Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean - energy security for the future
Renewable Energy has created a world of opportunity for society to seek out alternative,
environmentally responsible modes of generating energy. It challenges us to apply the principles
of engineering and science to harness power from natural resources such as the sun, wind, air and
water. Renewable energy stimulates economic growth, provides job opportunities and poverty
reduction in impoverished areas, and ensures our energy security for future generations. This
resource has become more critical at a time when the price of crude oil has drastically dropped to
under $70US per barrel, presenting great economic uncertainty for oil-producing countries.
Trinidad and Tobago’s own 2015 budget was based on a projected crude oil cost of US$80 per
barrel, a key revenue earner for the country. This is therefore an ideal opportunity for the world
to intensively explore the benefits of this natural resource.
Through globalization, renewable energy is quickly expanding across continents, especially in
the developing world. According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, “as markets
have become more global, renewable energy industries have responded by increasing their
flexibility, diversifying their products, and developing global supply chains.” Here in the Latin
America and Caribbean region, renewable energy initiatives are already changing the energy
landscape. The Report confirmed that at least 19 countries in the region had renewable energy
policies by 2014, and at least 14 had renewable energy targets, mostly for electricity generation.
Financial incentives and government policy have significantly boosted investments in the region.
According to the Report, countries such as Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay committed over US $ 1
billion each in renewable energy investments, with several countries adopting feed-in tariffs
(providing price certainty and long-term contracts that help finance renewable energy
investments), public competitive bidding (tendering), tax incentives, and quotas to drive
opportunities. Additionally, eight countries had net metering laws by year’s end, with pilot
projects operating in Costa Rica and Barbados.
Brazil’s renewable energy model is certainly one for the region to replicate. The country proudly
stands among the top five countries in the world for hydropower, solar water heating capacity,
biodiesel and fuel ethanol production. Thirteen percent of that country’s transport fuel is derived
from biofuels, a significant milestone for the South American country.
Other countries in the region have also undertaken key renewable energy initiatives. For example
Uruguay aims to generate 90% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015, and completed
a Global Environment Facility funded Energy Efficiency Project in 2012 (worldbank.org). The
project resulted in energy efficiency becoming a core component of the National Energy Strategy
with over 73 energy service companies (ESCO) being registered, with 19 in active operation.
Similarly, Grenada targets 20% primary energy from renewables by 2020. This relatively small
country has implemented several impressive renewable energy projects including the Sustainable
Energy Development plan; the solar hot water project whereby a grant by the Trust for the
Americas would be used for low-cost, long-term loans for citizens to purchase the hot water
systems;the Earth Home Project facilitated by the Sustainable Design Group whereby a model
earth home will be created for future developers.
In Trinidad and Tobago, renewable energy is a critical field in the energy sector, particularly
since in 2010 the country had the second highest carbon emissions per capita in the world
(worldbank.org). The Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs commenced work on the
establishment of the Regional Renewable Energy Centre in 2013, alongside the installation of
solar-powered security lights at nine community centres in Trinidad and Tobago. A pilot solar
thermal project commenced at twenty-five (25) schools involving the installation of solar
photovoltaic systems and distillation units combined with a teacher training programme in
collaboration with UWI and UTT. There is also a Wind Resource Assessment Programme
(WRAP) being conducted along the east coast of Trinidad to explore the potential establishment
of a wind turbine farm to generate energy. The Ministry also embarked on a National Energy
Communication Campaign sensitising the public about energy consumption, which earned a
Green Leaf Award from the EMA in 2014
St. Kitts and Nevis has also demonstrated how small island developing states (SIDS) can adapt to
climate change through renewable energy resources. At more than 14,000 square feet, St Kitts
and Nevis has opened the largest greenhouse in the region, with the intention of integrating
tourism, agriculture and renewable energy. The country also plans to establish two solar panel
farms following the success of the country’s only solar farm located at the Robert L. Bradshaw
International Airport. For a country of only 261 square kilometres, St. Kitts and Nevis has
certainly done the environment proud!
Renewable energy provides substantial benefits to the region’s economic development and will
continue to evolve over the years. Since the region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of
climate change, the use of renewable energy is an important component in mitigation. The
initiatives outlined are a testament that developing countries can impact on the global energy
sector, with the support of legislative and financial incentives.
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