President Juan Manuel Santos remarked this week during the opening session of the 3GF Global Green Growth Forum, that Colombia holds the potential to become a self-sufficient and clean-energy nation. Looking at renewables from solar, to wind and the possibility of generating geothermal power from the Nevado del Ruíz volcano, the announcement looks to consolidate Colombia’s regional role in energy matters.
In the United States geothermal energy produces little to no greenhouse gas emissions, and provides annual environmental benefits valued at U.S $278 million, according to the Geothermal Energy Association. According to a report entitled Rethinking our Energy Future by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Latin America and the Caribbean’s renewable energy endowment is large enough to cover its projected 2050 electricity needs 22 times over.
The report presented at the Bogotá forum states that new technologies make geothermal power – along with wind and solar – a viable alternative for countries in the region. “Though Latin America uses more renewable energy than any other region in the world, it faces difficult choices as it seeks to generate the electricity it needs to grow without harming the environment,” stated the IDB President, Luis Alberto Moreno.
While Colombia currently obtains 70 percent of its electricity from hydraulic sources, it has yet to capture geothermal power. Thanks to an important – and highly visible – volcanic belt, which extends along the central cordillera, the heat offered from the Earth’s core could substitute energy for many of Colombia’s intermediate cities such as Ibague, Manizales and Pereira.
Looking for low-carbon energy alternatives to mitigate greenhouse gases seems a priority for the Colombian government. “We are evaluating how to support renewables so that more Colombians have access to electric power,” stated Santos at the 3GF.
While our active volcanoes may provide a long-term solution for non-fossil fuel power, Colombia for more than a decade has been working closely with private firms in wind power generation. The Jepirachi Wind Power Project located in La Guajira department was completed in February 2004 with the fifteen windmills delivering some 68.3gigawatt hours per year to the national grid. Since it became operational, and for the next two decades, the farm would have prevented 1.2 million tones of carbon emissions being released into our atmosphere.
In some rural communities, Colombian farmers have also taken up the cause of renewables. Alternative energy start-up Bioalianza looks to offer farmers a monthly salary for growing beans, and a plant involved in the production of over 700 industrial products from lipstick to aircraft lubricants.
Given the possibilities of planting castor to eventually power planes, farmers are optimistic that the prospect of renewable energy may transform their communities with better infrastructure. According to Bioalianza, up to 70 percent of arable land around the Antioquia town of Girardota lies dormant.
Despite its proximity to the departmental capital Medellín, this community only received electricity and telephone service in the last 20 years. “People are very interested,” remarks Manuel Rincón Valencia, who signed up to participate in the castor bean program. “This will improve quality of life and provide a steady income; it could be the push that we need to bring development.”
Community-led initiatives such as Bioalianza and castor oil production as a potential substitute for jet fuel is mirrored in the south of the country by sugar giant Manuelita S.A. and its bioethanol production. Hemmed-in by extensive cane plantations, and only 30 kilometers from Cali, the Manuelita ethanol plant is boosting power generation in the Valle de Cauca and reducing the dependency of many agro industrial companies on electricity. Still a fraction of what Brazil produces in ethanol, Colombia’s output aims to double this year. The development of three new projects will boost ethanol output by 1.05 billion liters to reach 2.2 billion liters.
Colombia’s energy portfolio is increasingly diverse and looking to “green” investment. While still heavily dependent on non-renewables, internal security issues and high production costs, the country seems to have a potential to tap its ecological future, and therefore, drive human potential on everything from beans to volcanic steam.