|Fig. 1: This is the Presa Patángoras Dam located on Río La Miel in Colombia. Colombia is currently extremely dependent upon hydropower. Hydropower works by creating falling water which passes through a turbine to generate electrical energy. The reason there is a desire to transition away from hydropower is because of the negative affects it has to the environment and communities around these massive dams. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).|
Colombia is a country with a rich endowment of energy resources that have not been tapped to their full potential. At the moment, the country is primarily dependent on installed hydropower and gas. Colombia's geographical location allows it to be a great place for the establishment of wind powered energy, biomass and solar energy. The Colombian Government in 2014 approved Law 1715 by which promotes private ventures with grand scale renewable energy project to be incorporated in the country and promote efficient energy management, which comprises both energy efficiency and demand response.  The REL (New Renewable Energy Law) approved the International Renewable Energy Agency Statute as an attempt to promote the adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar, and wind energy, in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth.  With this law in place, the legal framework and mechanics to promote the use of non-conventional energy resources is established as well as investment into research and development of new clean energy technologies. This law looks to help Colombia tap into the full potential of the environmental resources available and not be as solely reliant on the current forms of renewable energy.
The current status of Colombias energy is that 68% of energy generation comes from hydropower, and 28% from coal and gas.  Colombia is currently the second country in Latin America to consume more units of energy than number of points of GDP. At present time, electricity price in Colombia is about $35 USD per MWH (megawatt hour). Thermal power generation has grown 9.4% on average between 2010-2014 - demonstrating a need to shift towards new methods of renewable energy.  Most importantly about Colombia's current status of energy is the predominant use of hydropower. Resources such as biomass, wind and solar account for less than 3% of the nation's energy generation. The current status of energy demonstrates that many of Colombia's environmental resources remain to be tapped to their full potential.
Colombia benefits substantially from hydropower electricity largely in debt to its geographical location. Dams, such as the Presa Patángoras Dam located on Río La Miel as seen in Fig. 1, can be found across different regions of Colombia and currently generate the majority of Colombia's energy. Hydropower works by having an artificially created dam to raise the water level to create falling water which passes through and turns a turbine and generating electrical energy. Despite dams saving Colombia from more carbon emissions, the large dams are expensive to construct as well as impact the environment and communities around it. The construction of a hydropower dam in the Sogamoso River began in 2009 and concluded in 2014. At the moment, the dam inundates an area of thousands of hectares, affecting a large number of communities and the territory-based livelihoods of many people.  Although large scale hydro-electricity is not often viewed as an environmentally friendly technology because of its impact upon the local environment and communities, it has been for many decades a major energy-renewable source in Colombia and Latin America.
|Fig. 2: This is a wind farm located in the Guajira region. The Guajira region is the ideal location to have a wind farm in Colombia because of its very strong winds. Wind power currently contributes less than 1% to Colombia energy but wind has the potential to power twice the required energy needs of the country. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).|
Colombias geographical location and the passing of Law 1715 open the doors to many new implementations of renewable energy. Potential directions include solar power, wind and biofuels. The argument of competitiveness of Renewable Energy Technologies is going to be the deciding factor in the direction Colombia chooses to go in. Currently, large hydro seems to be the most competitive technology for renewable energy but its environmental implications and impact on communities may lead for a decrease in competitiveness. Potential avenues for exploration include: Wind, Solar and Biomass.  Wind is the most targeted and likely of the three technologies to become the staple of Colombias renewable energy.
Wind seems to be the most competitive potential resource given Colombia's location and the decreasing capital cost required for wind energy.  Currently wind power contributes to 0.1% of the electricity needs of Colombia, with just one wind farm (Jeprachi Project) of 19.5 MW installed, generating ∼50GWh annually. However, this capacity is minimal, compared to the resource potential in the country.  Conditions for wind power in some parts of the country are among the best in South America. Regions of the northern part of Colombia have been classified to have class 7 winds (over 10 m/s). It has been estimated that Colombia has a wind power potential of 21,000 MW in the Guajira region which would be enough to generate enough power to twice meet the Colombian power demand.  There is currently only a small wind farm in the Guajira region, as seen in Fig. 2, but there is the potential to generate far more energy if more wind farms are built in this region. The cost in $US per Kilowatt is from 800 to 2200. The cost for wind has decreased significantly as improvements to turbine capacity has improved since Turbine capacity has increased from 600 to 800kW a decade ago to 13MW nowadays.  Wind seems to be the main driving force of renewable energy in Colombia and seems likely to become the Colombias main source of renewable energy in the future.
Biomass is in the middle of the pack in terms of competitiveness for new renewable technologies in Colombia. Biomass works by biological waste being burned in a furnace to produce hot gas. This hot gas is then fed into a boiler where it becomes steam and this steam then goes through a steam turbine or engine to generate energy that can be either mechanical or electrical. Biomass energy also has a positive outlook due to the large quantities of agricultural and forestry waste produced in the country. Important sources of agricultural waste are from banana plantations, rice, coffee, and livestock. The most suitable places for generating this form of energy are the departments of Santander and Norte de Santander, Valle del Cauca, Llanos Orientales, and the Caribbean coast.  The substitution of conventional fossil fuels with biomass for energy production results both in a net reduction of greenhouse gases emissions and in the replacement of non-renewable energy sources.  Colombia has the potential for using it as the basis for producing alternative energies from bananas, coffee pulp and animal waste. In addition, it has been suggested that biogas can be obtained from anaerobic treatment in banana-producing areas. Moreover, and in relation to coffee and its potential, this generally comes from the waste, which is nearly 40% of the total wet weight. The annual potential of biomass energy in Colombia is of approximately 16,260 MWh per year.  The cost in $US per Kilowatt is from 2800 to 5000.  Generating energy from biomass is rather expensive due to both technological limits related to lower conversion efficiencies, and logistic constraints.  Due to the low energy density and transportation costs involved in carrying them to processing plants, it is not an economically viable alternative at the moment but has a positive outlook for the future. 
At the moment, Solar photovoltaic systems are the least competitive renewable technology for Colombia and this is largely due to price. The cost in $US per Kilowatt ranges from 5000 to 10,000. The photovoltaic systems work by converting the photons from sunlight collected by solar panels into electrons for direct current electricity. Given Colombia's location, there exist considerable resources for solar power with a daily average insulation of 4.5 kWh/m2 and the Guajira region can receive insulation of 6 kWh/m2. [5,10] The country has important potential for introducing solar photovoltaic sources into its electricity generation mix given its high average annual insolation. However, there is a lack of incentives and support schemes for alternative renewable energy technologies.  Despite Colombia's insulation which makes it a viable candidate for implementation of photovoltaic systems, these systems at the moment are not competitive and are currently the most expensive renewable energy technology the country has looked towards implementing. It is expected that the cost for photovoltaic systems decreases and that they become more competitive around 2030. 
In conclusion, it is evident that Colombia has yet to tap into the wide array of resources to promote the implementation of renewable energy technologies. At the moment only 3% of Colombias energy does not come from hydropower or fossil fuels. This 3% is mainly composed of small tests being run throughout regions in Colombia such as the Jepirachi Project to study wind energy, a biomass project,the Ingenio Mayagez cogeneration plant, and the implementation of the first grid connected building photovoltaic system in Bogota. [2,11] Law 1715 promotes the exploration of new renewable energy projects and given Colombia's location and abundance of resources the future of renewable energy in Colombia is bright.
© Emanuel Pinilla. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
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