Spurring the Growth of Renewable Energy in the Americas

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

At a regional workshop held in Santiago, Chile, representatives of 16 countries in the hemisphere met to identify ways to encourage more widespread use of renewable energy sources. While considerable progress has been made on this front, participants at the meeting agreed that more work must be done on key issues to make renewables more competitive and ensure that they can be incorporated into the market.

Renewable energy has the potential to supply many of the region’s energy needs and generate multiple social and economic benefits without producing harmful carbon emissions. Given these clear advantages, participants in the workshop talked about some of the steps countries in the region could take to spur greater use of sources other than fossil fuels.

In remarks at the workshop, Chile’s Minister of Energy, Máximo Pacheco, talked about the inroads renewable energy has made in his own country, noting that Chile is well on its way to meeting its goal of having 20 percent of the country’s electricity come from non-conventional renewable sources by 2025. And, he said, this is happening without tax subsidies, as renewables in Chile are not only sustainable but very competitive. Ambassador Gabriel Rodríguez, Director of the Chilean Foreign Ministry’s Office of Energy, Science, Technology, and Innovation, and the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Michael A. Hammer, also took part in the regional event.d about some of the steps countries in the region could take to spur greater use of sources other than fossil fuels.

The workshop, held August 25-26, was geared primarily toward National Focal Points of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). The event was organized by the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, in its role as ECPA Clearinghouse, along with the Chilean Ministry of Energy and Fundación AVINA, a foundation that works throughout Latin America on a range of sustainable development issues.

The event focused on four key topics: progress made on renewable-energy competitiveness in the Americas; achievements and challenges related to integrating renewable energy sources into the electricity grid in Latin America; access to sustainable energy as a basic principle for socioeconomic development in the region; and how energy projects affect communities and the need for greater inclusion. Panelists talked about these subjects on the first day, while on the second day participants broke out into groups to continue discussing some of the same issues.

Participants identified a number of challenges related to renewable energy, including difficulties in obtaining financing for both small and large-scale projects. In some countries where the market is dominated by conventional energy sources, there has been a certain resistance to renewable energy, especially when it comes to the more ambitious projects. In countries without fossil fuel resources of their own, the incorporation of renewable energy has been smoother, participants said. They talked about the need for greater political support for the renewable energy sector and the importance of having high-quality information and technical expertise.

On that front, José Etcheverry of Canada’s York University and Marta Rivera of the Guatemala-based Fundación Solar proposed that a program be created to provide “training for trainers” on the subject of renewable energy, to build greater technical know-how in countries with less experience in the field. Such a program could facilitate technical visits to special sites in countries with a longer track record on the subject, to offer practical training on specific topics. Workshop participants said this type of program could have a significant multiplier effect in the region.

After the workshop, representatives of the countries on the recently established ECPA Steering Committee held their first meeting. Those attending included representatives of Chile, which chairs the committee, and of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras attended as observers. The purpose of this meeting was to begin a debate among members of the committee concerning the development of an Action Plan that is based on ECPA’s seven pillars and that focuses on the priorities, needs, and opportunities in the various subregions of the Americas.