Uruguay expects to boost its installed wind capacity by 2017

Danish firm Vestas Wind Systems said recently it secured a 70MW turbine order for a wind project in Uruguay.

uruguay eólica2The country was wind energy’s fastest-growing market in 2014, with installed capacity soaring almost eight-fold to 479MW, according to the Energy Ministry. And more is to come.

In fact, Vestas announced a similar order on August 24 for 50MW of its turbines for a separate project in Uruguay. Since entering the Uruguayan market in 2008, the firm has installed more than 300MW of turbines there.

Uruguay has rapidly transformed itself into South America’s green energy poster boy. This is both a matter of necessity and economic prudence.

“In Uruguay, we don’t have oil, or gas, or coal,” said Ramon Mendez, the country’s former national energy director. Rather than indefinitely importing fossil fuels, Uruguay decided to take advantage of the geographic blessings it does have. The small country’s mostly flat terrain buffeted by steady South Atlantic sea breezes makes it ideal as a large wind farm.

Uruguay expects to boost its installed wind capacity to some 1,600MW by 2017, according to Walter Sosa, director of state-owned power utility UTE. He added that in recent months, UTE sometimes covered 100% of the country’s power demand through wind energy, with significantly lower costs compared to the $180/MWh paid for thermal (i.e. fossil fuel) generation. Case in point: Enel Green Power’s Melowind, Uruguay’s newest wind farm, is able to produce over 200GWh a year, and was contracted by UTE for 20 years at an initial price of $64/MWh.

Besides major cost savings and lower CO2 emissions, the country views wind as a steady power source and one that is a safety net in case of drought. In a wet year like 2014, about 74% of Uruguay’s electricity came from hydropower. Bloomberg reported in June that with a drought affecting parts of the country, wind is coming to the rescue as hydropower’s share slips below 70%.

As a bonus, excess wind energy could be exported to neighboring electricity-hungry Argentina and Brazil. In 2013, Uruguay didn’t import electricity from its neighbors for the first time in more than a decade (and even sold $21 million of surplus hydro-generated electricity to Argentina). UTE is testing a 500MW transmission line to Brazil, although “For the moment our investments are to cover our demand, not those of our neighbors,” said chief operating officer Enzo Coppes.

Uruguay has an ambitious target of sourcing 100% of its power from renewable sources by 2030. But with the surge in wind power, it’s on track to hit that much sooner. The country’s intermediate goal is to generate as much as 38% of its power from wind by the end of 2017, up from about 13% in June.

Developers have already invested over $1.4 billion on wind power in Uruguay, with some $2.6 billion envisioned in total. That will let Uruguay consistently generate at least 90% of its power from renewables by the end of 2016, said UTE chairman Gonzalo Casaravilla.

“We are reaching saturation point in terms of renewable energy because demand is already sufficiently covered,” Coppes noted. Wind Power Monthly wrote that from 2017, demand for additional wind turbines is likely to grow only as fast as total electricity consumption rises, a figure closely tied to GDP.

The dream of complete energy independence for Uruguay is just a few turbines away.

Source | blogs.blouinnews.com

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