The second-smallest country in South America may have provided a roadmap for countries to escape an oil-price trap — of being forced to pay high rates as an oil importer — after negotiations at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference sparked intense conversations over the best ways to phase out dirty energy.
The Guardian’s Sam Meadows detailed how Uruguay is now generating as much as 98% of its electricity from renewables, utilizing wind farms and solar energy to help satisfy consumer demand after prices to import oil skyrocketed in 2008.
“No one believed we could do it. We needed new solutions. We needed to do things differently,” said Ramón Méndez Galain, a physicist who helped redesign the electrical grid.
While the weather does have a say in how much electricity comes from clean energy, the percentages have reliably hovered between at least 90% and 95%, though that number has been higher.
“I told people this was the best option even if they don’t believe climate change exists. It’s the cheapest and not dependent on crazy fluctuations [in oil prices],” Galain added.
According to the United Nations, only 29% of electricity worldwide is generated by clean energy, but the increased adoption of it could drastically cut harmful pollution from dirty energy, the burning of which has caused Earth’s temperatures to warm at an accelerated rate since 1981 and has been linked to millions of premature deaths.
Governments around the world have begun backing plans to reduce the amount of pollution generated by oil, gas, and coal.
Standardizing the use of energy-efficient heat pumps, banning the future sales of gas-powered cars, and passing money-saving, eco-friendly programs — like the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States — are among the initiatives.
The forward-looking changes have come with new concerns and challenges and, as mentioned by the Guardian, provided opportunities for healthy debate.
In Uruguay, many people were reportedly worried about the number of work opportunities that would be lost in the transition, but those fears were happily not realized, as 50,000 new jobs opened up — a number the Guardian described as “large” given the size of the population.
Other Uruguayans were able to supplement their incomes by investing in clean-energy side businesses, such as wind turbines.
“We had 40% poverty; now it’s 10%, and extreme poverty has almost disappeared. People now have air conditioning that they didn’t have before, using more and more electricity,” Galain told the Guardian.
Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.