The growth of clean energy in Latin America

Clean energies are all those that do not produce waste in their transformation. Unlike traditional energies, which require fossil fuels and non-renewable natural resources for their use. In addition, they generate waste and pollution that contribute strongly to climate change.

Clean energy, an international commitment

Energy production is one of the largest sources of pollution because it produces almost 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. In September 2015, world leaders met at the United Nations Organization to establish sustainable development goals to be fulfilled in the next 15 years. Given that 13% of the world’s population does not have access to electricity, one of the objectives is to guarantee access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all. (UN, 2015).

With these objectives of global impact and other unilateral commitments of decarbonization of the economies, as in the case of China and some European countries (Diario El País, 2019), a boost has been given from macropolitics to the development of clean energies.

The importance of clean energy

With the current environmental problem and its continuous acceleration, research and development in alternatives that provide electricity, heat and movement to societies have become necessary. For this reason, there is a global growth in the use of clean energy for societies and industry.

Some of the sources of clean energy are: solar, wind, geothermal, thermal-solar, tidal and hydraulic. The latter, despite being a clean production, has a great impact on the area where you want to take advantage of a water fall; seriously affecting the environment, removing large amounts of land and diverting the natural course of the rivers. For this reason it has lagged compared to the other clean sources of energy.

Nonrenewable energy

On the other hand, non-renewable energy sources have many associated problems, the most important is that it uses resources that are limited. Coal, oil, natural gas and uranium are sources of energy that have large amounts of pollutants that have a negative impact on human health; the balance in the ecosystems and the atmosphere.

Some of its global effects are: acid rain and impacts on biodiversity; the ozone layer and climate change. In the mineral or hydrocarbon extraction sites, some of its effects are: noise and visual impact, where cranes, plants and wells are located; discharges of contaminated liquids and solid waste; electromagnetic fields and gas emissions that affect the balance in the atmosphere. Also, consumption of natural resources, among others.

Renewable energy

On the contrary, clean and renewable energies have positive impacts on employment, due to the need for labor for its design, installation and operation, and health; access to global energy, and resilience as a tool to fight climate change. One of the main characteristics of renewable energies is that they are implemented in a distributed and modular way, this makes them less prone to centralized and large-scale failures. (IRENA, 2017).

How do alternative energies grow?

In the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the supply of energy from renewable sources has grown steadily since the late 1990s. The following graph illustrates the growth of clean energies.

As you can see, solar, photovoltaic, wind energy show the highest growth. This implies further development of new technologies and materials that allow greater efficiencies such as solar panels, turbines and methods to produce better biofuels.

If we take into account that alternative energies are those that show the greatest growth worldwide (time, 2019) and that on the other hand Latin America has been positioning worldwide as a supplier of energy sources such as wood, coal and other minerals (ECLAC, 2019); It is important to see the current state of clean energy in South America.

Image1: average annual growth rates of the renewable energy supply in the OECD. Source: IEA (2019).

The current situation of clean energy in Latin America

Energy production in Latin America has been diversifying, following the global trend. Currently, the countries of South America are betting on clean energy as a source of development. According to World Bank data, Brazil is the country on the continent with the highest amount of energy production from renewable sources (excluding hydroelectric plants): 70,487,000,000 KWh (kilo watts per hour); but in percentage terms, it is Uruguay that shows the highest proportion of used energy generated from renewable sources: 28.4%.

The following table shows in terms of quantity and percentage, the energy generated from clean and renewable energy sources in 2015 by Latin America

Table 1: electricity production with renewable sources excluding hydroelectric sources, source: World Bank (2015).

Challenges facing the region

According to the World Bank, some of the main challenges facing the energy sector in Latin America are: urban growth and economic concentration; the emergence of disruptive technologies applied in renewable energies; changes in world energy markets; the impact of climate change on energy security and the increase of financial restrictions.

These challenges will force the continent to prepare at a technical level and to take measures to adapt to climate change. It is important to establish and strengthen the legal frameworks that allow the entry and maintenance of alternative energies. This will contribute to a solid foundation for the growth of clean energy. Also, the strengthening and guarantees of investment funds that allow access to the necessary resources to launch new projects with a greater impact on the production of clean energy.

In terms of economic and social development, access to energy is vitally important. This new energy development must meet the growth needs of the continent, which, according to World Bank data, grows at an exponential level.

Developing economies such as those in Peru, Chile and Bolivia show growth of over 3% in their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for 2018 (ECLAC, 2018). However, for the conservation of the environment and the mitigation of climate change, it is important to work on making new energy use friendly; that have no associated residues or contaminants. Nor do they consume non-renewable natural resources. In this way, the entire continent will guarantee its growth in a sustainable way.

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