Investing in the ‘Hidden Fuel’ the Smartest Alternative

By Leonardo Beltrán | Tue, 09/15/2020 – 18:18


Leonardo Beltran MBN

Leonardo Beltrán
Non-resident Fellow
Institute of the Americas

In its April 30 edition, The Economist published an article with the headline, “The 90% economy – Life after lockdowns,” which basically reflected on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the world economy. Last month, the Mexican Central Bank (Banxico) in its latest report (Apr-Jun 2020) presented three scenarios assessing the toll of the health crisis on the Mexican economy, which averaged 11 percent contraction in GDP for 2020. One of the main components contributing to this decline in the economy is mobility. Using Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Report data, Banxico calculated that for every 1% reduction in mobility in Mexico, there was a reduction of 0.49 percent in manufacturing activity and 0.60 percent in retail sales. Moreover, in Google’s Aug. 25 Mobility Report, data showed a contraction of 42 percent in the use of public transport and 35 percent in transfers to workplaces in the country. However hard these actions were, according to national and international experience, social confinement and mobility restriction have proven to be among the most effective policies to contain the expansion of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Although in the short to medium term mobility will slowly resume, the 90 percent economy has forced businesses to downscale and prioritize their virtual interactions over physical presence, thus speeding up the process of digitalization and automation, which in turn most likely will result in an overall global reduction in mobility.

Indeed, this forced push towards a more efficient mobility model certainly includes both impact and opportunity. For instance, transport and logistics, one of the most affected sectors even before the pandemic, was starting to see a toll. Air transport was observing a wave of consolidations, not only because of tighter regulations to comply with new environmental standards (airlines have to develop projects to compensate their emissions), but also because more environmentally conscious customers along with the emergence of the flygskam (flight-shaming) movement have affected demand, resulting in low to zero profitability for some airlines, especially the low-cost carriers. However, this trend is not only seen in airlines but in transport in general, thus to survive and thrive in a 90 percent economy, with lower structural demand and more stringent environmental regulations, this industry will have to embrace an energy efficient and sustainable way of doing business; in fact, data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows an increasing trend toward digital hailing applications. Between the last quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of this year, the number of users more than doubled. Today, there are more than 1.2 billion users worldwide and the number of drivers almost tripled to reach 67.6 million; in other words, the future of mobility includes digital and sustainable mobility.
On the other hand, manufacturing has also been experiencing ups and downs and although the trend in Mexico has been downward since mid-2018, the implementation of restrictions on production related to non-priority activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in one of the most acute falls in the recent history of this sector. Both in April and May of this year, activity contracted 35.5% compared to 2019. Yet, once these measures start to be lifted, manufacturing activity will gradually pick up. However, some of the associated companies and jobs would have been lost to the pandemic. In any case, the consolidated sector also will have to incorporate a smarter business model to adapt to the new normal.

The question, then, is where might you identify the investment opportunities? It definitely should be an area where by investing, the business would become more competitive, either by reducing costs and/or increasing productivity. In fact, the most promising alternative is to invest in energy efficiency, or as the International Energy Agency (IEA) has referred to it: the hidden fuel. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization has documented that organizations implementing energy management systems (EnMS) achieve reductions in energy consumption of up to 30 percent. Using data from the Latin American Energy Organization, in the Latin America and Caribbean region, industry represents 31 percent of total final energy consumption and 16 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Mexico, industry’s total final energy consumption is a little bit higher, 34 percent, and contributes with 17.5 percent of GHG emissions. Assuming that in Mexico the results observed internationally are replicated, if we fully adopt EnMS across the industrial sector, we could achieve savings of US$3.9 billion per year, while cutting industrial GHG emissions in half.

If we are to see a better recovery, i.e. reducing our environmental footprint, recuperating jobs lost and creating permanent quality jobs, while improving competitiveness in production, the smartest alternative for industry is to invest in the hidden fuel. This will free resources otherwise spent on the cost of production, allowing businesses to expand operations or open new business lines that can stimulate economic and regional development, while at the same time, following a deep decarbonization pathway.


