Since the first light burned in 1897 and the start of the desalination of seawater at the Riffort plant in 1928 state-owned Utilities Company Aqualectra, the end result of several takeovers and merges, has played a major role in the economic development of Curacao. The final merge into one company in January 2018, enables the water and electricity provider and distributor to play an even bigger part in developing the future of the island.
The two utility companies (Production and Distribution) saw the light of day in 2001, when IUH (Integrated Utility Holding), KAE (Kompania di Awa I Elektrisidat) and KODELA (Kompania di Produkshon I Distribushon di Elektrisidat I Awa) were rebranded under one unifying banner: Aqualectra. Nowadays, legally merged, the Utilities Company provides and services 81,588 electricity connections and 82,324 water connections, sold 10,693,000 m3 and 676,231 MWh, and made a profit of ANG 30.7 million according to its annual report of 2017.
With 615 employees working in nine departments Aqualectra is a major player. Several of the company’s long lasting projects involving green energy, smart meters, electric cars, and moving out of the city’s center are outlining, shaping, if not developing Curacao’s economy and future.
As the recently appointed CEO Darick Jonis who grew into the position during his 24 years of service states “the utility industry has been and still is undergoing a revolution. Just like the telecom sector had to radically transform its analog services into digital ones and start selling ‘bites and data’, electric utilities nowadays need to shift from traditional sources of energy like the diminishing fossil fuels to the use of alternative, green, renewable, and thus sustainable resources such as sunlight and wind.”
To promote the use of green energy and reduce the energy costs Aqualectra already supported the schools in Curacao to install solar panels on their roofs.
Currently, 23 percent of Aqualectra’s power supply is green but the company is aiming for a total of 50 percent by 2020. To do so it is building its first real rooftops solar park in the free zone. If all goes according to plan, the park will be up and running by September 2019. Together with the three windfarms, the solar park and the possibility to store the energy will help the Utilities Company to meet its target. The long-term ambition and future dream is of course to be able to fully rely on sustainable energy.
“We sort of grew up together within the company and everybody feels responsible”
The Road ahead
Another way to develop Curacao’s future and decrease the use of polluting fossil fuels is to introduce, facilitate and stimulate the usage of electric cars. Aqualectra is therefore planning to increase the current vehicle fleet from two to six electric cars. Alongside the expansion of the fleet it will be necessary to implement charging stations at strategic locations on the island. Moreover, the company wants to establish an association especially for users of electric vehicles (EV). “To lead is to look ahead”, explains the CEO. “If you are an ISO-certified Utilities Company like Aqualectra, you need to anticipate. Alternative or green energy is the future. Fossil fuels will not only run out, the prices are unstable and usage harms the environment. In other words, it is not something you want to or should depend upon.” Compared to the Netherlands, for example, the islands are very advanced regarding renewables (alternative energy) and not without reason, according to Darick Jonis. By 2030 Curacao will probably have 10,000 more inhabitants. Those people will be needing energy and they will be driving electric cars. To be prepared and to stay abreast of developments, Aqualectra has to start investing in alternative resources, electric cars, and charging units now. Otherwise the company might be taken by surprise and is bound to make mistakes or lose control and perspective in the haste to catch up.
Quality of Life
To fundamentally contribute to the improvement of the quality of life in Curacao, as the company says in its annual report, Aqualectra also has invested in their customer services and more indirectly in the economy by moving out of the city’s center. The installment of smart meters, for example, enables customers to ‘own’ their usage of utilities. After logging in, they can check the latest invoice data at all times. This knowledge makes it possible for consumers to manage and control the costs even better. Furthermore, the company managed to reduce its tariffs for electricity and water with 26.7 and 3.8 percent during the last five years.
In order to make room and stimulate economic development in the city’s center, Aqualectra moved out of the center and sold a part of its Mundo Nobo terrain. The hotel that will be coming in its place will attract new commercial activities and therefore contribute to economic development.
Chief Executive Officer
Immediately after finishing his study in the United States of America, Darick Jonis returned to his beloved Curacao, where he was born and raised.
Still young, he started his career within Aqualectra at the unit Procurement Planning. He never would have thought, he would last that long at one and the same company, but he loved and still loves it. The job was and is never boring, no day has been the same and he never has had a dull moment. In other words, his work gives him the challenge he needs and he could study and grow within the company and into his position. Which makes quite a difference, because the recently appointed CEO has a profound knowledge of the company and he knows all of his coworkers by their name, if not by heart. “We sort of grew up together within the company and everybody feels responsible”, he explains. According to Darick Jonis the relationships with his colleagues are therefore less hierarchal and more amicable. However, the most important part of his job is that it enables him to contribute to the development of the society. This sense of purpose and fulfillment inspires him to be innovative and creative, to think outside the box, and to keep on looking for solutions and possibilities whereby everybody wins.