It has been a good couple of decades for Latin America. Since 1990 the Latin American region has experienced an important growth and a great improvement in almost every metric used to measure the quality of life.
There had been an important poverty reduction, improvements in the public infrastructure, and great increases in the access to electricity and water and sanitation. All of this while the region continued with its rapid urbanization.
There are, however, many problems still persisting, and even some new ones created by this progress.
There are two problems at hand, where the alternative energies could be just the answer we are looking for. First, along with the economic growth and poverty reduction there has been an important increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Even though the region only accounts for a small proportion of the global emissions, its emissions keep growing and some Latin-American countries have per capita emissions comparable with those from high polluters.
In recent years Latin American economy has suffered some contraction, mostly due the falling international prices for many of its exportations. The long term tendency, however, is economical growth, and predictably this will bring an increase in the energy demand. There is a risk that this new demand is covered with dirty technologies, despite the viability of better alternatives.
The region has an enormous potential for renewable energies, and some experts such as The Solutions Project had showed that we can perfectly cover our future energy demands from renewable sources, and with just a minimum share of mega dam hydropower on the mix.
Even though hydropower has been traditionally accounted as renewable energy, its benefits have been put to question in recent years, both because of its detrimental effects in biodiversity and because of the forced displacement of local populations. Recent studies even suggest that its GHG emissions could be as high as the emissions of thermoelectric plants.
We have seen some major improvements in the access to electricity in the region, with many countries approaching 100% coverage. There is however still millions of Latin Americans without access to electricity. This population is generally isolated and poor, hence making it more difficult to bring them accessible energy. The costs of expanding the grid are hardly justifiable for such small populations, and even though the grid was indeed expanded, the fixed costs that these new costumers would have to pay would be punitive for them.
The solar energy could be a godsend for these people.
Solar is just one among several alternatives of clean energy. Unfortunately, many of them are unapproachable for this particular case. Solar panels are small, easy to install and maintain, and its price is continuously falling as its yields keep increasing. Solar is the perfect choice for small isolated systems. Even if the price for energy generated unit is higher than the thermoelectric energy, the costs of expanding the grid will easily turn the solar option in the most financially sensible one.
New tools, such as drones and remote sensing satellites could make the design and implementation of these systems more accurate, prompter and even cheaper.
Latin America has still some tough road ahead to bring electricity for its entire population, but never before clean and accessible energy for all has been as attainable as now.