Damonte has more than 20 years of experience as a public services consultant mainly in Latin America, but he has also participated in public service regulation projects in America, Europe, Africa and Oceania.
Question: Could you please tell us about yourself and your work?
Fernando: I am the Chief Operating Officer of Quantum America, an international consulting firm specializing in the area of public services, with a strong presence in the Latin American market and expanding to the rest of the world. Throughout my 20-year career, I have participated in numerous works on the regulation of public utilities in America, and also in countries in Europe, Africa and Oceania. Previously, I was a project manager in several studies, among them: Design of Regulatory Frameworks, Design of Modern Tariff Structures and Comparative Efficiency Studies (Benchmarking) in both Electric Power and Natural Gas.
I have also been a speaker at numerous courses and conferences, among which 16 International Seminars on Regulation and Rates stand out, organized annually by Quantum. I have been an exhibitor in Brazil on two occasions at the Gas Summit and in three editions of the Smart Grid Forum. Finally, I have been a speaker at the Regulation Course organized by the Public Utility Research Center (PURC) of the University of Florida.
Throughout my career, I have co-authored articles in books and academic publications on tariff design and efficiency estimation issues in electric power distribution companies. Previously, I worked for five years as head of rates at Distribuidora de Gas del Centro y Cuyana in Argentina (ECOGAS). I have a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the Catholic University of Córdoba, Argentina, and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Florida.
Q: What made you want to join the Path to 100%?
Fernando: The future of energy is distributed, renewable and digitized, but the speed at which humanity arrives is crucial to reverse climate change. We must get involved to accelerate that process. The paradigm of change is now different. In the past it was centralized, top-down. The authorities made decisions and defined policies for everyone to follow. Currently, many changes are made from the bottom up, from a collective social conscience that begins to act and choose in a certain way.
To achieve 100% renewable energy, we cannot expect the authorities to do it themselves in their own time, we need to create social, horizontal, distributed movements that begin to generate clean energy in a distributed manner, that store energy in their vehicles and in batteries in their homes. This distributed movement will be compulsorily complemented by measures taken by regional energy planners. The path to 100% renewable does not have a single solution, but on the contrary, it requires changes to occur at all levels so that between all the small and large solutions the energy transition is accelerated.
Q: Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in Argentina.
Fernando: Clean and unlimited energy is exciting! I founded IRIS with my consulting colleagues, which is a smart energy consulting company that includes solar panel installation and solar community development.
IRIS is a company whose mission is to help energy consumers to become protagonists of the energy market. New energy generation and storage technologies together with developments in digital solutions, artificial intelligence and home automation will revolutionize the world economy. It is important to develop local solutions, close to consumers, to help them consume and generate their own energy, that they can share it among peers, cooperate and collaborate in the development of creative solutions that promote regional economies, circular economies, stimulating sustainability and caring for the environment. The new energy paradigm is collaborative, participatory, sustainable, smart, digital and distributed.
Within these initiatives we are developing the concept of community energy generation through which a group of users associate to generate their own energy at a remote point from their consumption points, inject their energy into the grid and the distributor discounts the value of that energy is the bill of each co-owner consumer. The community generation can be solar (solar community) but it can also be thermal generation from biogas, small hydro, wind, etc.
Q: Your career has spanned over 20 years, could you describe some of your notable projects or achievements?
Fernando: I participated in the pre-feasibility design and pricing for the tender for more than 3,000 km of gas pipelines in Mexico in 2014 within a strategic plan to import natural gas (shale gas) from the United States. This project helped to convert the Mexican energy matrix towards a cleaner one.
I collaborated in 2017 in the development of the Natural Gas Regulatory Framework for El Salvador that will allow the substitution of liquid fuels in power generation and in industry. In 2013, I participated in a study for the energy transition towards the massification of electric service through clean energies in the Solomon Islands, Oceania. These are just a few of the many and very interesting projects that I have had the opportunity to participate in over the years.
Q: What are solar communities and why are they important to a 100% renewable energy future?
Fernando: The communities consist of the creation of clean energy generation facilities jointly by several users instead of each one carrying out individual installations. In this way, benefits are achieved for society and for individuals. Users invest their savings in power generation, which is preferred to the State or large corporations to do so, but by partnering they can achieve better scale than they would in their own homes.
Some of the benefits of solar communities (and any type of renewable community generation) are:
- Democratic: Even those who do not have space in their home or the conditions to do so can participate (they rent, live in a building, have shade, etc.)
- Inclusive: They can participate with any level of contribution since they own the generator in proportion to their contribution.
- Social Impact: Some programs allow access to the property through contribution of construction work
- Economies of Scale: Building a community generator of 1 MW of power can be up to 3 times less expensive in USD / kW installed than small residential installations
- Efficient: By installing 3 times more power with the same level of investment, at least 3 times the amount of energy is generated, contributing more efficiently to the environment (more CO2 displaced)
- Collaborative / Cooperative: Users associate to produce energy instead of resorting to the individualistic solution, fostering the spirit of a welfare society and the sense of belonging to the social group
- Synergic: By avoiding self-consumption since the energy is generated in a different location from the point of consumption, the distributor does not lose its income from the use of its cables, poles and transformers. In this way, community generators are allies of the distributors and can strengthen each other by generating strong synergies, improving the quality of the electricity service and the resilience of the grid.
Q: Now, what do you consider to be one of the main challenges Argentina faces on its way to clean and affordable energy?
Fernando: We have serious disagreements about the course. Argentina is a country with great wealth in hydrocarbons and there are many opinions that favor their massive exploitation before they lose value. On the other hand, migration to renewable energies requires investments and investments are perceived as high risk given the low institutional credibility.
In other words, there are strong incentives to exploit fossil fuels before they lose value due to the substitution of renewable alternatives. A Saudi Arabian Energy Minister said many years ago in relation to the end of the era of fossil fuels that the stone age did not end for lack of stones. In the case of oil and natural gas, there will be reserves under the ground that will never be exploited given the substitution by renewable alternatives.
On the other hand, a transition to 100% renewable energy requires significant investment amounts. Argentina has very low credibility for investors given the high legal uncertainty and bad fiscal policies of the last 20 years.
These two forces, access to fossil fuels and lack of access to financing impede the development of clean energy.
Q: Finally, what specific steps can Argentina take to help on the path to 100% renewable energy? Or what changes do you see taking place now?
Fernando: Argentina should stimulate private participation in clean energy generation investments. The state is inefficient and insolvent and companies require high returns to reduce legal uncertainty. Thousands of small savers who show interest in being protagonists of the electricity sector, who are environmentally conscious, could generate the change we need, because the new paradigm is decentralized and democratic.
Photo: Juan Pablo Mascanfroni on Unsplash