Argentina could become green energy powerhouse

Carlos Saint James, who heads the Argentine Renewable Energy Chamber, is optimistic that Argentina could become the next Saudi Arabia when it comes to renewable energy sources “because it’s got it all”, reported “Kazakh-Zerno” IA with reference to the “China Post“.

Just like decades ago Argentina appeared to look forward to a prosperous future because of its abundant grain crops and meat production, feeding a large chunk of the world, now there is a another possibility: that of providing energy for the planet.

Experts say that Argentina has great potential because of the different kinds of territories and geographical conditions that could lend themselves to develop solar energy, wind energy, geothermic energy and tidal energy.

“Argentina is potentially a great clean energy exporter, which is exactly what the world is going to want in the 21st century,” said James.

He pointed out that without much effort, Argentina is currently the fifth-largest bio-diesel producer, behind Germany, the United States, France and Brazil, and the top exporter.

Argentina has laws aimed at spurring the use of renewable energies, which set the amount of remuneration for each kilowatt-hour produced, and other kinds of fiscal benefits and tax exemptions in connection with the projects.

One disadvantage is that electricity is state-subsidized in Argentina, having a negative effect on wind or solar energy production costs, higher to begin with.

Energy Minister Daniel Cameron said earlier this year that, “climate change is an absolute reality, therefore renewable energies and energy efficiency are tools that the world will inevitably have to use because we are facing a concrete, and I am tempted to say, urgent, problem.”

According to James, Argentina’s enormous potential up to now has been wasted, although he feels the situation is beginning to change with new policies.

In May 2009, the government launched the Renewable Energies Generation project that opened bids for 1,000 megawatts of clean energy to be bought by the state. In response, the market offered more than 1,400 megawatts.

Maria Cecilia Gareis, with the Civil Association of Certified Experts in Environmental Management and Diagnosis, said that it was encouraging that 22 projects were presented for the contest.

“This demonstrates that there is interest in renewable energies taking off in Argentina and there are firms that are willing to invest,” she said.

Most of the firms were Argentine. “The first wave brought a bunch of foreigners who came sniffing but made no offers. Argentine investors, who are familiar with local idiosyncrasies, are not fools and they are making major pledges because they know there is a future to this,” James said.

In late 2009, international environmental organization Greenpeace presented the “energy revolution” report, an assessment of the energy scene up to 2050 in which it said that Argentina “possesses and enormous renewable energy potential and its development could be economically competitive.”

“We are pushing for, in the first place, that the law be fulfilled that obliges the state to develop renewable sources with the aim of reaching in 2016 eight percent of energy produced by these kinds of technologies,” said Juan Carlos Villalonga, director of Greenpeace Campaigns in Argentina. He added that by 2020 wind energy must reach 8,000 megawatts.

Like any industry, renewable energy also has drawbacks. Gareis pointed out that “they also generate an environmental impact.” With wind energy “the most negative aspect is the effect on the landscape, on birds and in creating noise. Nonetheless, positive aspects are greater than negative ones,” she said.

Although currently less than one percent of Argentina’s energy comes from renewable sources, the law says that by 2016 it has to be eight percent.

“I don’t know whether the goal is going to be met but it’s a good one,” said James, adding that a few years ago there was a wave of investment in biodiesel and now the trend has shifted to wind energy.

In this regard he said that the further south one goes, the more wind there is, but there is no electric grid, so there will be the need to add infrastructure so that the energy can reach the market, since consumers are mostly in Buenos Aires.

One major issue is electricity storage. James explained that energy from fossil fuels is consumed immediately, and solar and wind energy depends on environmental conditions.

There is a growing sector in Argentina concerned with storing energy using lithium that is also abundant in the South American country. A weak point is finding ways to store renewable energy and maintain reserves, that’s why “mega-batteries are being invented,” James said.

James added that the industry of renewable energy is the world’s fastest-growing. He said that in the last five years it grew at a world rate of 56 percent and in Latin America the rate was 145 percent.

Things are much slower though in Argentina and the “bad news was that last year 12 billion U.S. dollars were invested in Latin America in renewable energy projects and Brazil got 10 billion U.S. dollars.”

The reason for that, James said, was that Brazil managed to convince investors that there would be no abrupt changes to its legislation, that policies, once in place, would remain.

“Rules won’t change from one day to the next.”

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