Latin America’s Clean Energy Future: A Snapshot

Uruguayan wind farm

Howling winds across the plains of Patagonia, raging rivers from the mountains to the amazon, and the blistering sun of the Atacama Desert may propel Latin American countries to the forefront of renewable energy production.  Even volcanos offer a significant source of geo-thermal energy for some countries.  The power generated by nature throughout Mexico, Central, and South America could generate enough electricity to wean the Americas from carbon heavy alternatives.

However, Latin America and the Caribbean garnered merely 10 percent of the estimated $260 billion invested in clean energy development worldwide, in 2011.  The US attracted $55.9 billion and China $47.9 billion.  Currently, the region derives 7 percent of its 301 gigawatts (GW) from clean renewable sources.  But these figures conceal the fact that 65 percent of all electrical energy in the region comes from large scale hydropower – a renewable form of energy excluded from the category of clean energy.  By contrast, world reliance on hydro accounts for 16 percent of all electricity produced in 2011.  And Latin America has only tapped 30 percent of its total hydro capacity.

Moreover, improvements in the investment climate of many Latin American countries and other public policy initiatives, which seek to further clean energy development, may finally capture the region’s potential.

Many leaders have pursued ambitious policies to reduce carbon emissions, by encouraging private investment in the clean energy sector.  Costa Rica derives 99.2 percent of its energy from renewable sources, with a whopping 35.7 percent from geothermal.  Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Panama, El Salvador, and Argentina have all launched significant clean energy development plans for the future.

Costa Rica geothermal plant

Within the next three years, Uruguay aims to generate half of its power through renewable means.  A series of 21 wind farms producing 1.2 GW are scheduled for completion in 2015 and will provide 29 percent of the country’s energy.  Argentina also plans to increase its wind power production by 1 GW.  This year, El Salvador revealed plans to construct a 14.2 megawatt (MW) solar farm and a 42 MW wind farm – its first utility-scale wind and solar projects.  Chile recently initiated its largest wind farm project set to produce 115 MW by 2013.  In Mexico, another 396 MW wind farm has been proposed for the windy Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the state of Oaxaca.  Hundreds of additional projects lie in the works.

As a region with many developing countries, Latin America has the opportunity to use clean energy development to power the future.  Thirty million people currently live without electricity and consumers on the grid continue to demand more.   Latin America has the resources, needs, and ambition to pursue a clean energy future.  The main challenge is resisting an over reliance on abundant fossil fuel reserves, which continue to expand with new discoveries offshore.

First Chilean solar in Atacama Desert

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Follow Up

Three Million in Peru Still Lack Electricity

Latin America Herald Tribune

LIMA – Some 3 million people in Peru’s rural areas still lack electricity and nearly a third of the population is using firewood as cooking fuel, the Energy, Development and Life, or EnDev, project, said

According to EnDev’s national coordinator, nearly 500,000 rural families must use battery-operated lights, candles and cigarette lighters to see at night and spend more than 40 soles (about $15) a month for low-quality power service.

The 1993 census indicated that just 7.7 percent of Peru’s rural population had access to electricity. By 2007, that figure had risen to 29.5 percent and the Energy and Mines Ministry’s latest report shows the proportion now stands at 63 percent, Moreno said.

Cuba power failure plunges millions into darkness – video

10 September, 2012

The Guardian

A large swath of Cuba was plunged into darkness on Sunday night due to a power failure. Weather on the island was clear and calm. No one at the state-owned electrical company could immediately be reached to explain the outage. Blackouts are not uncommon in Cuba, due to its aging electrical system

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