Column: Uruguay is the model for nationwide renewable energy

The strides taken by Uruguay to use clean energy in the past decade should be steadfastly embraced by the United States, China and the European Union – without a doubt the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. (Nico Pereira/Flickr)

I thought about attempting to write something contentious and “edgy” for the last column of the semester. Maybe I would get “trollsy” and defend Donald Trump and the fact all the instances of the reductio ad Hitlerum invoked by Republican presidential candidates in reference to Democratic policies seem extremely ironic now. That would be edgy in a college newspaper, right?

No, instead I want to talk about something that makes me happy (and I know my cohort will readily agree with), and that is Uruguay’s 95 percent powering of electricity statewide using multiple renewable energy sources, including solar power, wind turbines, biomass and hydropower. According to The Guardian, this now accounts for 55 percent of the country’s total energy, compared to the 13.2 percent renewables contributed last year in the United States. The craziest part is Uruguay only transitioned to renewables less than 10 years ago.

Obviously, the United States and Uruguay are tremendously different countries. At 3.4 million people, Uruguay has about a hundredth of the U.S.’ population. Additionally, the country is 1/56th the size of the United States. With fewer people to manage and coerce in less space, there are inevitably fewer issues with the energy conversion, although Uruguay’s transportation sector still relies heavily (the remaining 45 percent of energy) on the utilization of fossil fuels.

There’s also significantly less pull from petrochemical companies (and their assumed respective lobbyists) in Uruguay because they only really have one major business, ANCAP, which operates a single oil refinery domestically and another in Argentina. Conversely, we have ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phillips 66, Valero and the list goes on.

Most of these companies produce both domestically and abroad and believe they will lose a lot of money if they are forced to stop producing oil. They have special interests groups designed to bribe congressmen into obstructing any meaningful energy-based legislation. According to the New York Times, the oil and natural gas lobby spent $154 million on efforts in 2010, an industry record. So, overall, it’s a vastly different political climate between the two countries.

But divesting has already proven relatively successful in Uruguay; energy investment toward renewables (and a little to liquid gas) now accounts for $7 billion, or 15 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product. Oil companies are worried about the costs associated with changing their current models: dismantling oil rigs, hiring and training new employees, at least a couple of years of losses as the public synchronously transitions – getting new cars, installing new equipment in their houses, etc. – to a renewable lifestyle.

Consider how much money a petrochemical giant like ExxonMobil has. According to Forbes, the company reaps annual profits of $40 billion; that’s insane. Using the whopping amount of money and industrial clout they have, they could be renewable giants just as easily, so long as they commit to making a change. While that likely won’t happen voluntarily, there may be profound limits set on fossil fuel companies after the climate talks in Paris, and that’s thinking optimistically.

Nevertheless, the strides taken by Uruguay to use clean energy in the past decade should be steadfastly embraced by the United States, China and the European Union – without a doubt the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.

Unless one is still delusional (or a congressman in the majority party in both houses, tragically), the incontrovertible evidence is there: fossil fuels need to remain in the ground to prevent the Earth’s global temperature from rising 2 degrees centigrade – the “danger” temperature agreed upon by climate scientists. We need to make like Uruguay and fast. Our children deserve a future, and we cannot rely on the current paradigms we abuse.

Have a great holiday, watch your emissions and don’t leave your car running or your lights on for a while. Thanks for reading me this semester, and I hope you had fun.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.