Latin America poised to become renewable energy giant, report reveals

Latin America has the potential to increase its utility-scale solar and wind power capacity by more than 460 per cent by 2030, providing that all 319 GW of prospective new projects planned for the region come online, according to a report from Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

Latin America is poised to become one of the world’s largest producers of renewable energy, with almost one billion solar panels’ worth of large-scale clean-electricity projects slated to come online in the next seven years across the region, the report says.

GEM, a US-based non-profit organisation which tracks clean-energy development, states: “Rich in wind and solar resources, Latin America has the potential to be a global leader for renewable energy”.

Together with existing distributed and smaller-scale solar capacity, Latin America will be on track to meet, and potentially surpass, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2030 regional net-zero renewable energy goals if it implements all of its prospective larger-scale projects.

GEM’s report – ‘A Race to the Top’ – tracks the utility-scale buildout of wind and solar across the whole Latin American region, from Mexico to Argentina, mapping the growth trends seen in each country since 2013.

Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy, is clearly leading the charge. Since 2019, Brazil’s renewables provision has surged from around 2,000GW to over 9,000GW – more than three times greater than any of its Latin American neighbours.

Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office in January, has vowed to expand clean energy and restore Brazil’s leadership role on climate change, after four years of indifference to climate issues by his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

With a collective capacity of over 57GW, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico make up almost 84 per cent of the existing 69GW of utility-scale solar and wind farms currently operating in the region. Peru has also recorded a notable uptick since 2021.

However, while Brazil, Chile and Colombia stand at the vanguard of the renewables race, Mexico has fallen behind since its 2018 peak and is ultimately only set to reach 70 per cent of its pledge to bring 40GW of solar and wind by 2030, even if all its prospective projects come online. Argentina has also tailed off in recent years.

An early adopter of renewable energy, Mexico is currently home to Latin America’s largest solar and wind projects. However, the future for renewables is decidedly less rosy in that country, following the energy reforms in 2021 promoted by president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a vocal champion of fossil fuels who has made revitalising Mexico’s state oil company Pemex a cornerstone of his administration. “Mexico has stalled,” the report drily notes.

“Even if all prospective projects were to come online, the country would only reach approximately 70 percent of its pledge to bring 40 gigawatts of solar and wind by 2030.”

The region’s top five countries in terms of prospective utility-scale solar and wind capacity additions are:

  1. Brazil (217GW)
  2. Chile (38GW)
  3. Colombia (37GW)
  4. Peru (10GW)
  5. Mexico (7GW)

The top five countries in terms of current operating utility-scale solar and wind are:

  1. Brazil (27GW)
  2. Mexico (20GW)
  3. Chile (10GW)
  4. Argentina (5GW)
  5. Uruguay (2GW)

The report also suggests that Latin America has great potential as a producer of offshore wind energy, and that green energy exports offer a potential economic windfall, either by sending surplus electricity to other countries or by using renewable energy to produce green hydrogen for export.

“The renewables race is accelerating quickly, which means countries that have ramped up efforts like Brazil and Colombia must remain vigilant while creating large-scale solar and wind projects,” said Sophia Bauer, a researcher at GEM.

“Latin America can become a world benchmark for a just energy transition if future projects respect ecological balances and bring not only economic, but also social benefits.”

Kasandra O’Malia, a project manager for the Global Solar Power Tracker at GEM, said: “While distributed solar may be at the crux of the renewables transition in Latin America, the region is also at a major inflection point when it comes to supporting important utility-scale projects that could turn it into a global energy giant”

O’Malia also called on the world’s major energy consumers – i.e. the US, Europe and China – to follow Latin America’s example and exponentially expand their implementation of renewable energy projects.

“The rest of the globe is not doing their share,” she said.

GEM’s Latin America renewables report – ‘A Race to the Top‘ – is available to download for free online.

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