It seems to be the right time to be in the business of renewables in Colombia.
As the Colombian Government passed a new law to encourage renewable energy development and based on feedback we received last year when we organized a smart grid focused mission, Export Development Canada (EDC) decided it was time to organize a mission of Canadian renewable energy companies to Colombia. This year, we brought 8 Canadian renewable energy companies to Bogota, Medellin, and finished in Cartagena at the Andesco Conference.
Law 1715, implemented by Colombian President Juan Manual Santos, is intended to provide a framework for renewable energy in the country. Goals include the diversification of energy sources, tackling the effects of climate change, reducing the use of diesel in Colombia’s non-interconnected zones, increasing the participation non-conventional renewables and promoting investment and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The law will also explore the possibility of wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects as an alternative to diesel in these areas.
Why? Currently 70 per cent of Colombia’s power comes from hydro power. While this may seem like an excellent source of renewable energy, the country is already dealing with the effects of climate change with decreases in water levels and the associated effects on power generation. Colombia is also sensitive to the effects of El Nino; from the spring of 1992 to mid-winter of 1993, the country dealt with blackouts and energy rationing after El Nino dried out water reservoirs used for power generation.
Further, 52 per cent of the country is effectively “off-grid” and therefore have to use fuels such as diesel for power; not healthy for the environment or humans. As a result, about 4 per cent of Colombia’s population does not have reliable power supply or clean water. In fact, one of the speakers at the Congreso Andesco in Cartagena indicated that while most citizens have access to Internet and cell phone service, too many still do not have access to regular electricity and potable water.
Similarly, all of the speakers emphasized the need for increased investment in power and water infrastructure, but with a strong focus on sustainability. It was clear that the leaders of Colombia’s utilities sector are not willing to achieve growth at the expense of the environment.
Canadian renewable energy players should look to Colombia
So Canadian companies that have technology and know-how in the renewable energy or water sector, should consider Colombia. And the time is now.
After meeting with all of Colombia’s main utilities companies, the Canadian companies on the mission indicated that there is considerable interest in technologies, know-how and partnerships that will help Colombia’s utilities access more and varied sources of renewable power, implement energy efficiency technologies and acquire better tools to manage the grid.
But to access a foreign market like Colombia, you need to invest time; you can’t visit once and expect to make a sale. You need to be able to communicate in Spanish, develop an understanding of the business culture and invest time to build relationships. You will also need to decide which market entry strategy will work best for you; whether it be hiring a local agent or sales representative, developing a partnership with a local company or establishing a local presence. For more information, you can contact Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) and the Canada Colombia Chamber of Commerce.
In fact, one of the Canadian companies that participated in last year’s smart grid mission (and visited Colombia for the first time), identified various business opportunities. After that initial market visit, the company went back to Colombia several times and found a local partner to work with. And after some initial challenges, but some persistent follow-up, they signed their first contract a few weeks ago at the Andesco congress.
With energy to match the passion for their beloved soccer team (that unfortunately lost to Argentina in the Copa America while we were there), Colombia appears set to modernize its utilities sector, while maintaining a deep respect for the environment. That should spell opportunities for a lot of Canadian expertise.
See also: Colombia Comes of Age