Learning energy efficiency networks in Argentina

by | Jan 7, 2021

The Argentinean experience can inform experts on LEEN efforts to make industrial sectors more energy efficient in developing regions.

Image credit: Ant Rozetsky Unsplash

As stated by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in the Tracking Industry 2020 report, even though direct industrial CO2 emissions, including process emissions, declined 0.6% in 2018 (representing 24% of global emissions), to align with sustainable development goals it is necessary that industry emissions fall by 1.2% annually until 2030. This will require intensification of efforts in energy efficiency. For developing countries, promoting energy efficiency in industrial sectors may also have significant auxiliary benefits.

However, it has been difficult for many of these countries to improve energy efficiency in their industrial sectors. Usually, industrial firms face significant problems that prevent them from implementing these cost-effective efficiency actions. These market failures, behavioral problems, and barriers require the implementation of energy policies to address them. In Argentina, according to a study performed by Dubrovsky et al. (2020), awareness and cultural, information, knowledge, capacity, and economic barriers, among others, are the most relevant problems to address in the industrial sector.

There are many alternatives that can be implemented to address these problems. In the late 1980s, Switzerland developed a novel instrument to remove knowledge and investment barriers in the industrial sector: Learning energy efficiency networks (LEEN). A LEEN is a collaborative methodology between different actors pursuing the objective of optimizing the energy performance of their organizations through the exchange of experiences and the technical support offered by experts. In some countries this objective has been extended to the implementation of energy management systems (EMSs).

One of the most remarkable worldwide case studies for LEENs is the one provided by Germany, which between 2009 and 2013 implemented 30 pilot learning networks, which were able to reduce the costs associated with energy use by an average of around 180 000€; they accomplished 2.4% annual reductions in CO2 emissions and improvements in energy efficiency by 2.1% per year. Based on these results, the German Federal government published The National Action Plan on Energy Efficiency (NAPE), adopting the idea of the networks and set the goal of implementing a total of 500 networks by 2020.

In our work, we evaluate the experience of five regional LEEN created in the framework of a European Cooperation Project “Energy Efficiency in Argentina” developed in conjunction with the Secretary of Energy of Argentina, in the provinces of Santa Fe, Tucumán, Córdoba, Buenos Aires (Industrial Park of Pilar) and Misiones. These LEENs were composed by over than 60 firms from different industrial sectors and experts who took part in the workshops and the audits.

At the time of writing, two of these LEEN projects have been completed. These show energy saving values of around 2-3% with little investment, with savings measures mainly derived from energy management, better operations and some investment in automation. The remaining individual companies are expected achieve 1-10% in energy savings (in one case this is projected to be 14%).

The Argentinean case shows that, in addition to the energy savings arriving from the introduction of specific measures, the most important results of LEENs in developing countries may be changes in cultural patterns, increasing efficiency awareness, and capacity building. In this sense, the networks have played a fundamental role in removing the main barriers to energy efficiency in Argentina’s industrial sector.

“The results obtained have been very satisfactory both for the industries that have participated in the programs and for the professionals who have attended throughout all the learning workshops,” said one of the experts involved, José Luis Larrégola. “For the industries it has been a starting point to give a standardized approach to energy management in their organizations. Professionals have worked on different energy analysis tools that will allow them to grow in their respective jobs, achieving added motivation to their usual responsibilities. But the great contribution that the learning networks offer is the cultural change among the professionals of the organization.”

The performance of the LEENs, as well as many other measures and strategies, depend on the context of implementation and on the existence of enabling conditions that accompany them. In this sense, it is crucial to adapt the LEEN to the local situation. Our work contains a set of lessons learned that are relevant for the expansion of LEEN in Argentina and other countries in the Latin American region. This design can (and should) be actively promoted as part of the development of public policies to improve energy management, given the significant benefits and auxiliary benefits mentioned. This is because the existing barriers to the development and implementation of energy performance improvement projects that LEEN can mitigate or eliminate are very similar for all countries in the region, due to their socio-economic, financial, and environmental characteristics.

The deployment of these LEENs in Argentina is particularly interesting because they faced an additional specific barrier: the COVID-19 pandemic and the mandatory quarantine established by the government. In order to overcome this barrier, the Energy Efficiency Project in Argentina implemented a series of eight virtual workshops between May and August 2020.

 This strategy has been extremely important as a tool to continue with the development of the LEENs. Indeed, during the last virtual workshop, participants from companies highlighted the relevance of these workshops in the context of COVID-19. Aude Maio-Coliche, Ambassador of the European Union, pointed out that “the measures that companies implement will have a high impact on the country. Each and every one of us is responsible, as individuals and as companies, for taking measures to ensure the health of the planet.” He further stressed that “we need a real collective transformation and this is the plan the European Union has proposed to recover from the pandemic. The energy efficiency project in Argentina will be the banner of this”.

LEENs can be a very attractive tool for governments to knock down some of the most common barriers in industrial sectors. Guillermo Martín, General Director of Electricity Generation from the National Secretariat of Energy puts it this way: “The LEENs have had a very significant impact on the Argentinean industrial sector…We will need to show this impact, this will be the main factor to show the effectiveness of this system, and also through new co-financing schemes will try to push the multiplication of these networks to other sectors.”

Written by:

Claudio F. Carpio, researcher from Fundación Bariloche, Argentina

Marina Yesica Recalde, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) and Fundación Bariloche, Argentina

Reference: C. Carpio, M. Recalde, Learning energy efficiency networks in Latin America: Lessons learned from the Argentinean case.  WIREs Energy and Environment (2020). DOI: 10.1002/wene.391