Uruguay, Latin America’s Clean Energy Leader
Uruguay has scored plenty of positive press in recent years. While its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, have struggled economically, and other countries, such as Chile and Paraguay, have become embroiled in social issues, this tiny country of 3.4 million is relatively quiet and is unnoticed. Not that everything is perfect in Uruguay—crime is a problem in cities including Montevideo, the cost of living becoming too high for many locals and the country still has a large expatriate population living abroad seeking opportunities they feel are lacking at home.
But while many outsiders praise Uruguay for its stance on social issues, the country has taken leadership on another issue, key considering the ongoing COP21 talks in Paris. Clean energy has caught on in Uruguay in recent years—in fact, estimates suggest renewables now provide almost 95% of the country’s electricity.
Hydropower provides the majority of this clean power, but biomass and wind power are picking up the slack, offering Uruguay a healthy energy mix in the event long term trends in climate render some forms of power untenable. The 100-megawatt Peralta 1 – 11 Wind Farm, for example, is connected to some of the country’s hydroelectric plants so that they can maintain their water reservoirs longer after seasonal rains stop
The results have been economic opportunities and a more resilient economy. Once reliant on energy imports, Uruguay now exports some of its clean power to Argentina. Meanwhile investments in clean energy continue, due in part because the country’s economic fundamentals are strong. The currency is stable, the government for the most part is far more transparent than its neighbors and its people are educated. Challenges are still on the horizon—its transportation sector still depends on imported fossil fuels—but Uruguay, better known for gauchos and soccer, is an example of how sustainable development and long-term planning can work.
Image credit: Leon Kaye