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Energy transition in South America

Jul 29,2023 - Last updated at Jul 29,2023

In this article we will discuss the benefits, challenges and policies required to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy as experienced in some South American countries that successfully reached almost 99 per cent of renewable energy for electricity production, such as Costa Rica and Uruguay. Other countries worldwide have reached similar levels, such as Iceland, Norway and Scotland.

Costa Rica's remarkable transition to almost 100 per cent renewable energy in electricity generation is widely regarded as a success story. Here are some key factors that contributed to Costa Rica's successful energy transition that we can learn from in Jordan and the Arab World:

Costa Rica's government demonstrated strong political will and commitment to sustainable development and clean energy. The government has set ambitious goals to become carbon-neutral by 2050 and has made significant progress in this direction. They set ambitious renewable energy targets and implemented supportive policies and regulations to incentivise renewable energy investments. It was one of the first countries to pledge carbon neutrality and has implemented various policies and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as promoting electric transportation, sustainable agriculture practices and reforestation efforts.

Costa Rica is globally recognised for its remarkable environmental achievements. The government has actively prioritised the conservation and protection of its rich biodiversity and ecosystems. Approximately 25 per cent of Costa Rica's land is designated as protected areas, including national parks, wildlife refuges and biological reserves. 

The government has also recognised the potentials of sustainable tourism and actively promoted ecotourism. By emphasising responsible travel practices and encouraging visitors to explore the country's natural wonders, Costa Rica has been able to foster economic growth while protecting its environment.

Costa Rica also implemented various incentives and supportive policies to attract private investments in renewable energy projects. These included tax incentives, and long-term power purchase agreements with favourable terms for renewable energy developers. The government has implemented various economic policies that incentivise sustainable practices and industries. For example, it offers tax incentives for renewable energy projects and grants financial support to businesses that adopt environmentally friendly practices. This approach encourages private sector involvement and drives sustainable economic growth.

Costa Rica is blessed with abundant renewable resources, including hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, wind power and solar energy, which account for over 98 per cent of the country's electricity generation. The country has a significant number of rivers and water resources, making it well-suited for hydroelectric projects; however, it diversified its renewable energy mix, as it invested in geothermal power plants, utilised its volcanic activity, and gradually expanded its wind and solar energy capacities. This diversified approach helped mitigate risks and ensured a stable and resilient energy supply.

As for public support, Costa Rica's citizens actively supported the transition to renewable energy. There was a growing awareness of the environmental benefits and the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Public engagement initiatives and educational campaigns that we miss in the Arab World and need to be supported by foreign aid, helped create a culture of sustainability and encouraged individuals and communities to embrace renewable energy solutions. Costa Rica's government has prioritised education and awareness programs to promote sustainability. Environmental education was integrated into the national curriculum, ensuring that future generations are aware of the importance of sustainable practices and are equipped with the knowledge to contribute to a greener future.

As for international collaboration, Costa Rica received support from international organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, which provided funding and technical assistance for renewable energy projects. Collaboration with other countries and sharing of best practices also helped accelerate the energy transition. It has hosted numerous environmental conferences and actively participates in global initiatives, demonstrating its commitment to collaborative action and knowledge sharing.

For the Uruguay example, it shares much with the above factors discussed earlier, however, it is well known for its regional integration. Uruguay leveraged its geographic location to integrate its energy systems with neighboring countries. It participated in cross-border energy exchanges, enabling the export and import of renewable electricity when needed, thereby maximising the utilisation of the intermittent renewable resources. This experience is what Jordan is trying to do now by extending the grid to Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.

Uruguay also established strong institutions and agencies dedicated to energy planning, regulation and promotion of renewable energy. Clear roles and responsibilities, along with effective coordination, facilitated the implementation, managing and monitoring of renewable energy initiatives.

As for public support and participation, Uruguayans have shown strong support and enthusiasm for renewable energy. Public awareness campaigns and educational programmes helped engage citizens in the transition process. Public involvement and participation further strengthened the country's commitment to renewable energy. As a result of these efforts, Uruguay has achieved impressive milestones. It now generates a significant portion of its electricity from renewable sources, and on some occasions, the country has been able to meet 100 per cent of its electricity demand from renewable energy and export the rest to neighbouring countries. A similar achievement happens in the EU, such as with wind energy in Denmark.

As for Brazil, it is the largest economy in South America and has shown significant commitment to renewable energy. The country has a strong bio-energy sector, with sugarcane ethanol playing a major role in transportation fuel. It is vital to acknowledge that the transportation sector is more important than generating electricity in terms of energy consumption and pollution emissions. In Jordan, for example, the transportation sector consumes almost 48 per cent of the final energy.

 Brazil has also been expanding its wind and solar energy capacities. Additionally, the government has implemented programs to increase energy efficiency and has set targets for renewable energy in its energy mix. This target aims to decrease the energy intensity of the economy, meaning that the country would produce more goods and services with less energy input. 

In conclusion, many factors control the successful transition of energy, including the political will, stable legislation, economic feasibility, environmental concerns, renewable resource availability, incentives for investment, grid upgrading, regional interconnection, available capital, experienced manpower, and above all, investing in education that yields public support for these sustainable and ecocentric approaches.


Ayoub Abu Dayyeh is an energy and green buildings consultant

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