Thursday, November 26, 2020
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Renewable energy is expanding
José Elosegui*
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In 2014 a significant growth of hydraulic electricity, thermal and wind power occurred, replacing fossil fuels.

Uruguay has significantly advanced the diversification of its energy sources and therefore has reduced its dependence on petroleum, making it a model of success for renewable energies in the region. On the world level, in the fight against climate change, examples such as Uruguay put the industrialized countries in an awkward spot since they have many more resources and, in spite of bearing the major responsibility for the crisis, they continue promoting fossil fuels.

Uruguayan civil society and the academic world recognize the progress made by the successive administrations of the Broad Front (in power since 2004). While the need for the country to keep walking in that direction is stressed, social organizations and groups have made statements on what they consider to be signs that Uruguay could be developing the technology for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to exploit non-conventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas.

In recognition of World Environment Day celebrated on June 5, Gonzalo Casavilla, the president of the National Administration of Power Plants and Electrical Transmissions, the state company for energy in Uruguay, announced on June 3 that the national record for meeting the energy demand with wind energy was set. The 50.2 percent of the energy generated came from wind farms located in recent years in such departments as Rocha, Maldonado, San José and Florida.

According to the 2014 Preliminary Energy Assessment of the National Energy Management (DNE), a division of the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining, last year the composition of electricity sources was: 74 percent hydraulic, 13 percent thermal (biomass), 7 percent fossil and 6 percent wind.

These figures reflect the growth of biomass and wind energy resulting from the 2005-2030 Energy Policy established by the DNE. This policy was intended to reduce petroleum dependence, increase the use of renewable energies, and universalize the access to energy with the goal of reaching 100 percent electrification of the country, among other objectives.

Alternative energy sources
According to the 2013 Uruguay Country Report of the Millenium Development Goals by the National Council of Social Policies, petroleum as well as hydropower decreased their position in the Uruguayan energy matrix. On the other hand, energy from waste products and biomass grew from 3 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2011, this growth primarily being brought about after 2008. This same year firewood was 15 percent and wind energy was 1 percent of the total, a number that has grown 5 percentage points.

Also, a significant growth in photovoltaic solar energy by 2020 in Uruguay is anticipated, as a result of the solar plans that are now being implemented. Also being developed are agrofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, obtained principally from sugar cane and vegetable oils like sunflower and soy, respectively, although they have a minor percentage in the current energy matrix.

On June 4, the ecological organization REDES-Friends of the Earth Uruguay (REDES-AT) organized the public forum “A Sustainable, Just and Sovereign Energy System,” in Montevideo, the capital. In the opening session, the coordinator of REDES-AT, Karin Nansen, pointed out that “energy is the common good and access to it is a fundamental human right and necessary condition for a life with dignity.”

“It is crucial to defend a public, environmentally and socially just and sustainable energy system that guarantees access to sufficient energy for all to be able to satisfy our needs,” she added.

In a statement released on June 1, REDES-AT acknowledged the advances of the government in diversifying the energy matrix, while it considers that “we should continue advancing towards an energy system in which the production and use of energy do not contribute to climate change, nor to the degradation of water, air or biodiversity.”

The organization expressed its concern about the possible practice of fracking in the country, a warning already raised by various social groups. In July 2012, the state National Administration of Fuel, Alcohol and Portland (ANCAP) signed a contract with a US-financed company, Schuepbach Energy Uruguay (SEU), for exploration and eventual extraction of hydrocarbons in the Uruguayan continental territory. The contract includes non-conventional hydrocarbons.

According to a study by the Center for the Study of Regulatory Energy Activity in Argentina (CEARE), a research group of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), in  fracking, 10 million liters of water are used per well. There is a serious risk of contamination of the subterranean aquifers, among the environmental and social impacts.

Nansen defended the principle of energy sovereignty which implies the right of peoples to decide their policies and sustainable strategies of production and distribution of energy. She considered as fundamental the debate about technologies that present serious social and environmental impacts in the present and the future, and that endanger long-term sustainability, as well as discussion about the role of transnational corporations, contracts and international treaties that support such technologies.

Solutions close to people
In an interview with Latinamerica Press, the Argentinean engineer, Pablo Bertinat, of the Ecology Workshop of Rosario and member of the Energy and Sustainability Observatory of the National Technical University/Regional Faculty of Rosario, highlighted Uruguay’s advances in renewable energies and the debates between various actors in the country, “which doesn’t happen on the other side of the La Plata River.”

Nevertheless, Bertinat emphasized that “on the side of the renewables it is necessary for the whole region to construct energy solutions accessible to people.”  He pointed this out due to the fact that the sources may be renewable but that the energy can be in private hands, in a highly concentrated form of ownership without guaranteeing access by the people at affordable prices.

“Principles such as decommodifying, democratizing, deprivatizing, deconcentrating, and decentralizing the energy system are the fundamentals for thinking of an alternative system within the degrees of liberty we have,” he contends. “The energy system, which is what we need to change, is much more than an energy matrix, conceptualized as the source of energy generation.”

The union leader, Alejandro País, of the UTE Employees Association (AUTE), warned at the public forum in Montevideo, that private capital controls a majority stake in the generation of wind energy in the country and that UTE competes at a disadvantage.

“We are in favor of renewables, and everything that has to do with improving the environment and that helps us become energy independent will be welcome,” País commented. However, he warned that private companies have various benefits to invest in the wind energy sector, and, on the other hand, UTE “pays taxes as a regular company, for example.”
“We demand at least equal conditions so that UTE can invest more on renewables,” he stated.
—Latinamerica Press.


Wind energy is moving forward rapidly in the Uruguayan energy matrix. (Photo: elblogdelaenergía)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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