Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
WITH THE frequent spike in the cost of oil on the international market and its crushing impact on the productive sector - and by extension consumers in developing states, like Jamaica - one local company believes the age-old formula of applying energy conservation measures combined with contemporary technology can, in fact, change the current conversation about "whose light bill is highest, to how much I am saving".
Debate on the cost of electricity in Jamaica is arguably one of the most emotive issues which cut across class barriers and provoke intense discussions almost daily on talk shows and current affairs programmes.
Effective Energy Solutions, known by an increasing number of Jamaicans as mypoweraudit.com, calls itself a game changer as it seeks to work with its clients and ultimately the majority of Jamaicans to achieve a minimum 20 per cent reduction in their light bills.
Operating 'outside the box'
Paul Lopez, director of Effective Energy Solutions, said the company was operating 'outside the box' and has expanded its focus from home-based clients to the targeting of schools where students are trained to be energy monitors.
Sherol Dixon-Lewis, principal of Alvernia Preparatory School on Tom Redcam Drive in St Andrew, describes her introduction to Effective Energy Solutions as "the best kept secret".
The company first carried out an audit at the institution to determine areas where electricity was being wasted.
Following the audit and installation of energy-saving devices the school started to see savings in its energy use. Within the first month the institution started to see its electricity bill nosedive.
"We have seen where our electricity bill has reduced significantly. Coming from a bill of more than $100,000 per month, the institution, after introducing energy saving measures, has seen its energy charges cut to a little less than $80,000," Dixon-Lewis told The Gleaner.
"I would call that improvement of a significant nature. It's money in our pocket instead of in JPS's (Jamaica Public Service Company's) coffers," she added.
Alvernia Preparatory now boasts the enviable record of being the first school to be certified as a 'powerwise institution'.
Dixon-Lewis said the meters at the school are read every day and posted online by appointed power administrators or student power monitors. The data from the meter reading is posted on mypoweraudit.com and this allows the company to interact online with the school or by way of text messages to give a daily update on the amount of energy used during the month or each day over the period of the billing cycle.
"We don't see ourselves as a company that sells gadgets, we see ourselves as a company that offers solutions," Lopez asserted.
"Our website is the brain behind the entire operation because, apart from giving you the gadget to shut off your fridges at nights - it's programmed to shut off your fridge at nights and bring it back on in the morning - we have our website that allows you to monitor and see exactly what is happening."
He added: "I am very happy that the students have taken on to it and are able to understand the concept behind the meter reading," said Lopez. However, he wants to take it a step further by inviting corporate Jamaica to partner with the energy solutions company so that the programme can be introduced in schools across the country.
"Monitoring can reduce your bill by 20 per cent. If you see some of these schools' light bills then you will understand what 20 per cent can do."
Not so complex
For the students from grades four to six at Alvernia Preparatory, who recently participated in a workshop at the school which was staged by Effective Energy Solutions, learning to read JPS meters was not as complex as it appeared at first.
Applying mathematical skills of '10s and ones' the bright students quickly grasped the concept and demonstrated their knowledge when they were quizzed using different scenarios.
Newly appointed power monitor Christojay Barnett said as an energy monitor she has to ensure that all the fans and lights that are not in use are turned off.
Speaking with The Gleaner, Christojay outlined her duties and those of her fellow power monitors at school.
"The meter must be read every day before lunch time. It has to be updated on the website every day. I feel happy and overjoyed to really help my school to cut down on the light bill. We are energy monitors every day at school and at home. So no matter where we are we must really show that we are monitors."
An equally enthusiastic Gabriel Francis said her new role as power monitor gives her "a good opportunity to do something else at school".
Taking her job seriously she said: "If one of the flood lights is on and it is not needed I should report it to my power administrator, and a couple hours later I should check if it is still on, and if it is still on, I should approach my power administrator and ask why is it still on and it has to be for a good reason."
Lopez and his brother Raymond, who spearheaded the 'Powerwise' initiative in schools, are of the view that children can make a significant difference in the drive to conserve on energy.
"When we start like this, 15 years from now we shouldn't have a problem when it comes on to effectively saving on energy," he said.
"When you start cutting the fat from the bone it doesn't affect your lifestyle, because that is waste. When you remove waste it doesn't affect your lifestyle. When you turn off a fan when it is not in use it doesn't affect your lifestyle and it reduces your bill."