Fifteen years ago, Uruguay was experiencing an energy crisis; today, the nation produces 98 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Ramón Méndez Galain joins us to tell more.

Transcript: Climate Quickie:  How Uruguay shifted its energy sources to 98% renewable

TEDxLondon Climate Curious

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Climate success story alert! Fifteen years ago, Uruguay was experiencing an energy crisis; today, the nation produces 98 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. That’s thanks to the work of just energy transition leader, Ramón Méndez Galain and his team, a former particle physicist who charted the country’s transition to renewables as head of the country’s National Energy Agency. Ramón joins us to share how he did it, and how you can, too. This episode was recorded at TED Countdown Summit 2023.

Listen now: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS | Android


[00:00:00] Maryam Pasha: Welcome to Climate Quickies, bite sized nuggets of climate goodness from our TEDxLondon experts in under five minutes. In

[00:00:08] Ben Hurst: this week’s Climate Quickie, live from TED’s Countdown Summit in Detroit, we’re joined by Just Energy Transition Leader, Ramon Mendes Gillain. to share a major climate success story.

[00:00:20] Ben Hurst: Fifteen years ago, Uruguay was experiencing an energy crisis. Today, the nation produces 98 percent of its electricity from [00:00:30] renewable sources and even exports extra energy to countries like Argentina and Brazil. Former particle physicist Ramon charted the country’s transition to renewables as HED. of the country’s national energy agency.

[00:00:43] Ben Hurst: Let’s head over to Ramon to hear how he did that and how we can apply that model to our own countries to get energy costs down. Stay curious.

[00:00:55] Ramón Méndez Galain: Hello. I’m very happy to be here. My name is Ramon Mendes. I am from [00:01:00] Uruguay, South America, down there in the south, and I have been a professor at the university, researching in physics for many years, and then I’ve been for a couple of administrations, the secretary of energy of Uruguay, and after that the secretary of climate change, and we had occasion to lead an interesting transformation that we made in

[00:01:20] Ben Hurst: Uruguay.

[00:01:24] Ramón Méndez Galain: Yeah, in fact, this is very interesting because nowadays in Uruguay, we have 98 percent for [00:01:30] electricity just from renewable sources. This means that our people are emitting 30 times less greenhouse gases than the world average for each kilowatt hour they consumed. And this is crazy because we are showing that decarbonization is possible.

[00:01:45] Ramón Méndez Galain: Right now, we have to build a completely new planning model and dispatch model for the energy This allows us to have not only 98 percent of new, but the interesting point, what makes you need your case is almost half of that electricity [00:02:00] is from non traditional renewable sources, which means wind, biomass, sustainable biomass, and solar.

[00:02:06] Ramón Méndez Galain: Of course, when the loan is up to 40 percent of the total electricity we’re consuming in the country. And with the model that we developed, we are able, for example, to have moments in the day when almost 100 percent of our electricity is coming just from wind and sun.

[00:02:26] Ramón Méndez Galain: So intermittent sources are king in Uruguay and all the rest can follow [00:02:30] the variations all over the, all of the day of these two sources. And this, the crazy point also is that this allows that also to rapidly diminish the overall cost of electricity, not just being renewable, but, but having a strong, uh, Positive impact to our economy.

[00:02:47] Ramón Méndez Galain: We’ll use the total cost of producing electricity by almost one half, and this is huge as we are not dependent on energy commodity fluctuation prices were just dependent on our windows on [00:03:00] biomass and water, and these are free renewals that no longer just a solution for the climate crisis, but also they bring us strong solution for the national level to reduce cost to be much more independent of fossil fuels to stabilize cost.

[00:03:16] Ramón Méndez Galain: And to have a strong impact to the economy, we produced, we have 50, 000 new jobs for a country with only 3 million inhabitants, it’s huge, 3 percent of the labor force. So it has a huge impact also on the [00:03:30] economy, not just on the power sector.

[00:03:36] Ramón Méndez Galain: Well, I think that perhaps the most important takeaway is that renewal was… Right now, I’m not just the solution for the climate crisis that also a way off of having a better energy mix at the national level. This is just for national interest. Also important because once again, we’re not dependent on fossil fuels.

[00:03:55] Ramón Méndez Galain: If you have a country that imports fossil fuels is better because you don’t have to import them. [00:04:00] But also, you stabilize your cost and you diminish your cost. Nowadays, renewables are the cheapest option in the market. Much cheaper than any other fossil fuel, any other technology. So, the goal will be to have 100 percent of that.

[00:04:12] Ramón Méndez Galain: Nowadays, I’m working, I have a foundation and I’m working on how to make my region, Latin America, more renewable. And I’m working with a number of countries from north to south in Latin America. And what I can see is that this solution works.[00:04:30] [00:04:31] Ramón Méndez Galain: I think that the most important point is that we’re not alone. This is not just a solution for a small country. For biggest country, I think it’s even more, more, more easy because you have, because you have more power in order to do what we did. Much more possibilities. But for sure, there’s one special ingredient that you cannot miss.

[00:04:50] Ramón Méndez Galain: You have to have a strong leadership and a very strong political will to move forward. Otherwise things will not change. It’s not that just. Think that we put [00:05:00] renewables in the grid that we’re going to change the mix. This is not happen. You have to make a lot of important changes. You have to change the way you plan, the way you operate and your system and how your business model is with the same business model.

[00:05:13] Ramón Méndez Galain: We won’t make change all the business model. All, all the, our, our, um, our systems had been designed for, for thermal power plants. This is not bad because this was the past, but if you want to really change. We have to change everything, really, not just thinking [00:05:30] that putting some renewable over there and there change will happen.

[00:05:34] Ramón Méndez Galain: This will not be the case when things will not happen spontaneously with the present model.

[00:05:43] Ramón Méndez Galain: But, but for sure, uh, things will not happen spontaneously. This is perhaps my most important message. Um, really, we have to have more, um, public policies to help the market to go in the appropriate direction. Uh, the [00:06:00] energy is not just an optimization of cost and not just technology. It’s also geopolitic.

[00:06:05] Ramón Méndez Galain: It’s also social dimension. It has also, of course, environmental dimension. Cultural dimension, ethical dimension. This is not just market. This is public policies. So we have to have public policies that leads the market in the correct direction. This is not just adjusting some regulation. This is not the case.

[00:06:24] Ramón Méndez Galain: It’s really a transition, rethinking the system, rethinking the system. Or even the [00:06:30] institution in the system and the roles of the different organization, public, public roles in the system. This is what would have to be redesigned. You have to change not only the way that we produce, but also the way what you consume.

[00:06:44] Ramón Méndez Galain: What makes us happy? Consuming more. Or living in a better world. Or living a better world for our children and grandchildren. This is the question I think that we should answer ourselves right now. What makes us happy?

[00:06:56] Ben Hurst: Thanks for listening to This Quickie.

[00:06:58] Maryam Pasha: This episode was created by our [00:07:00] superstar podcast team at TEDxLondon.

[00:07:02] Ramón Méndez Galain: Until next time,

[00:07:03] Ben Hurst: stay curious.


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