Q&A Robert Henriquez – General manager of NV ELMAR
NV ELMAR is the sole provider of electricity in Aruba. It was established in 1950 as a privately-owned company, and the government of Aruba became its majority shareholder in the early 1990s. Today, through innovation and awareness-raising, NV ELMAR is making a massive contribution to Aruba’s goal of 100 percent sustainability by 2020. General manager, Robert Henriquez, met with The Report Company to discuss the company’s initiatives.
The Report Company: What does sustainable living mean for you and for Aruba?
Robert Henriquez: The value of sustainable living is not only measured in wealth. More important is the wellbeing of the community in general. On the professional side, sustainable living also includes generating and distributing power in a reliable way whilst maintaining its affordability for the community. On the personal side, sustainable living is a combined effort making use of our resources, including our human resources. The goal is that the next generation’s future is equal to or better than ours.
TRC: What are your current priorities for the alternative energy sector?
RH: As recently as November 2012, ELMAR officially changed its regulations and permitted the connection of distributed generation on its electrical power grid. Since then almost 1 MW of solar power has been connected while many other petitions are being considered. Maintaining a stable and reliable power distribution grid is complicated on an island, where there is only one power supplier. Penetration of alternative energy will soon reach 40-50 percent of the total demand, while the government’s vision is to reach 100 percent sustainable energy by 2020. Being ultimately responsible for the distribution grid our priority is to maintain high standards of stability and reliability of the grid as well as financial stability for the company. We also adopted the term ‘RAS’, which besides being a well-known Aruban family name, stands for reliability, affordability and sustainability, with affordability being the key factor.
TRC: How important is innovation to NV ELMAR?
RH: In the past management only focussed on maintaining high standards for the power distribution grid, while service-oriented customer relations were not particularly seen as a goal or necessity. Nowadays, we strive for new business models. We are moving towards a more service-oriented business model where the client is central and the quality of service is guaranteed. The customer of today is educated. They travel, and nowadays information can be found anywhere, on the internet, media and in particular social media. Customers demand service quality which includes information and control of their actual consumption and we need to provide this.
TRC: How do you see your role, and that of NV ELMAR, in achieving the sustainable energy goals for 2020? What do you see as the main challenges in achieving those goals?
RH: Achieving our sustainable energy goals will also include demand-side management. Almost 50 percent of our energy consumption comes from the use of air conditioning for cooling and in that regard many efficiency gains can be obtained with the proper information. We want people to understand and eventually be part of these solutions, and therefore we need to educate them with awareness programs. The role for ELMAR is to both educate and inspire our customers to make decisions that lead to the goals of 2020. Passion is a key in reaching these goals. Solutions for technical challenges most of the time only require investments, but creating solutions through building people’s consciousness is harder and takes a little longer.
TRC: With numerous projects implemented already, such as the first solar park project for Aruba, deployment of prepaid metering and LED street lighting, what other initiatives are currently being planned for the island?
RH: The first solar park project in front of the airport is underway and we expect the project to be completed by the end of 2014. The LED street lighting project will soon start and we expect to have completed the instalment of 12,000 fixtures within the next three years. Pre-paid meters were also introduced some time ago and their introduction will continue as we introduce our latest initiative, the smart meter project. Smart grid and smart metering will be the focus for further penetration of renewables to the grid while also engaging more in demand-side management.
TRC: How will a smart grid help Aruba become more sustainable?
RH: Nowadays, when a customer turns on the air conditioning, the power supplier has to meet this demand at whatever production cost. The key principle of a smart grid would be the possibility of having some control of the demand of consumers. This will allow the power supplier to operate its power production more efficiently, gaining on production costs, and ultimately also increasing reliability. The strategy for success will be making the customer aware of the advantages and therefore a strong and continuous marketing campaign is imperative.
TRC: How do you see the future of domestic energy solutions?
RH: Up until 2012, the Aruban people only knew about power coming from the utility companies. Convincing them they could switch to their own power supply and at the same time sell the surplus to ELMAR has not been easy. They were a little reluctant and hesitant. We are now close to 1 MW installed capacity of solar and we expect this to increase, although cost is still a barrier to residential solar. Hopefully either this cost will drop considerably or solar panels will become more efficient. We are seeing a steady increase in applications for solar installations as well as requests for quotations, and ELMAR will keep promoting and selling solar solutions.
TRC: NV ELMAR was responsible for the installation of prepaid meters for electricity supplies in Aruba. What is the ideology behind the initiative and how will its impact and efficiency be measured?
RH: By moving towards a more service-oriented business model, we expanded our services, giving our customers a choice. A prepaid meter is a choice for customers who want to have better control over their consumption and billing. Prepaid meters were part of the sustainability awareness programme, and what started as a pilot became very popular among consumers. Research clearly shows that the clients accepted this new service, and even more importantly they became conscious of their consumption. This consciousness is really how the efficiency on the demand side will be measured.
TRC: How successful has the introduction of electric and hybrid vehicles in Aruba been? Are there plans for further transport-related sustainable initiatives on the island?
RH: As you may be aware our electricity demand after midnight is very low and with the high percentage of wind power availability during these hours it became obvious that more load in this period was needed. And what better way to charge your electric car during this period, while your car is in the garage? Furthermore, having all these batteries connected to the grid also creates a power storage source. The introduction of electric vehicles is part of the total scope of our power production and distribution plan, but it is still in a very early stage. Our public transportation company has invested in an electric bus, while both WEB and ELMAR have their own electric cars being tested. Hybrid vehicles have been a little more successful. ELMAR has created some electrical charging systems in order to promote this initiative.
TRC: What would you consider to be your proudest achievements to date for sustainable living in Aruba and what is your vision for the future of the island’s energy landscape?
RH: It is a team effort and we as a team find that executing alternative energy solutions is one of our proudest achievements. Furthermore, serving our clients and offering alternative products and services is also something we are proud of. Our vision is to provide excellent service and create sustainable value for our customers, employees, community and other stakeholders.