A photovoltaic power plant
Credit: Imagebroker/Photo Stock
Latin America Builds Another Energy Capital
By Marcela Valente
Generating electricity from the sun and from the wind is taking off with Latin American projects that include the region's own technology and manufacturing.
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 15 (Tierramérica).- Argentina is building its first solar electrical generator in the northwestern province of San Juan. The project calls for the manufacture of photovoltaic panels to supply the rest of the country and for the other member countries of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur).
The Argentine effort is a small project. In Mexico, plans are under way to achieve 25 percent electricity from clean and renewable sources by 2012, mostly from wind turbines. Brazil is promoting development of sources like solar, wind and tidal power.
"Humanity is on a one-way trip. We can't continue relying on fossil fuels, which are expensive, are running out, and have high costs resulting from the carbon dioxide emissions that cause the greenhouse effect," explained Francisco Alcoba, president of the national government's Provincial Energy Partnership in San Juan.
This Andean province will begin construction of the Pilot Photovoltaic Generation Plant San Juan I, which with its 4,898 solar panels will reach a maximum installed potential of 1.2 megawatts that it will sell to the national electrical system. This country of 40 million inhabitants currently has an electrical capacity of 22,000 megawatts.
Argentina "had isolated projects based on solar energy panels in rural areas where the electrical network doesn't reach, but ours is the first production plant in the country and in South America," said Alcoba.
The San Juan government decided to make use of the natural conditions of the province, where the sky is clear most of the year. Furthermore, the soils of San Juan are a natural source of high-quality quartz, from which is extracted silicon, an important element for manufacturing solar panels.
On Mar. 5, the provincial government signed a construction contract with UTE Comsa Argentina-Comsa Spain, which won the bid for the project. The authorities want this site to serve also as a base of research and development, which could also benefit the Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay).
A national legal framework established fiscal benefits and other incentives to promote the development of alternative energy sources, with the goal of supplying eight percent of the electrical demand by 2016.
As part of this policy, there are more calls for bids on clean energy projects. For solar, a quota was set for no less than 10 megawatts, and, according to Alcoba, there area already offers for 22.5 megawatts for installation also in San Juan.
Argentina is moving in a timid but firm trend in the direction of clean energy production, in keeping with the Initiative for a Green Economy, launched by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in response to the global financial crisis.
Economist Pavan Sukhdev, of India, directs the UNEP program and told Tierramérica that the countries need to think about natural capital not as a subordinate advantage, but "as a complex and valuable ecological infrastructure that provides goods and services to humanity."
According to Sukhdev, the old thinking was that nature provided us with resources for production, but it is also a source of services that allow us to have clean air and water, prevent floods or droughts and produce renewable energy. He stressed that if we don't take care of this capital we won't be able to continue producing those services.
Beyond the name "green economy," in Latin America there are many programs heading in that direction, among them the photovoltaic project of San Juan, said economist Martina Chidiak, of the Research Center for Transformation.
"It is not about reinventing the economy, but of encompassing it in what we are already doing," Chidiak told Tierramérica. She and other Latin American colleagues are preparing a report for UNEP about the efficient use of the region's resources.
"I prefer to talk about sustainable production and consumption," she added, less ambitious than the "green economy" but with sights on development policies that are more integrated and coherent, she said.
For example, in Argentina, while there is more and more investment in renewable energy, the country continues to spend millions of dollars on subsidies for fossil fuels.
"This reveals a disconnect. That is why renewable energy is not enough. We must have a coherent program, and financing," she said.
Chidiak meanwhile applauded Mexico and Brazil for their advances in coordinating policies to confront climate change. In that context, they have launched projects for wind, solar and biomass energy, and are also planning to manufacture the necessary technology.
Roberto Constantino, an economist with the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico, told Tierramérica that his country "has a special interest in achieving synergies between economic growth and the green economy, especially for reasons of energy security and increased technical efficiency in production."
That explains the investments of the Federal Electricity Commission in wind energy in the region of the isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southern state of Oaxaca, he said.
In the isthmus corridor the installed wind energy capacity is 508 megawatts, out of 51,000 megawatts of installed potential in the entire country of Mexico.
In early March, President Felipe Calderón inaugurated another wind park, La Rumorosa, near the northwestern city of Mexicali.
Calderón's goal is for 25 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2012 - an ambitious plan for an oil-producing country that obtains 73 percent of its electricity from fossil fuel energy plants, 22 percent from hydroelectric dams, and three percent from nuclear plants.
Mexico is looking to become a Latin American leader in this type of energy, said the president.