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By 2030, the International Energy Agency projects that Latin America and the Caribbean will experience a 50-54% growth in energy consumption. Such consumption growth has the potential to put extreme stress on cities.

In order to meet the energy needs of the region, governments will have to coordinate and invest in policies that support energy efficiency. The Latin American and Caribbean Hub of Sustainable Energy for All, which forms part of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, is working to help the region achieve the goals of providing universal energy access, doubling energy efficiency, and doubling the use of renewables in the region, all by 2030.

In October 2014, SE4ALL Americas will be hosting the regional launch of the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All in Santiago, Chile with President Michelle Bachelet. To reach the 2030 goals, cities in the region should consider the following three strategies in their energy efficiency plan:

1. Provide incentives to develop energy efficiency projects for low income homes. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. This is why it is important for countries to offer programs that promote energy efficiency for low income residents. Homeowners benefit from long-term savings on energy bills, and the country moves towards the goal of doubling its energy efficiency.

Between 2010 and 2012 the IDB implemented a pilot project in Mexicali, Mexico to provide low income residents with energy efficient air conditioners, among other energy efficiency measures such as thermal insulation for residences, efficient lighting and efficient refrigerators. Temperatures in the city are often over 100 degrees, which means that now income residents devote a significant portion of their income to energy bills. In a video that shows the human impact of the project, Paola Méndez, an IDB energy consultant explained, “cities are going to continue to grow, and therefore we believe that this is replicable in all cities that currently have to address issues of energy, growth, poverty, and equality.” A resident who benefitted from the project explained how her energy bill had dropped by 70%, a savings which could help her and her family have a better life.

2. Install energy efficient public lighting. In many Latin American cities, public lighting represents a significant percent of total energy consumption. In Ecuador, where it represents 6% of nationwide energy consumption, the IDB funded a study with Econoler to show how replacing mercury and incandescent public lights with LED lights in cities across the country could help the environment and reduce energy costs. The project would replace 1,031,303 street lights for a total projected annual savings of US$68 million and an annual energy savings of 553GWh.

Energy EfficiencyPhoto: Flickr

Other Latin American countries have tried various tactics including the following: in 2010 Argentina and ten other countries prohibited the sale and importation of incandescent light bulbs; in 2009 the Bolivian government offered free energy efficient bulbs to residents nationwide; Venezuela currently has a light bulb exchange program that replaces incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents.

3. Promote energy efficiency measures for public buildings, hotels, and other businesses. Energy costs can represent 10-15% of the budget for public buildings and hotels, which represents a significant amount of wasted energy on a national level. Installing energy efficient technology and other renewable energy technologies can drastically reduce these costs.  In 2011 the IDB  approved the Caribbean Hotel Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Action (CHENACT), a $2 million grant to help the tourism sector in Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Guyana become more energy efficient.  The project has been met with enthusiasm by hotels because it will reduce their bottom line while contributing to decreased GHG emissions.

Enery EfficiencyNegril Lighthouse in Jamaica. Originally powered by kerosene, the Lighthouse switched to solar power in 1985 and flashes every two seconds. Photo: Flickr

According to a recent IDB study, Cochabamba, Bolivia is at the vanguard of energy efficiency in businesses and factories. By adopting energy efficiency measures and investing in efficient technologies in 2012, the city has reduced energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

These three strategies have a proven track record of promoting energy efficiency, and they are examples how cities can continue to move towards the 2030 goal of doubling energy efficiency. In a recent interview with the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno—who is also on the advisory board of Sustainable Energy for All—discussed the importance of sustainable energy. He said, “sustainable energy is the missing development goal. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon always says that ‘energy is the golden thread’ in development. Access to energy plays an important role in eradicating poverty, reducing infant mortality, improving education, promoting gender equality, increasing access to quality medical care, and attaining environmental sustainability.” As President Moreno highlighted, the human impact of energy efficiency policies has the potential to improve the quality of life for many citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Alice Driver works in communications for the Sustainable Energy for All in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC-SE4ALL) initiative.  In 2012-13, Dr. Driver was a postdoctoral fellow at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.  She is a writer who explores issues of gender, women’s rights, and human rights with a focus on Mexico, and her work has been published by Al Jazeera, Salon, Ms. Magazine, and Women’s Media Center. Her book “More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico”, is forthcoming with the University of Arizona Press in 2015.  Follow Alice on Twitter