Mexico’s Fuels Market and a “Double Whammy”

Mexico’s Fuels Market and a “Double Whammy”

This article was first published by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute

Jeremy Martin on March 30

Despite photos of the president hugging babies and shaking scores of hands across the country, Mexico is not immune to the double whammy hitting major economies and energy markets: low oil prices and demand destruction due to the coronavirus. Indeed, for Mexico there may actually be a quintuple whammy if you layer on top of the two global trends three more particular ones at home: a recession and spiraling peso, plummeting oil production, and a massively indebted and fiscally imbalanced national oil company in Pemex. (more…)

IOA Briefs New Energy Policy Makers in El Salvador and Shares Regional Renewables Insights at Conference

IOA Briefs New Energy Policy Makers in El Salvador and Shares Regional Renewables Insights at Conference



At the end of July, Institute of the Americas Energy Transition Initiative Director, Cecilia Aguillon visited El Salvador for strategic energy policy conversations and to participate in, the Salvadoran Association of Engineers and Architects ASIA Week 2019, “90 years of ASIA: El Salvador towards sustainable development.

Cecilia Aguillon was a featured speaker at ASIA 2019. During her keynote presentation, Aguillon spoke about the IOA’s work on energy transition issues and shared her insights on renewable energy markets in the Americas. Her remarks and presentation focused on best practices and lessons learned from renewable energy market leaders in the Americas such as California, Brazil and México.

Aguillon also joined a panel discussion with Valdemar Saravia, member of the board of directors of the regulatory authority SIGET and vice president of ASIA; Silvia Vides, Director of the UNDP for El Salvador; Victor Ventura, Chief of Energy and Natural Resources Unit at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America in Mexico; and Herbert Palacios of the El Salvador´s National Energy Council. The panel featured a robust discussion centered around the opportunities and challenges of making energy policies, energy efficiency and renewable energy more accessible to people from all socio-economic sectors of El Salvador.

During her time in El Salvador, Aguillon took the opportunity to meet with newly appointed Director of the National Energy Council, Salvador Handal and the new Superintendent of the Regulatory authority SIGET, Manuel Aguilar. The meetings with these officials proved an important complement to her remarks and presentation at the conference and are crucial for maintaining the close relationship the Institute of the Americas has enjoyed with energy policymakers in El Salvador.


Argentina Energy 2019: Oil & Gas, Lithium and Energy Transition

Argentina Energy 2019: Oil & Gas, Lithium and Energy Transition

On March 27-28, the Institute of the Americas convened its annual Energy Roundtable in Buenos Aires with the participation of over 100 representatives from the federal, provincial and city government, regulators, industry, academia and civil society.

The two day Roundtable counted several high level panels and an intense discussion of oil and gas issues as well as the emerging role for the lithium market and the broader contours of how the global energy transition is unfolding in Argentina. A unique lunch panel featured a debate with renowned political analysts and their insights on the intersection of energy and politics as the country heads into a presidential election this October.

Not surprisingly, much of the discussion centered on the ongoing structural adjustments and reforms enacted by the Macri administration, particularly those aimed at subsidies and fiscal incentives both in terms of consumers but also energy producers.

Vaca Muerta and the country’s success in developing the massive unconventional resource potential was also heavily debated. Though important gains have been made to reduce logistical and operation costs, continued focus on efficiency measures and creating a more competitive ecosystem is a must, panelists underscored. There is no doubt that further efforts are required to boost the amount and capabilities of service and equipment providers, but also to greatly increase the number of operators in the country’s oil and gas sector.

Furthermore, how to create sufficient infrastructure to “move the molecules” remains a key piece to the challenge. Gains have been made utilizing long-inactive pipelines and infrastructure and reopening natural gas exchanges with Chile and Brazil in the short to medium term makes eminent good sense.

A majority of panelists agreed that the key to fully monetizing Vaca Muerta’s potential was to fully plug Argentina into the global liquefied natural gas (LNG) market. To do so will require all segments of the country’s energy sector to participate in the strategic development of the resource – the government, YPF, private sector participants, regulators and civil society. The technology, geography and volumes, not to mention contractual arrangements, are but a few of the elements that will require attention and crucial decisions in the coming months and years. Further, one panelist argued that political consensus and a law supported across party lines stipulating and protecting investment in such a major infrastructure project is needed to reduce the so-called country risk component.

Beyond the fiscal impacts debated, Argentina’s energy sector is also undergoing a broader transformation and disruption brought about by global trends. Indeed, the policy efforts aimed at increasing renewable energy deployment through the government’s RenovAr program was discussed. Panelists agreed that the effort to date had been important but a thorough cost benefit analysis was required in order to best consolidate and determine the gains and to continue forward momentum. Moreover, a new distributed generation law passed last year is being developed for implementation. Benchmarking against international examples from California to Germany to Chile were discussed during the Roundtable.

