A Low Hanging Fruit: Quick Wins in Energy Efficiency

By Tarek Kamal, Managing Partner

I was recently thinking about the opportunity I had taken up to participate in a walk-through energy audit of an eco-resort in Nepal almost ten years ago. A financial institution that I was dealing with was participating in a syndicated finance transaction that was going revamp the eco-resort by modernizing the facilities.

My client was a small non-bank financial institution that was focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy (EE/RE) financing. 

They were financing the smallest portion of the deal. In this transaction they were going to finance:

  1. A solar water heating system that would provide hot water to the entire resort including the indoor swimming pool, and 
  2. A powerful new stand-by power generator for the entire resort that was needed because of the significant electricity deficit in Nepal prior to 2017.

This particular syndication was closing and as such there was very little hope that any changes would be possible. However, we decided that this deal offered a very good opportunity to conduct a walk through audit that would help prepare the financial institution for future projects of this nature.

It was also felt that this knowledge would provide the financial institution the opportunity to generate additional business by providing advisory services to their clients such that the saving that could be generated would potentially pay for the improvement or at the minimum reduce the pay-back period and then allow the business to continue to benefit from these savings annually.

The two areas focused on were the level of electricity and water consumption. As the audit proceeded, it became obvious how much savings would be possible and although actual cost were not considered, percentages were.

Looking at the eco-resort it became evident that there were so many trees that offered shade around the main building on which the solar water heaters would be placed, that either the water heaters would not operate very well or many trees would have to be felled to allow the sun through. Imagine that! Trees being cut down at an eco-resort to make way for solar heaters. It seems to go against the grain. Net-net, the impact may not be quite as high as one would expect.

Walking into the resort lobby, all the lights were on even though there were plenty of floor to ceiling windows that allowed the sunlight in. The lights were all incandescent bulbs, consuming between eight to ten times as much electricity as led equivalents would. This theme carried through to the guest rooms and exterior lights on the grounds as well. Replacing these bulbs with more modern fittings would not only add to the aesthetics but also potentially reduce the annual electricity cost eight to ten times from the lights alone. Additional cost saving possibility over the long term was the replacement of the less efficient stand-alone wall mounted air conditioners in the guest rooms.

The bathrooms offered potential for savings in terms of water used. Replacing the bathroom sink and shower fixtures to single-levered mixers. The example cited by the EE/RE specialist seems appropriate to recount. He said, and I paraphrase the quote, ‘In a country as cold as Nepal, if I am using a shower with two separate levers, I will probably not turn off the water after I have achieved the perfect mix of hot and cold water while I lather soap or shampoo on myself. If it is a single lever, I will be more likely to set the water temperature just right and turn it off with the lever at that position. This will result in less wastage of water.’ This may sound a little odd but it was a very pragmatic way of looking at usage efficiency. Less hot water would mean fewer solar water heaters and therefore fewer trees/branches felled (if any at all).

The last visit was to the indoor swimming pool which was enclosed in a room with two walls of floor to ceiling sliding glass doors with aluminum frames that opened up to a beautiful patio. The swimming pool was heated but the doors were not double glazed. There would have been significant heat loss. Simply replacing the doors with better insulated sliding doors would reduce the heat loss and would reduce the number of the solar water heaters needed further.

A walk through audit needs to be followed by a more detailed energy audit in order to arrive at the actual savings possibilities that could be used to develop a project proposal.

Although we had recommended that this be done and that our client financial institution try to negotiate with the bank in the syndication to discuss the possibilities with their client, it is unlikely that it was done. However, I am hopeful that this is something that the financial institution began to practice because if nothing else, it is a great way to generate business where the client is able to repay the loan from cost savings alone.

Article also published on Linkedin on July 29, 2020
Picture Credit: Various sources from the internet; Collage by Tarek Kamal