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Ecuador taps into water

Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy explains ambitious plan to develop hydro resources

Dr Esteban Albornoz Vintimilla is an ambitious man. Despite ensuring that 98% of Ecuadorians have electricity access, the minister is steering a long-term programme-financed by a dedicated fund-to bring electricity to rural areas where are not interconnected and have no service.

"In the Amazon area, demand for electricity is very dispersed. We are bringing transmission grids and electricity grids to that area, but it's a big challenge-though we've had a very good experience using individual solutions with solar PV panels," he explains.

State oil company Petroamazonas has a project to optimise power generation that includes the development of tools for electrical implementation in areas of eastern Ecuador where there is no service. "They have a very efficient programme bringing solutions using associated gas in this area," says Albornoz.

Hydropower is the main focus of the government in terms of meeting Ecuador's energy challenges. And in this effort, it has achieved notable success in recent years.

"Ecuador has identified hydropower potential and has focused on this and decided to invest and decided to undertake construction of eight hydropower projects simultaneously," says Albornoz.

Just a few years ago only 45 percent of its electricity was coming from hydro resources. "Today 85 percent of the electricity comes from hydro resources and renewables," he points out.

"Ecuador has managed to bring into operation 200 plants with 2000 megawatts of capacity. If you take into account that the whole demand of the country is 3000 MW, that is significant. Before we only used between 10-12 percent of hydro resources in Ecuador."

What then is the key to this rapid growth? "First of all we had the clear political vision to make a change to the energy matrix. In the past there was a contradictory situation-Ecuador had high hydroelectrity production and is also an oil producer. Yet we had to import oil products in order to generate electricity," says Albornoz.

The government sees hydropower as the correct path for the country. "It's one with big technical challenges and financial challenges, but we're convinced it is the right path for the country," says the minister.

Other renewables sources are also important. Ecuador has promoted unconventional renewable energies, and has designed adequate incentives to make sure these are able to come into play in the matrix. "At the moment we have small solar and wind parks, however the biggest renewable resource is hydro," says Albornoz.

Such moves should play a role in helping Ecuador rise up from its current 50th place in the 2016 Energy Trilemma Index, which lauded the Latin American country for its well-balanced performance. The minister points out that some of the data used in the 2016 index came too late to include the new hydro plants, and these should be reflected in future indices.

Another key policy focus is rationalising energy demand. In recent years, electricity consumption has grown at more than 5% a year.

"We have put a special focus on energy efficiency programmes at commercial, residential and industrial levels, with the aim to control and have a more efficient consumption of energy in the country," says Albornoz.

The government is looking to ensure that electricity-powered by hydro and renewables-now conquers the transport, cooking and industrial sectors.

"I'll give you one piece of data," says Albornoz. "Before, 90 percent of Ecuadorian cooking devices used LPG, which is ironic as we don't have this gas resource. It used to enjoy a big subsidy from the government. What we've done is in a very short period of time replace 500,000 LPG stoves for induction stoves, which are now using electricity. The aim now is to change over 3 million LPG stoves for induction stoves."

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