And, of course, the role that mobility and electric vehicles are playing in the discussion of energy and emissions reduction is an increasing topic for debate in Argentina. Programs and goals set by the City of Buenos Aires, but also efforts made at the provincial level, have led to an uptick over the last year or so in options for citizens to utilize electric transportation, both mass transit and individual vehicles.

Finally, the topic of lithium featured an illuminating discussion of the potential for Argentina to position itself as a global player. However, the market is still quite small, prices are volatile and the number of projects that exist solely on paper far exceeds the reality that global headlines portray for lithium. But as several panelists argued, therein is the opportunity for oil and gas companies to bring to bear financing and operational insights to the sector and perhaps facilitate some of the dormant projects and boost the development of Argentina’s lithium market.

Mercado de generación distribuida de Argentina: El diablo está en los detalles

Mercado de generación distribuida de Argentina: El diablo está en los detalles

Cecilia Aguillón
Institute of the Americas Director, Energy Transition Initiative
March 8, 2019
This article was fist published in PV Magazine

Durante décadas, los mercados de generación renovable distribuida (GD) han estado creciendo en el hemisferio occidental en áreas fuera de la red. Sin embargo, los proyectos fotovoltaicos conectados a la red están en apogeo, en la mayoría de los países América Latina que están desarrollando sus programas de transición energética. El último país en anunciar la promulgación de leyes para el mercado GD es Argentina.

En diciembre de 2018, Argentina publicó regulaciones para implementar la ley No. 27.191 para acelerar su mercado GD, descentralizar las fuentes de energía, reducir las emisiones y crear empleos. Al igual que con la mayoría de las medidas legales y reglamentarias incipientes, el éxito dependerá del diseño de políticas adecuadas que atraigan la inversión local y hagan crecer su mercado GD en forma sostenible. El momento no podría ser mejor, ya que los costos de la tecnología renovable se encuentran en su nivel más bajo en la historia, y Argentina puede aprender de las lecciones significativas de mercados más maduros, evitar errores y adaptar las mejores prácticas a su conjunto único de condiciones.


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Los mercados de generación distribuida en América Latina han estado creciendo en los últimos diez años gracias a la rápida caída en los precios de los equipos solares y al aumento de los costos de la energía convencional. En enero, PV Magazine informó que Brasil alcanzó un total de 500 MW en instalaciones de GD. Un año antes, la revista informó que México había superado los 400 MW en 2017; y es muy probable que el mercado mexicano ya haya superado los 500 MW. Los países centroamericanos también han estado desarrollando sus mercados, aunque a un ritmo más lento Pero vale la pena mencionar que el líder del mercado en las Américas sigue siendo California, donde la Comisión de Servicios Públicos (CPUC) informó que 7.6 GW de capacidad instalada acumulada fue lograda al final del año 2018.

Desde los mercados altamente promocionados como California, México y Brasil, vemos políticas en común como son el aumento de los costos de la electricidad convencional, la fácil interconexión y la medición neta. Sin embargo, la medición neta puede no ser un motor de arranque en Argentina donde los distribuidores de electricidad y los operadores de la red parecen opuestos a esta política. Además, los precios de la electricidad en Argentina son artificialmente bajos, y actualmente se encuentran cerca de los USD $ 0.05 / kWh. Sin embargo, a partir de ese desafío hay una oportunidad para que el gobierno reduzca sus subsidios a la electricidad al mismo tiempo que sustituye las fuentes de energía limpia con un programa de GD bien diseñado y ejecutado. Cada vez está más claro que existen opciones para que Argentina pueda superar su conjunto único de desafíos.

Si reducir los subsidios a la energía es políticamente prohibitivo en Argentina e incluso los precios solares actuales no son rentables para la mayoría de usuarios, el mercado de GD podría beneficiar a los grandes consumidores de energía en el sector industrial que actualmente pagan más de USD $ 0,10 / kWh.

El Salvador y Guatemala, por ejemplo no ofrecen medición neta y el exceso de generación de sistemas fotovoltaicos se compensa a los precios de mayoreo, pero su recuperación es de casi menos de 5 años, según los instaladores locales, porque las tarifas de electricidad actuales son de dos dígitos. Para mercado de grandes usuarios de energía, la facilidad de las reglas de interconexión y el acceso a financiamiento de bajo costo pueden ser incentivos suficientes. Esto podría crear un impulso para acelerar la industria local, ya que los proveedores e instaladores de tecnología fotovoltaica pueden crecer, competir y reducir los costos de instalación. Si el país desea llegar a los consumidores residenciales que pagan menos de USD $ 0,10 / kWh, el desafío es mucho mayor.

