The future of energy in Latin America — Lee Ullmann

Lee Ullmann, Director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office Office of International Programs

Lee Ullmann, Director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office
Office of International Programs

Approximately 34 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean don’t have electricity in their homes and 75% of the regional energy matrix relies on nonrenewable sources of energy, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). However, increasing access to energy and increasing renewable energies and efficiency are critical for sustainable development. In recognition of this major need, the United Nations has made it a goal to make sustainable energy for everyone a reality by 2030 in its Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) global initiative.

This is a significant challenge and one that MIT is well positioned to help address with its depth of knowledge across all areas of the energy sector. That’s why MIT’s Sloan School of Management chose to focus on this topic for its annual Latin America Conference. Partnering with the United Nations ECLAC, the MIT Sloan Latin America Office is hosting a regional conference in Santiago, Chile on Aug. 18-19 called “The Future of Energy: Latin America’s Path to Sustainability. The event will bring together business leaders, government decision-makers and academics from throughout the region to jumpstart the conversation to find collaborative and multidisciplinary solutions.

While the multinational and cross-sector format of the conference is somewhat unique for Latin America, it is typical at MIT where faculty, researchers, and students from across campus work together to find solutions to important problems. We’ve invited some very high-level and experienced industry and government leaders to take part in this conference and hope these discussions spark collaborations and future initiatives.

The conference will focus on five key energy issues currently facing Latin America:

Energy storage – MIT Engineering Prof. Donald Sadoway, Rene Castro, the former minister of environment, energy and mining in Costa Rica, and Salvatore Bernabei, head of Enel Green Power in Chile, will discuss how storage can make today’s grid more reliable, more efficient, and less polluting. The panel will discuss regulatory and technical barriers to storage in Latin America’s markets and how we can lead the way forward to greater deployment of chemical, mechanical, and gravitational storage. (For more information about this topic, watch Prof. Sadoway’s TED Talk.)

Unconventional energy sources – The Chilean dessert is considered the best place for solar energy in the world because of its altitude and lack of clouds. But how do you trap that solar power and affordably transport it to cities? The panel, which includes Frances O’Sullivan, director of research and analysis at the MIT Energy Initiative, MIT Sloan Prof. Chris Knittel, director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, Alfredo Solar Pinedo, country manager of SunEdison Chile and president of the Chilean Association of Renewable Energies, and  Prof. Luis Stinco of the Universidad de Buenos Aires, will talk about the economic benefits and realities of implementing unconventional sources. It will address the challenges of both renewable and fossil unconventional technologies as well as how alternative energies reach the competitive price point and how to make these energy sources attractive for the developing world.

Transformational technologies – Moderated by MIT Sloan Prof. Roberto Rigobon, panelists include MIT Chemical Engineering Prof. Robert Armstrong, and director of the MIT Energy Initiative, Marc Manly, executive vice president and president of commercial portfolio at Duke Energy, USA, Luca D’Agnese, CEO of Enersis, and Prof. Julio Vergara of Pontificia Universidad Católica. They’ll talk about the role Latin American will play in the future of global energy as well as how game-changing research and development efforts are transforming the energy landscape to create cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy systems. They’ll also look at how the MIT Energy Initiative merges the focused needs of industry with the creativity and research capabilities of academia to provide tools to assist the energy challenges.

Political economy – MIT Sloan Prof. Rigobon will lead a discussion about how energy costs in Latin America are among the highest in the world. Panelists include Ricardo Sanchez, acting director of ECLAC’s Natural Resources & Infrastructure Division, Maximo Pacheco, minister of energy of Chile, Juan Carlos Echeverry, former minister of finance and public credit of Colombia and current CEO of Ecopetrol in Colombia, Leonardo Beltran, deputy secretary for energy planning and transition in Mexico, and Miguel Rodriguez, a member of the board of directors of Pacific Rubiales, Colombia. They’ll look at the economic realities of generating and distributing energy in Latin America, and how greater investment and increased funding in alternative energy by Latin American governments and multilateral agencies might change the energy landscape.

Climate changeProf. Robert Pindyck of MIT Sloan, Joseluis Samaniego, director of the Sustainable Development Division at ECLAC, Tom Georgis, senior vice president of development at SolarReserve, and Prof. Emilio Lébre La Rovere of the Universidad Federal de Rio de Janeiro will address how our understanding of possible climate change and its economic impact is very limited. As climate change is inherently global, any policy response must be developed on a global scale so they’ll address how future policy should account for this lack of knowledge and the need for transnational cooperation.

Additional featured speakers include Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Vittorio Corbo, MIT Sloan Latin America Advisory Council Member and former president of the Central Bank of Chile, and Máximo Pacheco, minister of energy in Chile.

As SE4ALL has stated, sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy. Yet sustainability only works if it’s economically and technologically feasible. This conference is an important step in bringing together a meeting of the minds to achieve the goal of making reliable and affordable energy services available to everyone throughout Latin America.

For more information on the conference, click here.

Lee Ullmann, Ph.D., is director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office in Santiago de Chile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *