The best solution for powering Colombia

by Mike Love

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A couple sits at home without electricity. Photo: Flickr.com

Se fue la luz! The coast of Colombia lives with frequent electricity outages that have led to protests and violence. Electrical service interruptions in Colombia are relatively higher than other developing countries like Chile. The average amount of interruptions per subscriber in Chile is 10, whereas Colombia averages 18.5 interruptions. The average duration of interruptions per subscriber is 16 hours in Chile versus 17.7 hours for Colombia.

Part of the issue lies within a lack of energy diversification. Hydroelectricity makes up 70% of the country’s energy. Fossil fuels like coal and natural gas comprise the rest. Since more than two-thirds of the country’s energy comes from hydroelectricity, droughts due to climate change have contributed to the crisis.  Hydropower is a form of renewable energy, which means that it does not deplete any resource to produce.  Other renewable energies include wind and solar power and these options account for less than 1% of the country’s power.

However, it turns out that Colombia has significant wind and solar resources that are not being exploited.  The Guajira Department in the Northeast has the highest wind power classification in South America. This means that by using the full potential of Guajira’s wind power, enough power could be produced to supply the demand of Colombia two times over!  However only 0.4% of its wind potential is being utilized.  There is also great potential for solar projects because of Colombia’s location in the equatorial zone.

The government also supports wind and solar. In 2014, Colombian Congress passed a law promoting new sources of renewable energies. This law created tax and accounting benefits, removed import duties on equipment, and made it possible to sell excess electricity back to the grid.

But the question still remains, why aren’t these other renewable energy options reaching their full potential? A major problem is that equipment for renewable projects such as solar are imported and the devaluation of the peso has made equipment expensive for buyers in Colombia. Another reason is that the regulatory bodies UPME and CREC give priority to electricity sources based on dependability putting established hydro dams at an advantage. A report from Procolombia shows that hydropower projects in construction are forecasted to meet the growing energy demand in the coming years for Colombia.

Climate change is a reality. What that reality means for Colombia is that the lack of rain will continue to increase the lack of power. Renewable energies like wind and solar are available but in order for the country to see a significant shift from hydroelectricity, there must be the same level of shift in thought. These renewables must be seen as an investment. It may require money up-front to establish a new infrastructure but it will ultimately save more money and prevent blackouts for a brighter Colombian future.

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