Energy Efficiency: A Pillar of Chile's Energy Future (Part I)

Earlier this week I wrote about how Chile’s non-conventional renewable energy sector is booming and will play a key role in the future of the country’s energy mix. Another clean energy sector that is often overlooked in the country – but which is no less deserving of attention in the role it can play to help meet Chile’s future energy needs – is energy efficiency. In fact, given that energy efficiency is often considered to be the fastest, most economical way to “provide” energy, it is surprising that it does not enjoy the spotlight more often in Chile, where industry and politicians regularly call for more new power plants to feed the energy-hungry mining sector. If the new government were to undertake a few fundamental changes to the way it approaches energy efficiency, this sector could quickly and demonstrably contribute to the national energy portfolio – and, I think, earn a bit more of the respect it deserves.

To be clear, the government of Chile has recognized the important role energy efficiency can play. It was the first pillar in former-President Piñera’s 2012-2030 National Energy Strategy, and his administration set a national goal of reducing Chile’s projected 2020 energy consumption by 12 percent—a goal that was highlighted in the 2013 National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency. The new Minister of Energy, Máximo Pacheco, underscored President Bachelet’s commitment to increase energy efficiency, listing it as one of the five pillars of this administration’s energy agenda.

The head of the public-private Chilean Energy Efficiency Agency (AChEE) recently spoke about the successes the agency has had since forming three years ago, citing programs in the transport and building sectors. He also, notably, added, “we have an expensive, dirty and unstable grid which we want to transform into an economical, sustainable and stable grid, and we think that energy efficiency is the best vehicle to achieve that.

There are some fundamental steps which could help launch that ‘vehicle’ and take Chile’s energy efficiency sector from good to great. Just saying that energy efficiency is an important piece of the energy puzzle is not enough. Actions are what demonstrate that energy efficiency is a true priority. Broadly, the government could do this by:

  • Creating an energy efficiency framework that strategically incorporates and coordinates current and future energy efficiency efforts in all sectors (including transportation, housing and construction, industrial processes, appliances, etc.). A framework like this, once established, should exist indefinitely – that is, independent of any changes in administration.
  • Dedicating stable, sufficient funding for these coordinated energy efficiency efforts which, again, would be independent of changing administrations.
  • Launching a well-staffed governmental department to develop, maintain and analyze energy efficiency indicators and to make that information available to the public.
  • Establishing a system in which all stakeholders have the ability to participate in the collection of energy data and the setting of goals, so that those goals are understood and trusted.

These actions would help to create an energy efficiency sector that is strong, strategic, informed and inclusive. They would ensure that the government has the best data available and that can make decisions and take actions knowing that it can back them up with financial and human resources. Finally, by including stakeholder participation in these processes, these actions would bring transparency and accountability to the entire framework.

There are other, sector-specific energy efficiency actions that could also significantly contribute to helping Chile meet its future energy needs. For the sake of brevity, however, I’ll address those sectors in an upcoming blog.

All of these ideas come from an upcoming report from NRDC about energy efficiency policy recommendations for Chile, From Good to Great: The Next Step in Chilean Energy Efficiency, which we developed in collaboration with Chilean and international experts. Stay tuned.