Look south for renewables

Issue 7 and Volume 101.

Look south for renewables

Although gas and coal are the predominant fuels in North America, the scene is very different only a little way south (Table 1). In Latin America, hydro is king, and a variety of renewables are finding a home there under the welcoming sun. U.S. companies and technologies are looking south with a smile as the demand for power grows and renewables increasingly widen their niche.

“Modern renewable energy technologies have seen dramatic decreases in costs coupled with increased efficiency and reliability over the past few years, allowing them now more than ever to provide economically viable alternatives to conventional power production,” said Mark Lambrides, U.S. Export Council for Renewable Energy, at the recent Latin America Power Conference in Caracas, Venezuela (Figure 1). “As a result, renewable energy technologies are being increasingly chosen to help meet the surging growth in electric power demand–both on- and off-grid–in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

As countries work to electrify rural and remote communities, renewables often provide the only sustainable solution for meeting a community`s growing power needs. They are generally more cost effective than power grid expansion and provide secure decentralized power.


In an effort to promote the use of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies throughout the hemisphere, a North-South initiative entitled Renewable Energy in the Americas (REIA) was launched in 1992. In the past five years, the initiative has identified more than 175 projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with an estimated value exceeding $2 billion.

Various financing initiatives and policy reforms have helped facilitate significant growth in the number of renewable energy projects being implemented in Latin America, with involvement from utilities, independent power producers and private citizens.

“As more projects are developed and as the demonstration effect of the reliability and economic viability of these technologies spreads further, many more communities and utilities will turn to renewable solutions for their power needs,” Lambrides said.

Recent projects noted include:

¥ Charter Oak Energy Inc.`s 20 MW wind farm in Costa Rica–there are plans to develop an additional 40 MW of wind power in Costa Rica over the next three years;

¥ the agreement of St. Vincent`s government and Caribbean Power Ltd. for the development of a 20 MW geothermal project;

¥ COLCE, a Brazilian utility, developed an all-renewable energy project bid for grid-connected development;

¥ Argentina`s government program earmarking $314 million for national rural electrification with cost-shared subsidies to be provided to off-grid rural areas;

¥ Bolivia is developing a comprehensive program to electrify a significant proportion of its population–it is a $100 million effort in which approximately 50 percent of the new customers will be served by renewable energy technologies; and

¥ the Mexican government`s rural electrification program relies largely on photovoltaics and has installed more than 35,000 household systems in recent years.

“The outlook for renewables in Latin America is more promising today than ever before,” Lambrides said. “The fusion of a heightened interest in and appreciation of renewable technology benefits from those demanding electric power, combined with increasingly competitive products and an emerging sophisticated financing environment has led to a situation in which these technologies can, in many cases, now provide the most economically sound, long-term investment in the growing power needs of the hemisphere.”