Nicaragua has been making international headlines for its ambitious goal to achieve energy independence by the end of the next decade. But already the government is making important advances on two other fronts in the country’s energy revolution: energy efficiency and rural electrification.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines this week unveiled a $17 million program to put energy-saving florescent bulbs in 36,000 public street lamps around the country as part of an effort to save approximately 35 megawatts of energy per hour. That’s roughly the amount of energy consumed by 20,000 homes, according to the government.
The reduction in energy consumption will mean less oil burned and less CO2 emissions, the Sandinista officials say.
The switch to florescent street lamps is part of the government’s broader efforts to regulate energy usage in Nicaragua.
Administration authorities are also conducting a $30,000 study of five government institutions—the Ministry of Education (MINED), Immigration (MIGOB), the Water and Sewage Administration (Enacal), the Managua Mayor’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Justice—to come up with a plan for better energy efficiency in government buildings. The “energy audit,” financed by the Nordic Development Fund, will identify specific ways each government institution can use energy more efficiently.
The government is also trying to control energy efficiency across the country by enforcing new decrees that regulate energy consumption of imported appliances, light bulbs and motors. In early 2008, President Daniel Ortega—as he is wont to do—passed a presidential decree with little announcement establishing a series of new technical norms for certain appliances and motors imported into the country. More than four years later, the government is still trying to figure out what it says or how to enforce it.
Decree 2-2008 “Ordering the Use of Energy” establishes a series of specific regulations for all light bulbs, motors, air-conditioning units and refrigerators imported into the country.
The idea is to prevent Nicaragua from becoming a dumping ground for old appliances, according to Humberto Reyes, the administration’s director of renewable energy resources.
“The idea is to make sure that energy-efficient equipment enters the country, not scrap metal,” Reyes told the government publication El 19 digital. “The risk for a country that doesn’t have any norms for energy efficiency is that junk will start to energy the country.”
Reyes said the government is devising mechanisms to enforce its little-known decree.
Increasing rural electrification
In addition to improving how energy is used, the government also wants to get more people to have it. The rural municipalities of Mulukukú, Waslala, Siuna, Rosita, Prinzapolka and Bonanza are the latest to benefit from the government’s remarkable efforts to expand rural electrification across the countryside and interior of Nicaragua.
Since the Sandinistas returned to power in 2007, rural electrification has increased from 50% to 70%, according to the government. That means 1,600 communities that weren’t on the grid five years ago are now connected, according to the government.
Salvador Mansell, director of the National Electrical Transmission Company (Enatrel), says an additional 4,000 communities—1,000 a year starting in 2013—will be connected to the national electrical grid within the next five years, Prensa Latina reports.
Leaders of Nicaragua’s private energy sector hail the Sandinistas’ efforts to extend rural electrification as one of the greatest untold achievements of the administration.
“In my opinion, it is without a doubt the greatest accomplishment of President Ortega’s government. This job was put off for 35 years in Nicaragua, where electricity coverage had been at 50% since 1977,” says César Zamora, president of Nicaragua’s leading energy-generation company AEI Nicaragua.
Zamora says the implications for development and progress can’t be understated.
“Nothing generates development and economic wellbeing for families like having access to electricity and potable water,” Zamora told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “The quality of life in terms of health, education, household production and social integration are enormous.”
Zamora says access to electricity not only means new economic opportunities, but it’s also about social justice.
“This is an act of social justice and productivity for the future,” he says. “This is great news for the country and it has to be recognized and emulated.”