Wärtsilä Report Urges 100% Renewables Sooner, Uruguay Proves It Can Happen Now

With the COP26 conference in Glasgow coming up soon, many climate and environmental  groups are urging nations to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. A new report from Wärtsilä entitled Front Loading New Zero argues that nations can adopt 100% renewable systems faster than currently planned.

It says significant cost reductions can be achieved by front loading the deployment of renewables — mostly wind and solar — and by utilizing the technologies needed to balance their inherent intermittency with energy storage and thermal generating stations. The report reveals that by accelerating 100% renewable power systems, substantial benefits are unlocked:

  • Accelerating renewables so they become the main source of electricity drives down fossil fuel usage significantly reduces the levelized cost of electricity by 50% in India by 2050, while California and Germany can cut costs by 17% and 8% by 2040 respectively.
  • Coal-fired power — currently 70% of generation in India and 33% in Germany — can be securely replaced by renewables coupled with energy storage and thermal power as early as 2040.
  • Colossal carbon savings can be made in the short term, enabling national climate targets to be achieved. Germany can avoid 422 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2040 by accelerating its coal phase-out, helping it achieve a 65% reduction target compared to 1990 levels by 2030. In addition, renewables would allow Germany to avoid the need to import 550 TWh of power by accelerating the phase-out of coal.

Wärtsilä CEO Håkan Agnevall explains, “As we approach COP26, our Front-Loading Net Zero report should act as a wake-up call for leaders, as this is our last and best chance to get countries on pathways to carbon neutrality. Our modelling shows that it is viable for energy systems to be fully decarbonized before 2050 and that accelerating the shift to renewable power coupled with flexibility will help economies to thrive.

“We have all the technologies that we need to rapidly shift to net zero energy. The benefits of renewable-led systems are cumulative and self-reinforcing — the more we have, the greater the benefits — so it is vital that leaders and power producers come together now to front load net zero this decade.”

Sushil Purohit, president of Wärtsilä Energy adds, “There is no single solution that fits all markets, and this report highlights the different paths and technologies that can be utilized. The ultimate aim, however, is common to all and that is to decarbonize energy production and take the fullest advantage of our natural energy sources.”

Uruguay Shows The Way

In 2007, Uruguay had to rely on electricity imported from neighbors like Brazil and Argentina. That’s when it decided to invest heavily in wind turbines. Within 10 years, it had 4,000 MW of installed capacity. Today, 98% of the electricity for its 3.4 million inhabitants comes from renewables, including hydro. This is a nation that a recent former president of the United States liked to referred to as a “shithole country.”

Since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, Uruguay has surprised its South American neighbors with its growing list of environmental successes, including conserving native forests, protecting bio-diverse areas, and showing remarkable progress toward a promise to be carbon neutral by 2030.

To transform its energy landscape, the Frente Amplio, or FA, Uruguay’s governing party from 2005 to 2020, recognized the reality of a country dependent on importing fossil fuels while living in an ideal location for solar, wind, and hydraulic power generation. To date, the FA’s vision for an inclusive, people-oriented strategy for energy transformation has shown not only remarkable promise, but results. Throughout Uruguay, there is a strong emphasis on local energy production, particularly solar energy in rural areas that focuses on rural schools and churches far from the grid, as well as hospitals, hotels, sports clubs, and new public buildings.

With its gently rolling landscape, higher than average year-round sunshine, and hundreds of miles of ocean and river coastline, Uruguay has prime space for deploying energy alternatives. In addition, the country has identified significant opportunities for generating energy from biomass produced by the agriculture industry.

Other progressive energy projects include the country’s push toward a network of “electric highways” beginning with the coastal highway that links Colonia and Punta Este, two popular tourist cities. A network of EV charges will eventually be available throughout the entire country. While these projects are impressive, it is the country’s creation of larger energy infrastructure changes that have made the most impact.

According to Earth Island Journal, in the decade leading up to 2017, forward-looking policies and projects made Uruguay a world leader in wind power — along with Denmark, Ireland, and Germany — with more than a third of its electricity coming from wind farms. Adding hydropower generation to the mix, emissions levels in the country have fallen roughly 20 percent from their peak in 2012.

How this happened is worth noting. The country’s determination to use solar as an alternative is reflected in the country’s solar thermal mandate established in 2009 by the Solar Thermal Law, with additional provisions enacted in 2011. The law states that after 2014, all new construction and refurbishments of public buildings, hotels, health, and sports facilities in which hot water is expected to account for over 20 percent of the building’s energy consumption must obtain at least 50 percent of water heating energy from solar thermal energy. After 2012, heated pools had to use solar heating unless they used a different renewable energy source.

“The energy policy of Uruguay has focused highly on renewable energies, with the ambitious goal of incorporating them in the short term and providing attractive tax benefits for that purpose,” says Fernanda Panizza, Biz Latin Hub’s country coordinator and corporate lawyer, who counsels both foreign and national business stakeholders in the country. “Uruguay offers not only an advantageous business environment,” she notes, “but also great social stability, and considerable fiscal incentives for investments.”

A New Political Order

While Uruguay has made remarkable progress in expanding its renewable energy infrastructure, the country’s groundbreaking energy initiatives now face a new challenge from a governing party with more conservative views and a new president, Luis Lacalle Pou.

World affairs analyst Frida Ghitis, who has covered political and social issues in the region for over a decade, believes that there is good reason to look for the continuing positive trajectory of Uruguay’s progressive energy policies. “My sense is that Uruguay’s commitment to renewable energy is so deep that it transcends the left/right divide,” she says. “I don’t foresee that the center-right administration in Uruguay will backtrack on progress toward green energy.”

For more perspective on how renewable energy has become embedded in the culture of Uruguay, please take the time to review the DW video below, particularly with regard to concerns that wind turbines would disturb cows and interfere with their milk production. The result? The cows paid no attention to the turbines at all. It would be wonderful if more humans could do the same.


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