Written by  Steven Greenleaf

The Universidad Tecnica Nacional (UTN) of Costa Rica hosted its annual national forum on Alternative Energy (Foro Energias Alternativas UTN-2015) on 24 September, 2015. The theme for this year was “Forest Bioenergy,” (Bioenergia Forestal). Topics ranged from silviculture in high density plantations, rotation cycles in plantations and biomass as a source of energy in Costa Rica. Presenters came from as far away as Finland and Germany. This ongoing commitment to clean energy by the people of UTN should be acknowledged and applauded.

Last year, the theme of the forum was Energy Efficiency and Steven Greenleaf, Director of Greenleaf Education Costa Rica gave a presentation focusing on the importance of viewing energy efficiency as a source of clean energy.

Creative Thinking About Energy Supply & Efficiency

Steven Greenleaf presenting at the Universidad Tecnica Nacional (UTN) of Costa Rica

Energy gained from efficiency is in fact nearly always the cheapest and cleanest source of energy. Amory Lovins, Co-founder and Chief Scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), years ago coined the term, “Negawatt,” as opposed to the more well known megawatt. The Negawatt is the unit of electricity you never need to buy.

With each Negawatt come additional savings. When you save a watt of electricity in your home for example, you are actually saving a good deal more than that. Throughout the entire electrical distribution grid, from natural gas power plant, wind turbine, coal burning power plant, or whatever the source of the electricity, through the various substations, transmissions lines and transformers, all the way to your end use, there are losses – a little here and a little there.

These losses add up though, sometimes very significantly depending on where you are and what lies between your use of power and its source. By avoiding the use of energy through efficiency, by using that Negawatt, you also save all the grid losses as well that went into providing and delivering the power you did not really need, losses you possibly never thought of before.


It turns out that Negawatts are great investments, some of the best investments a home, property, or business owner could ever make. Energy gained through efficiency investments costs an average of about ¢4 per watt (and falling). Compared to even the rapidly falling and very reasonably priced cost of energy from solar photovoltaic panels which currently average somewhere around ¢20 per watt globally, efficiency is the obvious place to start. Using energy more efficiently also helps to enable a change to even more renewable energy because the size and therefore the price of a solar photovoltaic system for example, to meet the needs of the consumer, drops as well.

Think of efficiency first. If you had to limit your use of water, or pay high prices for water, would you carry it around in a leaky bucket? No, you would plug the leaks in your bucket first. The same common sense makes energy efficiency an obvious choice with important potential for sustainability, national security, and reducing carbon footprints.

*For more information about UTN’s commitment to clean energy visit Alternativas UTN Facebook Page.