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How Small Countries are leading the way towards Renewable Resources?

Updated: May 22, 2019

Have you heard of Goliath and David’s story?

Let me tell you –

Goliath was a Philistine warrior – an undefeated giant over nine feet tall with massive arms and armor. When the Philistines came to Israel, they didn’t have to send an army capture the Kingdom, they just sent Goliath and the King of Israel, Saul and his army quaked in fear hearing the giant warrior’s challenge. On the other hand, David was a puny teenager who had come to the kingdom’s borders to learn news about his brothers. When he heard the giant’s call of challenge he accepted it and went forward to fight him.

David was a shepherd armed only with a pouch of stones and a sling, while the giant was a warrior infamous for his brutality and force. The giant was clearly amused by the shepherd’s temerity to challenge a warrior of his might. He stomped around with his sword cursing the puny shepherd’s strength of arms. Undeterred David took a careful aim at his target and slung a large stone towards his. The stone hit the mark and wounded Goliath on his forehead and he fell forward. David then took Goliath’s sword and beheaded him. Seeing their prize fighter dead at the hands of an unarmed teenager put the fear of God on the Philistines and they retreated all the way back to their Kingdom, not wanting to risk the wrath of their God. David went on to become the most famous King of Israel and the rest is history.

If you are wondering why I am narrating this particular parable from the Old Testament then here is my answer.

Today as we battle a giant named ‘Climate Change’ we need not one but many underdogs like ‘David’ to win the battle and the war.

What is remarkable about this is the fact that the countries that are leading the way towards renewable energy and sustainability are not big powers that can boast of nuclear weapons or rich economy. These are small countries that are in no way major players in any political gambit or in the world’s scheme of things and yet their commitment to renewable energy is 100%.

Uruguay’s Transformation towards Energy Transition

Have you heard of Uruguay?

Not many did until the recent UN Paris Summit on Climate Change.

Uruguay is a small South American country with around 3.5 million population. The country had a democratic government and a reasonably good standing on human rights and development. Like many other small countries in the world, they were a developing nation. Uruguay’s energy needs were huge as they had no gas, oil or coal reserves to tap into but they were rich in domestic natural resources that were suitable for a clean energy transition.

What is remarkable is the fact that Uruguay had no wind generation projects as early as 2007. The country was, however, keen on increasing their energy security and wanted to cut down their reliance on hydropower. Failure and insufficient rains between 1997 and 2007 led to a deficit of electricity generation that fell from 90% to 50%. This led to increased reliance on fossil fuels and importing costs were very high adding to the fiscal burden of the government.

That’s when the Uruguay government sought to diversify its energy sources and envisioned energy as a strategic asset for the country at large. This led to a revised policy towards clean energy – a long-term perspective that encompasses socio-ethical, cultural and political implications for the nation.

Their revised goals for energy policy reiterate that ‘energy’ is a basic human right! They structured their energy policy to address – institutional, energy supply, energy demand, and social aspects.

With the policy in place, in 2007 Uruguay got a grant of $ 1 Million from the Global Environment Facility through UN Development Programme and added $6 Million from their own national budget to fund the Uruguay Wind Energy Programme. The confluence of private and political bodies worked harmoniously for this country accelerating their foray into the world of clean energy. Through competitive bidding, Uruguay Wind Energy Programme was able to expand on a large scale into renewable energy development. They also incorporated a feed-in tariff program that enabled small non-utility power producers to sell renewable energy to the grid at standardized prices. Their energy policy also dictated that the state-owned utility was required to buy all clean power generated in the country.

Apart from this, they also provided training to their staff at the national electricity on the means and ends of renewable energy and taught them ways to integrate it into the grid. Outreach programs were also conceived to train developers and investors to build their knowledge and risk perception in this enterprise.

Today Uruguay’s 95% of electricity needs are met by renewable clean energy.

Morocco – A Solar Superpower

The Kingdom of Morocco is a North African country with rugged mountain terrain and large portions of Sahara Desert. A constitutional monarchy, Morocco is a historically prominent regional power with strong ties to the west.

This is how they began their journey towards renewable energy. Around 2008, 56% of Morocco’s electricity supply was through coal but their energy forecasts came up with a warning that their requirements would rise 6% per year from 2012 to 2050. 96% of Morocco’s was through foreign energy sources and the prospect that this dependence would grow more encouraged the Moroccans to look for renewable resources.

In 2009, the country announced $9 Billion investment in a solar power project which aspires to create over 2000 MW which will subsequently meet 10% of the country’s power needs and reduce the carbon emissions by 3.7 million tons per year.

Today, the Phase 1 of this Solar Power project is all set to take off in the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate located on the edge of the Saharan Desert. When this complex gets completed in 2020, it will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant in the world!

Morocco hopes to make Solar Energy one-third of their renewable energy supply by 2020 with the wind and hydro making up the rest.

Costa Rica – Off the Grid for 76 Days!

According to the latest news report, The Republic of Costa Rica has been using 100% renewable energy to power electricity for their entire country for the past 76 days!

Costa Rica is but a very small Central American country and yet their commitment to ‘go green’ is steadfast. For many years, Hydrothermal plants have been generating 80% of electricity for the country and 12% was from geothermal plants. Hydrothermal plants, however, need water to function and that was dependent on weather. In 2014, the country underwent a severe drought and with the result the country had to depend on diesel generators to power equipment.

After this debacle, their legislature went ahead and approved a $958 million geothermal plant that was backed by loans from Europe and Japan. It is thanks to this plant that Costa Rica was able to go off the grid and power their electricity with only renewable resources for 76 days (and counting).

Portugal – A Small Step Before the Big Leap

Following on the heels of Costa Rica is yet another small country – Portugal. In May 2016, renewable resources met Portugal’s entire electricity needs for four consecutive days!

This signals a trend that they are close to making that big jump.

Nicaragua – A Small Country with Aggressive Energy Goals

Heard of Nicaragua?

A Central American country with a volcanic landscape. A few years ago, Nicaragua was totally dependent on foreign oil to power its electricity. They didn’t have thermal plants that would convert the fuel oil into electricity. Power outages, hours of blackout became a part of an ordinary citizen’s daily grind.

Around 2005, the government made a decision to shift towards renewable energy. There is no oil in Nicaragua but it was a land where fierce winds blew over the tropical sun. The rumbling volcanic activity in its mountains proved that it was a paradise for renewable energy.

They set up geothermal plants near the Telica Volcano and set about to harness the earth for renewable energy. They have effectively reduced carbon dioxide emission and reduced their dependence on foreign oil. Today, renewable energy powers half of Nicaragua’s electricity needs. One of their aggressive energy goals is to produce 94% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2017.

Underdogs from whom we can learn

These aren’t the only underdogs who have achieved remarkable green goals. Here is the entire list of countries, which are harnessing electricity (100% or close to it) from renewable energy resources –

AlbaniaAngolaBhutanDR CongoIcelandLesothoMozambiqueNepalNorwayParaguayTajikistanZambia

Isn’t this remarkable?

These are small countries with a few million population and yet their goals are so lofty! They have not only reduced their carbon footprint in the world but some of these countries are also exporting their electricity to their neighbors!

The Way Forward

I am sure anyone who has read this article will have only one thought left at the end of it. If a handful of countries like these can make the shift to renewable energy and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint, how much more can superpower countries like US, Russia or the UK do?

I think it’s time to take a big leaf out of these countries and implement transformative energy policies and bring about a transformation in our energy goals.

What do you think?