Winning an Ashden Award is not the end of the journey

By Ellie Mika, Communications Assistant
How previous winners handle policy and regulatory hurdles: Winning an Ashden Award is by far not the end of the journey for our sustainable energy leaders. Winners still face many obstacles when dealing with policies and regulations within their local countries as they continue to build their organisations and programmes.

We sat down with two of our former winners from the Ashden 2015 Awards, Alejandro Brenes, CEO of Enertiva in Costa Rica, and Ernesto Infante Barbosa of EcoCasa in Mexico, to discuss the challenges in policy and regulation they have had to face and the steps they have taken to overcome them.

The problem

Enertiva supplies dairy farmers with solar hot water heaters, cutting electricity costs and ensuring the quality and cleanliness of milk products. Dos Pinos, the milk-purchasing cooperative Enertiva has teamed up with, lend farmers the money to buy the heaters, which can be paid back already within the first year from their electricity savings.

Brenes describes Enertiva being in a “limbo” state for 14 months while policymakers were working on a new regulatory framework for solar photovoltaics (PV), the key to converting solar radiation into electricity. During this time, no PV company could operate and “any PV distributors who were operating were doing so illegally”, according to Brenes. This meant that Enertiva could not continue installing solar PV systems and so suffered heavy losses and uncertainty.

EcoCasa, an initiative developed by local housing development bank Sociedad Hipotecaria Federal (SHF), secured financing for low-carbon social housing in Mexico by collaborating with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the German Development Bank (KfW). The programme offers low-interest loans to local building developers in return for them creating sustainable homes.

EcoCasa was dealing with policies in place that strongly subsidised fossil fuel and electricity consumption costs. As Barbosa reflects, “the options for energy efficiency technologies in the housing sector are very limited, and are perceived to be very expensive”, and he identifies the lack of technical knowledge of energy efficient measures as a barrier for adopting new technologies. With developers reluctant to comply with the existing Sustainable Building Code due to the high construction costs it carries with it, a need for policies to be tailored to the housing sector is as important as ever for EcoCasa.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Although the new regulatory framework in Costa Rica is very complex, bureaucratic, and time-consuming, in time, Enertiva benefitted. Their strong team of engineers and well-established set of internal procedures meant that they held an advantage over their competitors.

They have recently launched their campaign “Salvemos la Energia Solar” (‘Let’s save solar energy’) to inform the general public about the advantages of solar energy and the benefits of ensuring a positive and supportive regulatory framework. They also continue to work together with the Solar Energy Association’s decision makers to discuss a fair regulatory framework for solar PV.

When asked to advise other Ashden winners facing similar hurdles, Brenes emphasises a proactive approach, stating that “Enertiva always tries to be proactive and objective and always focuses on solutions and not the problems”. He also urges Ashden winners to ensure that they identify all stakeholders and mobilise the support of the media.

Meanwhile, EcoCasa has successfully brought together the public sector, private sector and international financial institutions and “[permeated] sustainability criteria in the Mexican housing sector”, improving the quality of life of low- and middle-income households. SHF is working to integrate the housing sector into cities across Mexico, so that housing and urban development institutions can coordinate policies. EcoCasa has attracted attention and funding for other sustainable housing initiatives and been a major influence in the transformation of Mexico’s housing sector.

Echoing Enertiva’s advice for Ashden winners, Barbosa highlights the importance of identifying key policymakers and stakeholders needed in policy design and implementation. He encourages winners to show policy makers that their projects have potential for replicability and scalability, and to advertise their position as an Ashden Award winner, as it increases their credibility.

Where to go from here?

Fortunately for Enertiva, the new regulation was approved. Brenes hopes the future of policy and regulation in sustainable energy technologies brings a stable distributed generation and net metering regulatory framework for all countries in the region and says he would also like to see the establishment of policies that promote the positive impact of clean technology.

Barbosa notes that “generally, the government and the housing sector as a whole are moving in the right direction”, but emphasises the need for energy subsidies to change to encourage renewable energy. He also believes that “improved education and training of energy experts, the development and compliance of guidelines for the construction process, and monitoring sustainable houses should be a key part of policy change”.

Let's hope the future holds a smooth and stable path towards positive sustainable energy regulations and policies for both Enertiva and EcoCasa, and all of our Ashden Award winners.