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Latin America and the Caribbean exploits more renewable energy than any other region in the world. According to Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, three of the top five countries that invest in renewables as a percentage of their GDP are in Latin America: Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

energías renovablesFoto: Flickr Ciudades Emergentes


However, many of the region’s resources remain untapped, which means that renewable energy could play a key role in meeting energy needs and creating a more sustainable future. This is especially true in emerging cities that are still trying to figure out how to meet the needs of their growing populations.

Renewable energy also has many applications in rural areas. In fact, the electricity produced from its application in these areas provides access to services such as water and sanitation, which in some cases may be lacking.  It can also improve education and health facilities, which all together improve rural economies, something that may help rural populations decide against migrating to the city.

For these reasons, Sustainable Energy for All in the Americas (SE4ALL AMERICAS) was created. SE4ALL is a United Nations initiative that aims to provide universal access to modern energy, to increase energy efficiency, and to double the use of renewables—all by 2030. The Inter-American Development Bank provides a regional hub for SE4ALL in the Americas, and supports the planning necessary to achieve these goals in the region.

At the United Nations SE4ALL Forum in June, IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno announced that the Bank would provide planning and financial support to help countries reach these goals. Moreno said that the IDB would help renewable energy projects in emerging markets by providing technical assistance to help the private sector develop more bankable projects. “Our region needs to increase from 30% renewables to nearly 44% by 2035,” he said.

In October 2014, the IDB, in conjunction with the Government of Chile and President Michelle Bachelet, will host the launch of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All in the Americas in Santiago, Chile. This event will include a conference to provide energy stakeholders in the region with the necessary information to move forward and achieve the goals of SE4ALL AMERICAS.

But why should cities care about the SE4ALL Americas? This framework can help emerging cities meet their energy needs in the following innovative ways:

1)    By providing opportunities to learn from successful applications of renewable energy, such as Solar Water Heating (SWH) Systems, which reduce energy costs for families, reduce stress on the national electricity grid, and improve access to affordable and sustainable energy. According to the  Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, Brazil is fourth in the world in solar water heating capacity. Other countries (and cities) can follow the lead of Brazil to expand solar energy use. For instance, a project in Cochabamba, Bolivia is installing 10,000 SWH Systems in homes, thereby replacing unsafe continuous flow water heaters, which run on electricity.

2)    By raising awareness that renewable energy is one of the most viable ways to provide energy to remote and isolated areas. As we discussed in a previous blog, providing access to energy in rural areas has proven to slow rural to urban migration, which is an important part of decreasing the energy stress put on cities. Renewable energy like wind and solar can provide basic energy services to rural populations while increasing economic opportunities and decreasing the incentive of migrating to cities.

Doubling the use of renewable energy has profound implications for emerging cities in terms of health, education, and economic opportunities. Providing energy to rural areas is part of the equation of creating a more equal distribution of population and putting less energy stress on cities.

By supporting innovative applications of renewable energy in emerging cities and rural areas, SE4ALL AMERICAS is working to achieve the goals set out by the United Nations SE4ALL initiative. In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, this framework encourages cities to see energy as the “golden thread” that ties together the goals of sustainable development in a wide range of areas, from education to the environment to ending poverty and hunger.

Alice Driver works in communications for the Sustainable Energy for All in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC-SE4ALL) initiative.  In 2012-13, Dr. Driver was a postdoctoral fellow at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.  She is a writer who explores issues of gender, women’s rights, and human rights with a focus on Mexico, and her work has been published by Al Jazeera, Salon, Ms. Magazine, and Women’s Media Center. Her book “More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico”, is forthcoming with the University of Arizona Press in 2015.  Follow Alice on Twitter