Countries are taking a hard look these days at their energy use, based on their commitments under the Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change. At the same time, they have a commitment to ensure “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” as Sustainable Development Goal 7 puts it.
Beyond the issue of access, countries need to be able to grow their economies sustainably, in a way that creates jobs and wealth, while using resources sustainably and protecting the environment. That will require expanding the use of cleaner sources of energy.
This region’s overall electric grid is relatively green already, due largely to the widespread use of hydropower. Yet climate change is affecting rainfall patterns and making hydro less reliable than it once was. And some countries, notably in the Caribbean, remain disproportionately dependent on fossil fuels to generate electricity, making their economies vulnerable to price fluctuations of oil imports.
The key across the region will be to incorporate diverse forms of cleaner energy on a large scale—including geothermal, hydroelectric, natural gas and variable sources such as wind and solar energy. As variable sources increase their share in the different grids, they will necessitate enough backup, storage and interconnection to ensure a steady supply and meet growing demand.
The transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy will require major innovation and investment from the private sector if the region is to sustainably meet the energy needs of future generations.