On Friday, 20 October 2017, inside the International Energy and Sustainability Conference 2017 in Farmingdale College (a New York State University), Ricardo Baluga, deputy chief of mission of the embassy of Uruguay in the United States of America, fetched the first SolarSuperState Prize 2017 in the category SolarSuperState on behalf of Uruguay.
Uruguay is a state in America between the Atlantic ocean and the Uruguay river. It has an area of 176000 square kilometer. The highest mountain is some 500 meter above sea level. Between 1900 and 1945, Uruguay‘s electricity supply was based on fossil oil. All fossil energy had to be bought outside the state and financed by the export of agricultural products. In 1904, Uruguay started the planning of the first renewable electricity power station. In 1936, president Gabriel Terra ordered the construction of the first renewable power station of Uruguay at the river Rio Negro by German companies. This hydro power station started operation in 1945. Since 1979, Uruguay has 4 hydro power stations. Depending on the varying annual rainfall, Uruguay several times produced more than 100 % hydro electricity compared to the gross electricity consumption, for example in 1998. The surplus has been exported to Brazil and Argentina.
The drought year 2004, the insecure electricity import from Argentina and Brazil and the expected increase of the national electricity consumption caused an intensified state planning for nuclear, fossil and renewable energies at the same time. This behavior is not specific for Uruguay. It can be observed in many countries of the world.
The immediate measure of the state was the tripling of the fossil oil electricity production between 2005 and 2008 from 11 to 38 percent compared to the consumption. Parallel to the subsequent growth of renewable electricity production, the oil electricity production was reduced to below 5 % in 2016. The final success of Uruguay can be explained by the actions of two presidents that were in power from 2005 to 2010 and 2010 to 2015. The biggest achievement of the first term as president of Tabaré Vázquez is the inclusion of the two only quantitative targets in the national “energy plan 2005 – 2030”: 2015 electricity production capacity of 200 Megawatt for biomass and 300 Megawatt for wind power. This opened the doors for domestic and international investors to build biomass and wind power plants in Uruguay. The biggest achievement of president José Mujica is, that Uruguay exceeded the initial targets for biomass and wind power by more than 100 %. In similar positions in the past, other head of states, especially in the European Union, have stopped or slowed down immediately new additions of renewable electricity generation capacities.
According to one of the three state electricity balances, all three renewable electricity sources hydro, wind and biomass were necessary to lift Uruguay slightly over the bar of 100 % renewable electricity production relative to the gross consumption in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016. This can be regarded as a first milestone toward a national 100 percent renewable energy economy which should be achieved in the short-term because of climate protection. Therefore, Uruguay wins the first SolarSuperState Prize 2017 in the category SolarSuperState.