The Colombian capital is subject to intense seasonal showers and frequent cloudy skies. But this is no obstacle for a renewable energy source to gain a foothold with 8 million inhabitants.
“Bogotá is Colombia’s pioneering city for solar energy,” states Marcos Páez of Panasonic Colombia.
In recent years, malls and big-box stores have put their wide roofs to use with new solar projects. These include Plaza las Americas shopping mall and Alkosto on the Carrera 68 in Bogotá.
A system at an Éxito store in Barranquilla became Colombia’s biggest when it entered service in November 2014.
And last year in the neighborhood of La Macarena, the Colegio Ramón Jimeno became Bogotá’s first high school with photovoltaic panels.
On average, there is not as much solar energy available per unit of area in Bogotá as there is in sunnier regions like La Guajira. But the capital’s temperate climate is an important advantage, because photovoltaic solar panels generally convert sunlight to electricity at higher efficiencies in cooler temperatures.
Mr.Páez doesn’t generalize about the suitability of Bogotá’s climate for solar energy. He explains that Bogotá’s topography affects wind and weather patterns, creating varying microclimates throughout the city.
For example, cloudy sites such as those in central Bogotá may justify high-end solar panels that perform better in cloudy conditions.
Just a few kilometers north, project designs must consider the area’s high humidity, which can corrode system components or cause electrical problems. On the other hand, “the south of Bogotá has a great microclimate for solar power,” he says.
In Colombia, two-thirds of electricity comes from another renewable energy source — hydropower. Most of the remaining comes from coal, oil and natural gas power plants.
In order to reduce national carbon emissions and expand access to electricity, especially in areas the national grid does not reach, the government is looking to build local expertise on new energy sources, including solar.
Solar can help to diversify Colombia’s generation mix to avoid electricity shortages due to drought, especially in light of forecasts from Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) that Colombia’s network of hydropower plants will produce less energy in the future as climate change reduces Colombia’s average annual rainfall.
In May 2014, the Colombian Congress passed Law 1715, an important act in promoting new sources of renewable energy. The law promotes clean energy projects by creating tax and accounting benefits, removing import duties on related equipment, calling for new technical standards, and making it possible to sell excess electricity back to the grid.
This summer, the Mining and Energy Planning Unit (UPME), an agency of the Ministry of Mining and Energy, released a report on the “Integration of unconventional renewable energy in Colombia,” that reinforced the importance of Law 1715.
The report’s recommendations included easy access to the incentives that will come from Law 1715, and for higher prices for the excess electricity that the grid will buy from small generators.
There are some obstacles for solar energy in Colombia. Most photovoltaic solar equipment is imported, and the devaluation of the peso has made equipment more expensive for buyers in Colombia.
UPME’s new study also points out that the forecasted demand for electricity during the next five years most likely will be met by hydropower projects under construction.
Time will tell how quickly solar power grows in Colombia and how large a role it will play in providing the nation with electricity.
Mr. Páez, however, is optimistic of consumer demand for renewable energy.
“Our clients are very proud of their solar projects.”