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18 Mar 2023

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Brazil, Chile, and Colombia Leading New Era of Renewable Energy for Latin America

Three countries in Latin America are embarking on a new era of renewable energy, led by commitments to wind and solar utility-scale projects by Brazil, Chile, and Colombia. A new report from Global Energy Monitor forecasts that if all the potential projects planned in the region are launched, the current solar and wind power capacity could increase by 460% by 2030. Notably, these capacity projections compose 70% of the total electrical capacity growth in the region.

With a high potential for solar exposure and offshore wind development, Latin America is a goldmine for renewable energy. Regional governments have taken advantage of these natural resources and encouraged economic commitments with solid policy responses to climate change. The three leaders in growth – Brazil, Chile, and Colombia – all have employed energy auctions, opened up private investment, and found tactics to decrease the cost of solar and wind installations.

For example, Brazil launched a ten-year plan in 2013 to implement 20 GW of wind power and 3.5 GW of utility-scale solar capacity by 2023. Global Energy Monitor reports that Brazil surpassed this goal with 21.5 GW of operational onshore wind power and 5.4 GW of operational utility-scale solar power.

Colombia also appears set to exceed its goal of adding 4 GW of renewable energy to its grid by 2030. Columbian President Gustavo Petro also promised to speed up the energy transition and decrease fossil fuel activity. Currently, the 2022 Colombian Green Energy Roadmap aims to develop a 100% renewable electric grid by 2030, and the Global Energy Monitor report notes that this transition could happen even more quickly with Petro in office.

“The renewables race is accelerating quickly, which means countries that have ramped up efforts, like Brazil and Colombia, must remain vigilant while creating large-scale solar and wind projects,” said Sophia Bauer, a researcher at Global Energy Monitor. “Latin America can become a world benchmark for a just energy transition if future projects respect ecological balances and bring economic and social benefits.”

However, the progress of the previously promising renewable from Mexico could be in danger. Despite a COP27 pledge to bring 40GW of solar and wind power online by 2030, the current pipeline of new projects is nowhere near that robust. Recent policies by the López Obrador administration are preventing renewables growth and investing in fossil fuels with the aim of becoming more energy independent as a nation. This includes contributing public funds to building the Tabasco refinery, which some estimates say cost 20-30% over the budgeted $8 billion.

While Chile also has a long history of importing fossil fuels, its current policies seem to sway towards a 100% renewable energy system by 2030. Chilean President Gabriel Boric is focusing on policies that will increase solar in the Atacama region and offshore wind development in Patagonia.

If these countries come together to enact green policies, the Global Energy Monitor report considers Latin America on track to meet or surpass the regional 2030 net zero renewable energy goals, as assigned by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The wider 2050 goal hinges on adopting clean technology by 2030, partly by scaling up solar and wind energy dependence.

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