La Comisión de Servicios Públicos de California enfrentó una situación similar al implementar la Iniciativa Solar del Estado. Aunque las tarifas de electricidad eran altas para comenzar, la tecnología era un 80% más cara que hoy, por lo que la energía solar no era factible cuando se creó la Iniciativa. Los subsidios se diseñaron para pagar los kWhs de energía solar producida por los clientes, pero los subsidios solo duraban cinco años porque ese fue el tiempo estimado y aceptable para el retorno de la inversión. De manera similar, los clientes de energía solar argentinos podrían obtener un subsidio basado en la producción de kWhs por un corto período de tiempo como incentivo para acelerar el mercado, especialmente cuando la medición neta no es una opción.

El fácil acceso y el bajo costo de financiamiento pueden ayudar a Argentina a promover el mercado de GD de manera efectiva. América Latina es conocida por sus altas tasas de interés, a menudo más del 10%. A pesar de que los costos de la energía fotovoltaica se encuentran en un mínimo histórico, el pago de una tasa de interés del 12% para un proyecto fotovoltaico industrial cambiaría la rentabilidad desde un par de años si se compra en efectivo hasta diez años o más cuando se financia. Por lo tanto, Argentina podría diseñar un programa de préstamos con tasas de interés más bajas que las actuales. El fondo podría recuperarse y regenerarse para ayudar a los futuros clientes. Un financiamiento factible podría hacer que los proyectos de GD sean rentables y el mercado crecería de inmediato.

Para que la Generación Distribuida prospere en Argentina, las inversiones en energía solar deben obtener un retorno de inversión razonable. Tener eso en mente y al mismo tiempo asegurarse de que los distribuidores de energía paguen una tarifa justa por el exceso de kWhs puede parecer complicado, pero estos son dos de los detalles más importantes a considerar para que las políticas de GD muevan al mercado. Afortunadamente, varios países en el mundo le brindan a Argentina un menú de herramientas de políticas que se pueden modificar y adaptar para arrancar un mercado con éxito.


USMCA and Latin American Energy Diplomacy Under a New US Congress

USMCA and Latin American Energy Diplomacy Under a New US Congress

Dec 11 2018 – Washington DC

November’s midterm elections altered the balance of power in Washington, and the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, which will mean new chairs on key committees, will play an important role in shaping US energy diplomacy and energy markets in the Western Hemisphere. At an event co-hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Institute of the Americas, panelists discussed how the new Congress will approach key issues affecting energy within the context of Latin America’s evolving role in US trade and foreign policy.

In his keynote remarks, Nelson Cunningham, president of McLarty Associates, stressed that the approval of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) will take center stage as the new Congress assumes power, with major consequences for North American trade. Though the Democratic base has become increasingly pro-trade, Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats may be reluctant to yield a major political win to President Donald Trump, and Pelosi could attempt to stall a vote on the deal as she did with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in 2008.

At least publicly, Democratic leaders have expressed their desire to work with the president on reaching an agreement, which could deliver some minor improvements over the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but they have concerns about elements related to labor and the environment, as well as about the deal’s overall enforceability, panelists noted. It remains to be seen whether the president is willing to negotiate or will resort immediately to his nuclear option: a unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA, which would leave Democrats with six months to decide between the USMCA and the grim alternative of no free trade deal at all. All parties would lose in North America’s highly integrated energy industry, including US refiners and gas producers that import crude oil, steel, and aluminum from both neighboring countries and export heavily to Mexico.

Beyond trade, Congress also has broad powers in global energy diplomacy. The House has important influence on areas such as foreign aid, tax policy, and natural gas exports. Panelists discussed strategic goals the new Congress can pursue next year, such as preventing oil from becoming part of conflicts in the region and reinforcing political stability and good governance. In particular, two new committee chairs will shoulder special responsibility in setting the agenda. Representative Eliot Engel, who will take the helm as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, brings a strong track record in US-Latin America engagement, having previously chaired the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. Representative Albio Sires will assume the top role on that subcommittee, and will emphasize his tough stance on Venezuela and on Cuba, where he was born. Closer cooperation on energy in the hemisphere will benefit both the US and Latin American partners, and in the current complex political environment, the new Congress should resolve not to let it fall by the wayside.

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