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Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy

In less than 10 times the country has slashed its carbon footprint and lowered electricity costs, without government subsidies. Representatives at the Paris summit can learn a lot from its success

As the world amass in Paris for the daunting undertaking of switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, one small country on the other side of the Atlantic is constructing that transition seem childishly simple and affordable.

In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs, according to the national administrator of energy, RamA3n MA( c) ndez.

In fact, he says that now that renewables provide 94.5% of the countrys electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy concoction signifies greater resilience to droughts.

It was a very different narrative merely 15 years ago. Back at the turn of the century petroleum accounted for 27% of Uruguays imports and a new pipeline was just about to begin rendering gas from Argentina.

Now the biggest item on importation balance sheet is wind turbines, which fill the countrys ports on their lane to installing.

Biomass and solar power have also been ramped up. Adding to existing hydropower, this means that renewables now account for 55% of the two countries overall energy mixture( including haul fuel) compared with a global median share of 12%.

Despite its relatively small population of simply 3.4 million, Uruguay has earned a remarkable quantity of world kudos in recent years. It enacted groundbreaking marijuana legalisation, pioneered stringent tobacco control, and introduced some of the most liberal policies in Latin America on abortion and same-sex matrimony.

Now, it is being recognised for progress on decarbonising its economy. It has been praised by the World Bank and the Nations economic commission for The countries of latin america and the Caribbean, and the WWF last year named Uruguay among its Green Energy Leaders, proclaiming: The country is defining global trends in renewable energy investment.

Cementing that reputation, MA( c) ndez who also heads climate policy has gone to this weeks UN talks with one of “the worlds” most ambitious national pledges: an 88% cut in carbon emissions by 2017 compared with the average for 2009 -1 3.

RamA3n MA( c) ndez, Uruguays director of energy: What weve learned is that renewables is just a financial business. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/ EPA

There are no technological miracles involved, nuclear power is entirely absent from the mingle, and no new hydroelectric power has been added for more than two decades. Instead, he mentions, the key to success is instead dull but encouragingly replicable: clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector.

As a result, energy investment mainly for renewables, but likewise liquid gas in Uruguay over the past five years has surged to$ 7bn, or 15% of the countrys annual GDP. That is five times the average in The countries of latin america and three times the world share recommended by climate economist Nicholas Stern.

What weve learned is that renewables is just a financial business, MA( c) ndez mentions. The construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is a very attractive.

The impacts are apparent on Route 5 from Montevideo to the north. In less than 200 miles, you pass three agroindustrial plants operating on biofuel and three windfarms. The biggest of them is the 115 MW Peralta plant built and run by the German company, Enercon.

Its huge turbines each 108 metres tall tower over grasslands full of livestock and rhea birds.

Along with dependable wind at an average of about 8mph the main attraction for foreign investors like Enercon is a set price for 20 times that is guaranteed by the government utility. Because maintenance expenditures are low( just 10 staff) and stable, this assures a profit.

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As a ensue, foreign firms are lining up to secure windfarm contracts. The competition is pushing down bids, cutting energy making expenses by more than 30% over the past three years. Christian Schaefer, supervising technician at Enercon said his corporation was hoping to expand and another German corporation Nordex is already constructing an even bigger plant further north along itinerary five. Trucks carrying turbines, towers and blades are now a common sight on the countrys roads.

Compared to most other small countries with high proportions of renewables, the concoction is diverse. While Paraguay, Bhutan and Lesotho rely almost solely on hydro and Iceland on geothermal, Uruguay has a spread that induces it more resilient to changes in the climate.

Windfarms such as Peralta now feed into hydro power plant so that dams can maintain their reservoirs longer after rainy seasons. According to MA( c) ndez, this has reduced vulnerability to drought by 70% no small benefit considering a dry year used to cost the country nearly 2% of GDP.

This is not the only benefit for the economy. For three years we havent imported a single kilowatt hour, MA( c) ndez tells. We used to be reliant on energy importations from Argentina, but now we exportation to them. Last summer, we sold a third of our power generation to them.

There is still a lot to do. The transport sector still depends on petroleum( which takes into consideration 45% of the total energy concoction ). But industry largely agricultural processing is now powered mainly by biomass cogeneration plants.

Laborers connect wind turbines to the grid. Photo: Joerg Boethling/ Alamy

MA( c) ndez attributed Uruguays success to three key factors: credibility( a stable democracy that has never defaulted on its debts so it is attractive for long-term investments ); helpful natural situations( good breeze, decent solar radiation and lots of biomass from agriculture ); and strong public companies( which are a dependable collaborator for private firms and can work with the nation to create an attractive operating surrounding ).

While not every country in the world can replicate this simulate, he told Uruguay has been established that renewables can reduce generation costs, can meet well over 90% of electricity requirement without the back-up of coal or nuclear power station, and the public and private sectors can work together effectively in this field.

But, perhaps, the most difficult lesson that Uruguay can provide to the delegates in Paris is the importance of strong decision-making. As has been the case at countless UN climate conferences, Uruguay was once paralysed by a seemingly endless and rancorous debate about energy policy.

All that changed when the governmental forces eventually agreed on a long-term programme that drew cross-party subsistence.

We had to go through a crisis to reach this degree. We spent 15 years in a bad place, MA( c) ndez said. But in 2008, we launched a long-term energy policy that encompassed everything Finally we had clarity.

That new direction built possible the rapid transition that is now reaping rewards.

Small nations, renewable giants

Uruguay get 94.5% of its electricity from renewables. In addition to age-old hydropower plants, a hefty investment in breeze, biomass and solar in recent years has raised the share of these sources in the total energy concoction to 55%, compared with a world average of 12 %, and about 20% in Europe.

Costa Rica moved a record 94 consecutive periods earlier this year without using fossil fuel for electricity, thanks to a mixture of about 78% hydropower, 12% geothermal and 10% gust. The government has set an objective of 100% renewable energy by 2021. But haul remains dirty.

Iceland has the advantage of has become a commonwealth of volcanoes, which has allowed it to tap geothermal new sources of 85% of its heating and with the help of hydropower 100% of its electricity. This has attained it the worlds largest green energy producer per capita.

Paraguay has one huge hydropower dam at Itaipu, which renders 90% of the countrys energy.

Lesotho gets 100% of its energy from a cascade of dams that have enough spare capability to exportation power to South Africa.

Bhutans abundant hydropower resources generate a surplus of energy that accounts for more than 40% of the countrys exportation earnings. But over-reliance on one source can be a problem. In the dry season, it has to import power from India.

Read more: http :// www.theguardian.com/ context/ 2015/ dec/ 03/ uruguay-makes-dramatic-shift-to-nearly-9 5-clean-energy

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