Going with the Wind: Transition to Clean Energy in Latin America & the Caribbean

The Providencia Solar company inaugurated in 2017 is the first
photovoltaic power plant in El Salvador, in the central department
of La Paz. With 320,000 solar panels, it is one of the largest
solar installations in Central America, whose countries are making
efforts to transition their energy mixes to renewable sources.
Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Luis Felipe López-Calva

The UN
Climate Action Summit
2019, which took place in the days
leading up to the 74th UN General Assembly, delivered new pathways
and practical actions for governments and private sector to
intensify climate action.

Among these, it recognized that the path towards protecting our
planet requires a fundamental change in terms of how households,
and the society as a whole, produce and consume electricity.

Despite important efforts, we are still not moving slowly in
terms of investments in clean energy. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2018
alone global energy-related CO2 emissions rose 1.7 percent to a
historic high, driven by higher energy demand.

looks at how Latin America and the Caribbean
generates and consumes energy, and outlines some elements of the
way forward for LAC energy markets.

It highlights that while LAC is a region whose contribution to
global carbon emission from energy generation has been relatively
low (contributing to less than 8% of total emissions worldwide), it
has contributed significantly to the solution by moving firmly into
more renewable sources of energy.

Luis Felipe López-Calva

Energy needs to be transformed in order to be useful. Primary
sources of energy – those found in nature such as coal, oil,
natural gas, nuclear fuels, the sun, wind or rivers – need to be
transformed into electricity (a so-called secondary source) to be
used by industry, households, services and transportation, among
other things.

Additionally, electricity cannot yet be stored at a large scale:
it is either used or lost. The process of electricity generation
produces a series of effects that inevitably have an impact on
people and the environment, albeit some more than others.

That is, social and environmental impacts differ if electricity
is generated by burning coal, inundating a valley, or building a
wind farm, with effects varying from greenhouse gas emissions,
displacement of local populations, and disturbances to local
ecosystems (i.e. wind farms threaten flying wildlife).

The goal in energy planning is to balance benefits and costs,
aiming ideally to find mechanism that internalize the environmental
impact (either through markets or through regulation, both of which
require effective governance: clear, stable and credibly enforced

So, how does LAC fare in terms of its energy use? According to a
widely used index, the “energy intensity indicator”,
LAC is the most efficient region in the world when it comes
to energy use

This index captures the amount of energy needed to generate one
dollar of product or service. LAC is also becoming more efficient
over time, with the index falling in past years, suggesting that
the region is doing relatively more with less energy.

To a large extent due to the presence of large hydroelectric
power generators, 52% of LAC’s energy came from renewable
sources (by 2013)
. This is almost three times higher than
the global average of 22% and has been increasing steadily over the
past two decades

This involves clearly many challenges ahead. Among the most
pressing is related precisely to the impact of climate change on
renewable energy generation: hydropower may be a highly efficient
renewable energy system, but it is becoming less reliable due to
changing weather patterns.

This has been exacerbated by the effect of the El Niño and La
Niña phenomena, which strongly influence rain levels in the
region. In parts of South America, these lead to reduced rains and
to droughts that hinder the capacity to generate electricity from
hydro sources, resulting in a need to increase the generation of
electricity based on fossil fuels to be able to meet growing

In other parts of the region, namely the deepest southern end of
the continent, these phenomena produce extreme increases in rain,
resulting in an unprecedented increase of water levels that affect
families and lead to high vulnerability for the populations.

It is also crucial to understand the distributional impacts of
continuing the transition towards renewable sources of energy in
LAC. Energy transitions will have unequal distribution of their
costs and benefits, particularly for communities that depend on
traditional energy infrastructure for their livelihoods.

Rising fuel prices can also trigger protests, as we have seen in
various countries in the region including Brazil, Mexico, and most
recently Ecuador (although, in this case, the rise in price was not
explicitly due to a transition to renewable sources but its was
clearly related to “pricing the carbon right”, by the phasing
out of fuel subsidies).

Inclusiveness and affordability, as well as a comprehensive
understanding of winners, losers, and potential instruments for
compensation and mitigation, will be critical components for a
sustainable transition.

So, what is the future of energy in LAC? While hydropower will
continue to be the largest energy source in the region for a while,
exploiting its complementarities with other renewable energy
sources will be key to ensure sustainability.

This change is facilitated by the fact that technological
advances have allowed for a reduction in cost and improvement in
efficiency of using these renewable sources (solar and wind, for
example). Countries addressing diversification efforts are working
to create the enabling policy and regulatory environments for other
renewable sources –such as wind and solar– to flourish.

For example, recent auctions in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico,
Chile, and Peru have helped to accelerate the deployment of
thousands of megawatts of wind and solar energy in the region.
Opportunities for investments are vast.

Promoting the use of clean energy in efficient ways is a
critical objective in our fight against climate change. LAC has
been at the forefront in the use of renewable sources, being a
relatively low carbon emitter.

However, there are challenges ahead, with the regional demand
for energy expected to keep growing as countries develop and
poverty levels fall. Investments and changes in the policy
environment will be needed to continue to transition towards
sustainable renewable sources of energy.

As Nick Stern has stated recently: if we get it right, clean
energy –and climate action in general– is the inclusive growth
story of the twenty first century.

The post
Going with the Wind: Transition to Clean Energy in Latin America
& the Caribbean
appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Luis Felipe López-Calva is UN Assistant
Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and
the Caribbean

The post
Going with the Wind: Transition to Clean Energy in Latin America
& the Caribbean
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Going with the Wind: Transition to Clean Energy in Latin America & the Caribbean