Rodrigo Villamizar Alvargonzalez has been a revolutionary-presence in the energy world—first as a consultant with the World Bank, then as an energy minister—for 2½ decades. He is a man who has dined with Gaddafi, shared a table with the Sultan of Brunei, drunk coffee with Fidel Castro, travelled with the protection of 18 bodyguards, conversed with Arafat, and knows the Bush family. While his persona seems somewhat stately, the man himself is disarmingly frank and down to earth, a welcome blend of professional rigor and personal charm.

A panorama of contemporary architecture can be seen through the window of the office he uses as Chairman of Borametz Group, but his favorite place for meetings is any Starbucks in downtown Madrid. It is easy to see he is not one to spend a lot of time in structured, impersonal meeting rooms. He settled in Madrid six years ago, if you can call it that, given that he spends much of his time in airports around the world. He also spends several months each year in the USA, where he carries out much of his academic work. Today he is quite enthusiastic when he speaks about an oil company—a current client—which is at a crossroads. An immediate response is needed, and he is confident that he has come up with a solution.

“I've learned to relax,” is the first thing he tells me, explaining that he “won’t pick up the phone in my downtime unless it’s absolutely necessary.” It’s impossible to not be impressed by his courtesy, which must have become polished during his four years as ambassador to Japan, where he confesses that all his efforts “were aimed at introducing products and companies from Colombia.” “When I arrived,” he explains, “more coffee was being imported from Vietnam than from Colombia.” Imbued with the Asian discipline whereby “nobody wants to waste time,” he successfully advised companies for which he still provides consulting services today, helping them to achieve the same purpose adopted by Borametz, which is: “to help companies expand their operations internationally. That is why we have created the team we have.” When he talks about Borametz, his manner conveys more of a feeling of matter-of-fact certainty than of excitement.

He grew up in Colombia and the USA, but feels equally at home in Spain. “Spain was educated into me, especially Asturias. My mother and my grandparents took care of that.” His conversation is so candid, so animated, that switching on my recorder would seem inappropriate. He talks about his American adoptive family, about his time at the Texas State Senate where he worked while he did his PhD, and about his children who live in London, Bogotá, and Washington DC. He also discusses advances in shale gas, his energy blog, and the importance of one of his most recent pet projects with the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy.

He is also the man behind one of the most comprehensive competitiveness methodologies that exist, the Borametz Competitiveness Method, which offers organizations a manual for achieving excellence and efficiency. Over a five year period, he has reduced the number of study variables for countries, companies, and cities from a couple of hundred to just three, without sacrificing accuracy. And the results are impressive.

He is passionate about his work in energy. “Spain must try to be energy independent without perishing in the process.” To fully understand the unique situation of each country he considers it essential to calculate the country’s energy intensity by comprehensively assessing all resources, and determining exactly how much is spent on energy, for every euro of exports.

Talking to a person with his background and experience makes you want to ask about minor details, like where he shops for clothes or what dishes he likes to prepare. When he speaks of his role as a writer, his amber eyes alight. He would like to read more, “not just technical things,” in order to write better. Chances are he will achieve both things, and he will continue to work because “I work from compulsion; I have to keep producing to live.”

To find a man so gifted in conversation is not easy.

Spain must try to be energy independent without perishing in the process.
Q

We hear that you advocate some rather revolutionary ideas in the energy sector; can you share some of them with us?

A

I don’t perceive them as being so revolutionary. After all, the world isn’t short of knowledge, and a torrent of literature is now being produced on the subject. On the other hand, I suppose that even advocating the roundness of the earth was revolutionary at some point.

For some time now I’ve been saying that it’s quite counter-intuitive to plead for less energy consumption when what we need is to consume more. Progress is directly correlated to energy density; the more dense and abundant the energy we use, the higher the order of progress. Just compare the energy used by Watt, Edison, Otto, and Laval; each developed an invention that exceeded the previous one in order of magnitude: the steam engine, the light bulb, the internal combustion engine, the jet turbine. Thanks to ever increasing energy density and usage we have inventions today such as x-rays, Pentium5, and laser beams. Another thing I frequently say is that the world has more petroleum, natural gas, uranium, and coal than it needs. The problem lies not in its scarcity but rather in its abundance. New technologies, based on hydro-fracturing rocks, will liberate more hydrocarbons than we can use. But progress brings problems, so we need to be thinking quite a bit about the challenge of ‘cleaning’ the world and reducing CO² emissions. However, I suspect the most important debate of the 21st century will be about watergy, or the water-energy nexus…