to expand to reach more hotels, it will help them save money and reduce the environmental impact of the tourism industry. This and other IDB programs support the goals of Sustainable Energy for All Americas, and help the region meet the objectives defined by the United Nations initiative.

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