'Low hanging fruit’ is a term that is frequently used in the discussion around energy efficiency. In its simplest form, it means that the cheapest way to save money on energy is to use less energy. However, using less energy can sometimes be equated with producing less; this is not what we mean by using less energy — what we really mean is doing the same activities and maintaining the same production while using less energy, thereby becoming more efficient.
The energy efficiency market at present is regionally underdeveloped. This could be due to a lack of understanding of life cycle costing, where the benefits of an energy efficiency investment are realised over time rather than only at the beginning. Many local and regional business are focused on short-term return on investment. Secondly, there is a lack of qualified energy efficiency practitioners. There are not many local or regional firms that specialise in energy efficiency services.
Becoming energy-efficient usually means spending some money on more efficient equipment, on new technology, on changing your process or improving your facility. The benefit is that the money that you save can be used to partially or entirely offset the cost of these efficiency improvements. Energy efficiency also suffers from an inferiority complex; it is considered a stepsister to the glamourous and globally appealing renewable energy, which with its solar panels and wind turbines, can readily show investors what their money is being spent on. However, it makes no sense generating electricity from renewable resources if one is not using the energy as efficiently as possible.
There are other benefits to energy efficiency: employees like to be part of something new particularly when it means a better working environment, which will usually accompany new technology and equipment. A more efficient and attractive working environment can lead to better employee morale and engagement, and a more profitable business.
In the Caribbean region, there is no shortage of countries where the electricity tariffs make energy efficiency a very attractive business, and despite many efforts by regional bodies and international development agencies, there has been little progress. In looking at successful penetration of sustainable energy initiatives, for example, solar water heating in Barbados and hybrid vehicles in Trinidad, you can see that fiscal incentives offered by the government have been tremendously successful to incubate these initiatives and get them into the mainstream. This is an approach that is required to get energy efficiency to take off.