The negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is tangible all around the world: governments have put forth historic economic relief packages and are focusing on coping with the public health crisis. At the same time, the immense looming challenges of the global climate crisis have taken a backseat for many governments and businesses as they are trying to overcome the current situation. Businesses are quickly learning to adapt to the new normal of living and working with a virus that is likely to remain with us for the near-term future. Innovation to meet shifting market demands is key to overcoming the healthcare, economic, and climate crises. Examples of companies that started producing face masks, ventilators and other critical health care equipment, instead of their usual products, have been reported widely and have proven that business flexibility is crucial in times of economic hardship. Deetken Impact has seen this first-hand through Energy Dynamics Limited (EDL), one of its investee companies located in Trinidad & Tobago, a country in which cases have surged to new highs in August, and where the government already reacted by imposing new measures to contain the spread of the virus. Other nations across the Caribbean have seen similar increases of cases in August, which followed the opening of those countries’ borders and relaxing restrictions.
This is not the first time that EDL adapts to a crisis. Historically, EDL had focused on selling, installing, and maintaining heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in the Caribbean. The fall of oil prices in 2014 hit EDL’s customer base hard and demand for HVAC systems fell, forcing EDL to rethink its business model. Relatively high grid electricity prices in most Caribbean countries led EDL to develop an ESCo (Energy Service Company) model. ESCos implement energy savings opportunities through renewable energy installations or energy efficiency measures, which are financed through the energy savings created by the implementation, which can be quite large in countries with high grid electricity prices. EDL implements its energy efficiency measures through its’ “Corporate Utility Management Program” (CUMP), offered in Trinidad, Jamaica, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
COVID-19 is having a major impact on the way we work and live across the globe. Like climate change forced us to rethink our energy systems, COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink indoor air quality and to adjust social norms to keep people safe. Among many other adjustments the current pandemic requires changes to indoor air ventilation and circulation systems. Many businesses, schools and other organizations are dependent on indoor spaces and yet mounting evidence points to the fact that so-called “super-spreader events” have largely taken place indoors, especially in poorly ventilated buildings, and have been based on aerosol transmission. COVID-19 can be airborne indoors via aerosols, as acknowledged by the WHO at the beginning of July, even if it is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets and touching. The transmission through aerosols is less of an issue in outdoor areas, as virus particles are quickly dispersed and diluted, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. Indoor transmission via aerosols can be reduced through proper ventilation and filtering, which may help businesses and schools safely reopen.
Early in the pandemic, EDL recognized an opportunity to leverage its building HVAC system expertise and to evolve its CUMP product, which already included indoor air quality considerations, to help companies make work environments safer in the context of COVID-19. EDL is now including in its energy efficiency and HVAC projects, new COVID-19 resiliency measures including the installation of highly efficient filters in HVAC systems (calling the product C-MIST), in accordance with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which recommends filters with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of at least 13 or HEPA filters. EDL has designed its offering based on careful research and through consultation with key government stakeholders. For example, EDL had the opportunity to present and discuss its service with government ministers in Jamaica to inform the development of standards for the safe reopening of economic activities that enable people to return to safe work and school environments. The product has also gotten the attention of the private sector. A Jamaican Business Process Outsourcing company has recently agreed to incorporate filtration and ventilation measures as part of an HVAC system retrofit to make their office more COVID-19 resilient. Their voice and non-voice contact services are labour-intensive and require many employees that are constantly speaking, which emits more aerosols than simple breathing, in indoor spaces. The installation of an efficient ventilation and filtering system will help to decrease the risk of transmission in their work environment.
We at Deetken Impact are committed to supporting innovative approaches like the one EDL has developed, and we’re very excited that they have also received the support of IDB Lab as part of their program to support emerging entrepreneurs in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region to overcome the challenges of the pandemic, which will allow EDL to roll out their new services in the Caribbean in the coming months.
The year 2020 will be remembered by many for the global COVID-19 outbreak, an acute crisis, but also a pivot point and an opportunity. EDL’s energy efficiency measures and small-scale renewable generation systems offer a relief to companies coping with the COVID-19 crisis and high grid electricity prices at the same time. And through their business model innovation, EDL is driving climate action and supporting additional sustainable development goals (SDGs) by simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing business operating costs, and contributing to addressing the health and economic challenges caused by COVID-19. EDL is contributing to the effort to “build back better” and offering a greener and more sustainable recovery.