Visualization of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world

Ranking: Latin American countries by green energy use

The global push to increase green energy use is in full swing as countries around the world feel the pressure to overhaul their climate-impacting practices.

But with different population sizes, energy use requirements and access to natural resources, certain regions will play a more important role. With a population of 664 million and an abundance of natural resources, Latin America (LatAm) is one such region.

How green is LatAm’s energy today? This chart by Latinometrics plots countries’ electricity generation from renewable sources relative to fossil fuels, highlighting the significant differences between specific countries.

Green energy use in Latin America

As of 2020, many Latin American countries actually produced 50% or more of their electricity from renewable sources, including nuclear power. Let’s take a closer look at some of the outliers:

Paraguay

Hydropower is Paraguay’s primary renewable energy source and is abundant. In fact, the country produces excess electricity and exports the rest to Argentina and Brazil. All in all, 60% of Paraguay’s hydropower is exported and contributes 6% its GDP.

The most important resource for this hydroelectric power – the Itaipu Dam – lies between Paraguay and Brazil and is jointly owned by both. The dam accounts for 79% of Paraguay’s total power capacity.

Costa Rica

At least Costa Rica keeps going 98% Renewable energy since 2014. Both within America and on a global scale, the consumption of green energy in the country is very high, mainly driven by hydroelectric power:

Costa Rica’s renewable energy sources % renewable energy (2019)
Hydropower 67.5%
wind power 17.0%
geothermal 13.5%
backup facilities 1.16%
solar panels 0.84%

Above all, the volcanoes of Costa Rica are also used as a source of geothermal energy.

Mexico

Mexico ranks significantly lower on the green energy spectrum. The country produces 303 TWh (Terrawatt hours) of electricity per year, but more than two thirds come from fossil energy sources.

Intense political debates on energy policy have emerged in Mexico recently. The country has attractive solar energy potential with some of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world, but has yet to fully exploit this renewable resource. Recent actions by the current government are reversing previous decisions towards renewable energy and prioritizing domestic coal production while allowing anti-competitive practices for state-owned companies.

According to current estimates by energy analysts, Mexico can see increases of CO2 emissions in the coming decades.

Brazil

Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy and the 12th largest in the world with a GDP of around $1.5 trillion. Its oil industry remains a crucial part of the economy, ranking 9th in the world in terms of production – producing around 3.2 million barrels per day.

While this might indicate Brazil’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels, the country’s green energy generation of electricity is actually extremely important. From Brazil 606 TWh electricity produced per year, 86% comes from nuclear or renewable sources.

Given its size and strength, Brazil is positioned to lead the continent towards net zero. 2021 is dedicated to Brazil 12 billion dollars in investments in the energy transition, making it one of the top 10 countries in terms of spending.

Argentina

Compared to its greener neighbors, Argentina is lagging behind in its renewable energy efforts. It produces 135 TWh electricity per year, but only around 30% comes from nuclear energy or renewable energy.

Prolonged periods of economic instability are a driving cause, constantly shifting the country’s priorities elsewhere. A few years ago, it launched Argentina’s renewable energy auction program to try to improve renewable electricity generation by 2025, but many projects have been shelved due to funding issues.

However, southern Argentina is a particularly windy region in Latin America, making it a desirable location for future wind energy generation and investment.

How LatAm performs in a global comparison

More than a quarter of LatAm’s energy comes from renewable sources, twice the global average.

While countries around the world are striving to have renewable energy account for half or more of electricity generation by 2050, nearly two-thirds of Latin American countries have already done so. In addition, Paraguay is one of only seven countries in the world Get 100% of its electricity generation from green energy.

How will other countries be influenced by Latin America’s green energy leaders in the coming years and how will green energy use evolve in the region?

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