Uruguay update: Solar Thermal Decree passed – Massive “Plan Solar” to be launched

The so far few companies consisting of the solar thermal industry of Uruguay was invited to a presentation at the presidents palace the 22nd of December to listen to and comment on the Solar Thermal decree that was finally signed by the government after being “prepared and matured” during more than 2 years.

The panel was lead by Dr. Ramon Mendez from DNE (Direccion Nacional de Energia) the body under the Industry Ministry responsible of energy matters. During his presentation Dr. Mendez underlined that this decree and the new “Plan Solar” that would be launched the coming months with tax exemptions and financiation of approved solar thermal system is a a part of the “POLÍTICA ENERGÉTICA 2030”, the tri-party agreement from 2010 outlining the Uruguayan energy politics until 2030. In some ways similar to the “EU Policy of Energy to 2050” later published where distributed generation is becoming more and more important, on the long and bumpy road to the final democratization of the energy. Uruguay with no fossil sources and heavily dependent on the weather for the hydro electric plants and the petroleum price as well as the good mood of their mighty neighbours and with abundant resources of wind and sun need and deserve a savvy energy policy going forward.

Two separate auctions for wind energy has been held where private companies will be able to generate and sell electrical energy to the state under negotiated PPA, in preference of other sources.

In June 2009 a decree was passed allowing clients to the state utility to interconnect with the national grid, only with net metering so far, the first of its kind in South America it was said, if still not any FIT it is still a step in the right direction.

However, the authorities detected that the solar thermal energy should be the first logical step in the solar strategy of the “POLÍTICAENERGÉTICA 2030” which is very logical taking into account that an average house in Uruguay spend close to 40% of its electricity in heating water and the electrical tariffs in Uruguay is certainly among one of the highest in the region and it is increasing some 7% a year.

Furthermore, the state owned utility, UTE, represented by its president, Ing. Gonzalo Casaravilla announced an extra incentive to the clients that want to install solar thermal. They get a rebate of 300 pesos per month during a year, that is 4200 pesos (USD210) to further facilitate the finance of the system. The BHU (Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay), represented by its president, Ana Salveraglio, will offer a 5 year loan program with low interest to finance a solar thermal system with the idea that each monthly payment is the same or lower than the savings in the electricity bill, in fact the payment will appear on the monthly electricity bill from UTE.
 
The technical requirements and regulation will be decided, monitored and controlled by URSEA, the energy regulator entity. This, very important part, together with the push UTE and BHU will do is meant to encourage several thousands of clients to go solar, both residential and commercial. We really hope that will be the case, not many success stories of solar thermal programs around the world comes to my mind, please let me know if you have some examples.

What is imperative though is that a massive evangelizing what solar energy really is about, what benefits it has for the users, which are the best practices, the importance of few or any administrative obstacles and a great commitment from DNE and UTE, also with strong and solidarity support from the unions within the utility.

This is the case of little Uruguay, squeezed in by their huge neighbours in the south and the north, Argentina and Brazil, respectively. They have there own energy issues to deal with. In Argentina, that just recently held their elections, by the way a land slide victory for the incumbent Cristina Fernandez, there are rumours of a considerably increase of the energy costs, some talk about 300-400%, so soon clients will feel in the wallett what the real cost of energy is, in the country with the lowest tariffs in the region, if not the world. There are several projects on the way to lower the dependency of natural gas in Argentina, several wind farm auctions, some solar energy projects in the province of San Juan. The Argentinian nuclear policy is somewhat unclear at this moment.


Brazil on the other hand, the largest hydro electric producer in the world as well as one of the fastest growing economics and certainly the leader of the continent, is preparing itself to show the world its progress with the upcoming World Cup in Football 2014 and Olympics in 2016. These are enormous tasks for a country with enormous problems and many bright brains with creative ideas are now working hard into achieving this. What all the countries in the region lack though is technicians, engineers, an educated work force that can make this possible, though aware of this, it is a tremendous challenge indeed. I’ll keep you updated of the progress.

 

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After many years in the IT business since three years back I have joined the renewable energy sector, the solar energy in particular. I think it is imperative that we, all of us, spread the word around the world with an enormous enthusiasm. Many years ago I worked as a teacher, at junior high school in my home country Sweden as well as in the emerging IT sector in the 90's. I am truly convinced that educaction is extremely important in order to introduce, communicate and make people curious about new technologies and concepts. I am the founder of iSol, a pioneer and a reference of Solar Energy in Uruguay.

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