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Efficient use of power in Mitú, a challenge for UNal-Manizales

Taking into account that in Mitú average power consumption of a home user is 314 kilowatts/ hour (kWh), a figure that surpasses by 200% the Colombian average, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) in Manizales is promoting the rational use of power through power efficiency programs.

According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE, for its Spanish acronym), Mitú has 29,850 inhabitants and has distinct characteristics. Power in this area is generally produced by diesel power and high production of harmful gases, greatly impacting the Amazon natural reserve.

Added to this is the problem that people do not have power meters, making it impossible to know how much energy they are consuming.

Read more: Wind power opportunity for Colombia.

The research project was carried out between 2018 and 2019 by the Environmental Energy, and Education Policy (E3p) Group, made up of an interdisciplinary group of electricians, electronic engineers and computer engineers. This allowed approaching the issues from several perspectives and whose main focus was power consumption, but also gathering and analyzing consumer data, a task never before carried out in the area.

UNal-Manizales Faculty of Engineering and Architecture’ Research and Extension Director and Director of the project, Professor Sandra Carvajal Quintero says the three main goals of the research project were power network diagnostics, data analysis and social education on power efficiency.

“During the diagnostic period we discovered that the official sources, such as the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Energy Solution Planning and Development Institute (IPSE, for its Spanish acronym) differ in relevant data, like in the number of networks, people connected, and consumption types.”

In 2018, the research group traveled to Mitú to survey the electrical power grid and analyze the data: “We identified how consumption was and where it was taking place and after we also verified that technical perspective with community participation.”


The research project determined that for great power consumers there is no discrimination between consumers and type of activity, so they separated domestic, commercial, and mixed consumption.

The greatest power consumption was identified as in the tertiary sector, i.e. with state presence such as the Office of the Mayor, the Governor and City Council and others that operate in homes that were not built or planned to house a high number of people, and that have high air conditioning use.

The researcher also revealed why it was so important to analyze the issue, not only from the power energy perspective but with a multidisciplinary approach and taking into account the reality of the culture. For instance, they also reviewed how construction architecture using ancestral knowledge could help in building structures with better temperature management.

Read more: Recycling and thermovaluation, part of the sustainable management urban solid waste.

Power usage census

As part of the study, they discovered the most used electrical appliances in the region and that turned out to be the excessive power consumers:  “45% is linked to residential use, 20% to commercial use and a little above 5% for mixed-use.”

They also discovered that inhabitants do not have natural gas or use natural wood for cooking as they are in the Amazon basin and it is regulated by a decree issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. This leads to excessive use of outdated and inefficient electric stoves and is the most used electrical appliance in the study area.

Due to the use, there are consumption surges during breakfast, lunch, and dinner times, provoking accidental disconnections, and power outages due to the overload.

The second most used appliance is the air conditioning unit, mostly in the commercial sector as in a 10 room hotel as they were using up to two air conditioners per room 24/7 and with open doors and windows, increasing consumption.

The refrigerator was the third most used electrical appliance, also of obsolete technology and with high consumption rates. Furthermore, due to the recurring power outages, merchants use support refrigerators to avoid the food from spoiling.

They also identified a fourth element which produces consumption surges, such as the public street light service, wasting an enormous amount of power despite having a thermocouple that identified the moment of less natural light to turn on, but the high cloudiness of the area, make them turn on almost all day long.

According to the Colombian Electrical Information System (SIEL, for its Spanish acronym), residential power consumption for a family of four is approximately 152 kWh/month and therefore Mitú has an increase greater than 200% in residential power consumption and in comparison with other non-interconnected areas, it is also above the national consumption average.

Read more: Reconsidering the energy policy, a priority.

Working with the community

As part of the project, the researchers also identified community leaders and key institutions to educate them in self-criticism and reflective activities with the community.

“We worked with the Offices of the Governor, the Mayor, the City Council, and the Provincial Assembly. From these meetings, we discovered that it is fundamental to educate the community, review the use of another type of energy for the region, and update the technology to adapt to the conditions of the territory. Also, they analyzed the need to build solar energy fields. In this regard, the National Apprenticeship Service (SENA, for its Spanish acronym) is working, teaching and supporting electricians and technicians in solar energy production”.

There were also some approaches with the Amazonian Scientific Research Institute (SINCHI, for its Spanish acronym) and they are going to research the environmental impact of the ecosystems due to this irrational use of energy.

At the end of September of 2019, we held a workshop with 10th and 11th-grade students of five schools of Mitú to create awareness among youngsters on the rational use of energy, besides highlighting the special conditions of their territory.

As a result, the researchers identified that the students are aware of the excessive consumption from the safety perspective and showed them different kinds of more efficient lights that generate less heat, hence improving the ambient temperature,” she summarized.



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