Renewable Energies in Colombia: Progress Toward Energy Transition

Executive Summary

Over 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are due to the creation of energy from fossil fuels, making them the principal motor of climate change. And when taking into account the growing demand for electricity, a global increase in emissions is inevitable (Caceres et al., 2021; Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, n.d.; IEA, 2021; Ritchie & Roser, 2021). To address the challenges related to climate change and energy supply security, it is important to reduce fossil fuel dependency and promote low carbon energy sources. This is why energy transition using the resources of each region is so urgent (Cortés & Londoño, 2017; Pelfini et al., 2012; Ritchie & Roser, 2021).

Energy production has been based on fossil fuels in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 41% coming from oil or oil derivates, 29% from natural gas, 4% from coal and coke, 1% from nuclear energy, and 25% from renewable energy sources, which include mainly hydroelectric and biomass energy production (CEPAL, 2019). Despite having the ideal geographic and natural conditions, Latin America has faced challenges to implement these alternatives due to costly technology, economic growth levels, and internal social problems (Giraldo et al., 2018; Gualteros & Hurtado, 2013).

In the case of Colombia, energy production has mainly been dependent on hydroelectric and fossil fuels. Of the energy produced in the country, 99% is hydroelectric and thermoelectric (68.3% and 30.7% respectively) and only 1% corresponds to solar, wind, and bagasse energy (Ministry of Mines and Energy, 2021a).

According to international GHG measurements, Colombia emits 0.46% of all global emissions and it is calculated that the energy sector produces 30.7% of the country’s total emissions, meaning that its impact on climate change is not particularly high. Nevertheless, the country’s energy transition continues to be an important issue for two reasons: i) since it is highly dependent on hydroelectric, the Colombian power grid is very vulnerable to climate variability. It is expected that the country will experience a “50% impact due to changes in the hydrological regime’s operations, with consequences on economic activities, supplying the population, and levels of natural threat” (MADS, 2021a); and because ii) there is a need to establish a more equitable, efficient, and competitive electric system, making it possible to fulfill, among others issues, social goals such as the satisfaction of unsatisfied basic needs associated with the provision of electricity as a public utility to homes, especially in the countryside (Di Terlizzi et al., 2021).

To address the energy sector’s challenges, Colombia signed on to the climate commitment seeking to reduce emissions by at least 51% by 2030 in the context of the Paris Agreement and has proposed energy transition as a way to achieve the 2050 carbon neutrality objective. To do this, a production of at least 4 gigawatts (GW) of energy through non-conventional sources is expected, in addition to having 12% of the power grid come from non-conventional renewable energy by 2022 (GWEC, 2021).

The principal objective of the Colombian energy sector is to achieve a competitive power grid and to provide security in the provision of and access to energy. With this aim, a regulatory framework was structured in recent years for an energy transition. Nevertheless, the need is evident for additional measures to reach the 1.5°C objective established by the Paris Agreement (Aguilar et al., 2020; Climate Action Tracker, 2021; Soler, 2021). Accordingly, it is imperative to facilitate actions to increase investment in new low carbon consumption and energy efficient technologies and to reduce the consumption of polluting energies, mainly by the largest consumers and those who greatly exceed their basic energy needs.

Other challenges identified in relation to the country’s energy transition:

  • Recognize, prevent, and/or adequately manage negative impacts, environmental liabilities, and social-environmental conflicts generated by projects with non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) sources, and evaluate the efficiency, access, dissemination, and participation of these projects.
  • Establish enabling conditions for a just transition and ensure improved governance, the availability and accessibility of energy resources, and enhanced living conditions in the territory where these new alternative energies are produced.
  • Work on existing gaps relative to support for small-scale community energy initiatives, create and implement strategies to favor these local processes.
  • Review and adjust the commitments and directives related to fossil fuel extraction and the proliferation of natural gas, as they go against the objectives of the Paris Agreement signed by the nation.
  • Generate, consolidate, and circulate clear, accessible, and transparent information that facilitates access, monitoring, and evaluation of projects and renewable energy in the country.

Publication available in english here:

Energías renovables en Colombia: avances para la transición energética