Onshore wind has come of age and Latin America has become a hotbed for investment as many governments in the region see the technology as a means to overcoming power shortages and reducing carbon emissions.

The switch to wind technology has been accelerated in some countries, most noticeably Brazil, where drought reached critical levels last year and got to the point where rationing measures had to be adopted in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

In addition, the recent COP21 summit in Paris will bind countries to the terms of their own carbon emissions reductions program, which have been announced in most Latin American nations. The agreement, while falling short of some environmentalists' hopes for common, legally binding targets, requires each country to comply with its unilateral carbon reduction target. 

Goldman Sachs thinks that wind is leading four key industries that will allow countries to help deliver on targets for a low carbon economy. Photovoltaic solar technology, LED light bulbs and electric battery cars make up the other three. The renewables boom could have a bigger impact on world energy markets than the US shale boom, Goldman Sachs says.

Globally US$900 billion will be spent on wind and PV solar between 2014 and 2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Onshore wind will account for over one-third of renewable capacity increases in that time span, the IEA says.

"The world market for wind power is booming like never before, and we expect record installations for the total year 2015," says Stefan Gsanger, secretary general of the World Wind Energy Association.

Wind turbines are getting bigger and more efficient. As a result, global capacity will explode from 500 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity in 2017 to 2,000GW by 2030, the IEA says.

The technological advances in both wind and solar are so profound that they are changing the nature of the negotiations on climate change, the IEA said in the lead up to the Paris talks.

Regionally, Brazil leads the wind boom and is in the top 10 ranking of the best places in the world to invest in wind, according to a quarterly survey compiled by Ernst & Young. Onshore wind farm investment in Brazil is unlikely to slow down this decade even amid a deep recession, as wind power has become cheaper than fossil fuels and allows the government to diversify the country's energy matrix away from hydropower and imported gas. 

Latin America has an abundance of high-potential wind sites. Wind parks could provide 1,600 terawatt hours of energy, enough to meet the entire continent's power needs, according to the WWF.

Offshore wind generation in Latin America is still far from being a reality as the economics for the technology tend to work better in countries that have densely populated coastal areas with expensive power. There are no projected offshore capacity additions in the region before 2020, according to the IEA. Offshore is just beginning to take off in countries such as Japan and the UK.

Despite the growth potential for onshore wind, there are some clouds on the horizon. Renewable energy firm SunEdison pulled out of a deal to buy a stake in Brazil's Renova Energia citing adverse market conditions. The company also pulled out a deal to buy Latin American Power that holds Chilean and Peruvian wind projects in its portfolio.

Spanish renewables developer Abengoa is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and may sell several of its renewable energy projects in the region in a story which has revealed the burden of the industry's high capital costs.

Also, many power grids in Latin America require much-needed investment to accommodate for the additional supply from renewables. Part of the reason Uruguay's wind farm capacity rose 793% in 2014, the most in the world, was because completed projects were awaiting improvements to the main power grid.

In many other countries wind investment in still in its infancy and some countries are not apt for wide scale investment.

Much depends on an individual country's existing matrix, along with suitable wind sites, and politics, says Patricia Darez, general manager of industry consultant 350renewables. For example, Mexico has potential but may move slowly as it embarks on its first power auction next year, in which private generators will take part. Peru is holding a tender that should add wind capacity and Chile is set for a "massive" April auction that will be a big moment for both wind and solar, she says.

Argentina has been the sleeper in the region; but hopes are rising following the presidential elections that the country's wind resources, especially in southern Patagonia, can be tapped. New Argentine energy minister Juan José Aranguren says the country will draw heavily on its renewable potential as part of the plan that will see away with energy subsidies as Argentina tries to regain energy self-sufficiency.

Figure: Global Wind Additions, 2014


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