Energy Efficiency Moving Ahead in Chile

Chile put the right (green) foot forward in 2010 when it created a Ministry of Energy. For the last few years, President Bachelet has had an appointed Minister of Energy, but no formal Ministry. In addition to taking on energy efficiency and renewable energy policy, the new ministry will continue regulation of electric supply. Chile started taking energy efficiency seriously in 2005, when the government organized a National Program for Energy Efficiency. The effort took on increased significance in the 2007-2008 energy shortage caused by the cutoff of Argentinean gas supply and a drought that reduced Chile’s hydro-electric capacity. 

The Andean nation is now starting to make real strides in energy efficiency, and the rest of the world is taking note – and taking an interest.  On my most recent trip there, the refrigerator in my rented apartment showed the signs of progress. 

The first thing I noticed is that it was small, considerably smaller than most of those sold in the US (see, it even fits between my fingers…). 

Efficiency is not the same as conservation, but smaller isn’t necessarily worse, either. This little guy fit the apartment well and stores plenty of food and drinks for most urban dwelling families.

But before you start thinking energy efficiency standards drove down the size of refrigerators in Chile, think again!  Refrigerators were among the first appliances regulated in California and the effects have been famously win-win: refrigerators efficiency standards have saved lots of energy and at the same time, prices have declined while the average volume has increased. 

US Refrigerator energy use, volume and price over time

The new Chilean Ministry of energy plans to adopt refrigerator energy efficiency standards soon (hopefully this year). So far, what’s in place is a mandatory labeling program. The size difference is driven by other factors, likely cost and high electric rates.

The label demonstrates a big, user-friendly scale that indicates how this refrigerator measures up against other refrigerators (more like the labels in Europe than EPA’s Energy Star Label).

From what I heard, the label has already mostly moved the market towards the most efficient end of the spectrum.  This suggests that, like Europe, they might be ready to upgrade the label.

Chile has also done labels for lighting products and the Ministry is hoping to promulgate lighting efficiency standards (like the ones that have passed Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia among others) soon. 

All of this is good news. The key question is whether the President-elect, Sebastian Piñera, will maintain energy efficiency as national priority: let’s hope he does. In particular, Chile should step up efficiency efforts in the industrial and mining sectors, which make up the largest part of Chile’s electricity consumption. With that effort, efficiency will start to make a real dent in energy demand growth. The alternatives are bleak: a recent IEA report indicated that Chile’s electric sector could triple its greenhouse gas emission in the next 15 years from increased reliance on coal. Additionally, a proposal by a consortium led by Italian Enel to build five massive hydro-electric dams in Chilean Patagonia, mostly to feed the increasing energy consumption of Chile’s mining sector.

If President-elect Piñera moves in the smart direction, Chile is poised to be a regional leader on energy efficiency, and fostering that leadership should be a priority for the US government in its efforts to step up international cooperation on climate and energy policy.