Is Colombia prepared for an upcoming El Niño Phenomenon without power blackouts?

Is Colombia prepared for an upcoming El Niño Phenomenon without power blackouts?
Is Colombia prepared for an upcoming El Niño Phenomenon without power blackouts?

If immediate measures are not taken, the country will not be able to avoid having an energy shortage during upcoming drought climate events such as the El Niño Phenomenon. Experts asked to expedite the entry of new energy generation projects, as part of the energy transition, without leaving aside hydroelectric and thermal plants, which are those that have ensured the energy supply in the country. They also highlighted the need to have a clear regulatory framework that allows investments in the sector.

“Although this El Niño phenomenon was not the strongest or the longest, Yes it put us in trouble, situation that must be avoided with timely actions,” stressed Natalia Gutiérrez, president of Acolgen, during the Forum: ‘Lessons learned from the ‘El Niño’ Phenomenon 2023-2024′, organized by EL TIEMPO in alliance with Acolgen with the aim of learning about what has been experienced and prevent the next phenomenon from being experienced without blackouts in Colombia.

For Natalia Gutiérrez, there are five factors to take into account to avoid a blackout in a future El Niño phenomenon. Among them is the increase in demand, as a result of population growth and high temperatures. While demand grows at an accelerated pace, supply, understood as the entry of new energy generation projects, is delayed. In the last year, only 17% of the expected capacity of the new generation entered and in 2022 only 28% of what was projected entered.

“In the last 10 years demand has grown by 2.6% on average; However, in March of this year the year-on-year increase was 7.5%,” explained the president of Acolgen and clarified that one of the reasons that prevented a shortage was the preparation of the sector, since before the El Niño, the companies managed to ensure that the reservoirs used by hydroelectric plants reached a historic point for that time of 76% in November 2023, just before the drought began. “Without that starting point, the story would have been different, because in April 2024 the rains were 59% below the statistics,” Gutiérrez clarified.

The thermals worked at maximum capacity

In addition, he highlighted the importance of thermal backup, which grew considerably during this situation, while in March 2023 it covered 13% of the country’s total energy generation, in the same period of the current year it tripled, becoming 46% of the total generation, allowing the reservoirs used by hydroelectric plants to reduce energy generation.

In fact, Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero, delegate attorney for environmental, mining, energy and agricultural affairs, explained that in normal times the contribution of hydroelectric plants fluctuates around 70%, even reaching in some cases 85% of the total supply of electricity. energy. “However, during this Phenomenon, the contribution of hydroelectric plants was below 45%, making it The thermals will work at maximum capacity. And in the event of any failure we would have had a shortage,” commented Attorney Guerrero and added that they currently trust in the entry of generation projects from non-conventional energy sources, without leaving aside “the use of the resources that currently guarantee the energy security of the country: hydroelectric and thermal,” he stated. For the attorney general, it is essential that the State anticipates climate situations that “are increasingly more extreme.”

During this Phenomenon, the contribution of the hydroelectric plants was below 45%, causing the thermal plants to work at maximum capacity. And in the event of any failure we would have had a shortage.

Juan Ricardo Ortega, president of the Bogotá Energy Group – GEB, stressed that citizens are not concerned about taking care of energy, “people have no idea what it means to take care of energy, what type of appliances to use, the type of adequate roof for construction or heat management,” said Ortega and explained that high temperatures and greater use of technologies generate greater energy consumption. For example, in data centers information is stored in the clouds, and only “the energy consumption of a data center is equivalent to the energy consumption of a million people.”

Energy deficit would begin in 2026

Ana Bolena Rodríguez, Regulatory Manager of Prime Energía, explained that when comparing the firm energy supply with the demand projections, it is estimated that by December 2026 there would already be an energy deficit, so “The necessary measures must be taken now.” to avoid a shortage.” In addition, he warned about the importance of gas in energy generation, “imported natural gas accounted for 20% of the energy demand during the El Niño phenomenon.”

Juan Ricardo Ortega has the same opinion, who added that “electricity is expensive for two reasons: the companies that must generate energy are not entering and there is no gas, and the gas was sold by the expensive Government.” In addition, he revealed that energy generation companies lost more than 70 million euros in the first quarter of this year “for honoring cheap energy contracts while having to buy on the expensive stock market,” Ortega confessed.

Sandra Manrique, partner at Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (PPU), assured that one of the greatest uncertainties in the electricity sector has to do with the “role in which companies are going to play within an institutional and changing regulatory environment. What is going to happen to the market, where are we going to focus, what is going to happen with the future of investments?” Manrique asks and emphasizes the need to have a clear regulatory framework that allows investments to be made for the sector. “We had a regulatory framework, which surely allows for discussion and improvements, but it made it easier for us and gave us all the incentives to have firm energy to go through this El Niño phenomenon.”

Why did Ecuador turn off?

Enith Carrión, former vice minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy of Ecuador.

Photo:Private File

Enith Carrión, former vice minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy of Ecuador, made an intervention during the forum to share what she experienced in the neighboring country, which has had energy blackouts between 2023 and 2024.

Carrión shared with the attendees that, although Ecuador has the highest concentration of rivers per square mile in the world, “there are more than 2,000 rivers and streams with an average of 7.87 rivers per square km of the Pacific slopes and the Amazon”, the generation of energy through hydroelectric plants It was not enough to supply the demand.

“The country dedicated itself to being hydro to take advantage of the resource that is in abundance. More than 90% of the generation comes from hydroelectric plants and there is very little thermal, wind, solar or biomass generation,” revealed the former vice minister of Ecuador and assured that, as is the case in Colombia, there is a delay in the entry of new ones. generation projects.

In addition, he listed other reasons that have led to the blackouts in Ecuador: maintenance was stopped in the sector and the rate was lowered, generating a deficit of 7,000 million dollars, “money that the State does not have.”

“It is not a problem that comes from the previous year, or even 4 years ago. It is a structural and systemic problem. Having merged the ministries weakened the sector technically and operationally, having a subsidized rate and not having targeted subsidies meant that the sector lacked resources to invest. And not investing in the sector has cost us dearly,” explained former vice minister Enith Carrión.

Currently, Carrión added, Ecuador is focused on changing consumption habits and look for quick installation generation. “An urgent tariff review is being carried out to focus subsidies and provide liquidity to the electricity sector. Stopping maintenance is not savings, it is a problem and the electricity sector must be strengthened with strategic alliances between the private and public sectors. “Energy is the basis of production, so we need public and private investment.”

Colombia stands out in the region

Colombia, although it did not have an easy time, managed to overcome this climate crisis without blackouts in the country.

Photo:Private File

Like Ecuador, other Latin American countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras, had blackouts during the El Niño Phenomenon. Colombia, although it did not have an easy time, managed to overcome this climate crisis without blackouts in the country.

For Ricardo Sierra, president of Celsia, “Colombia is the best country in reliability from all of Latin America.” However, if measures are not taken now, it is unlikely that a future El Niño phenomenon will be overcome without blackouts.

For Sierra, investments in the sector are key, but “what investment spirit is going to come if we don’t know the rules of the game?” he worried about the lack of regulatory stability that currently exists and that worries investors.

“Where are we going to get the 6,000 to 7,000 million dollars in investments in the next five years so as not to have the expected 8% and 14% deficit in firm energy?” Sierra continued. “We will not survive the next Niño If we continue as we are going. We have just gone through El Niño where thermal generation was central, but there will be a gas shortage at the end of next year. Customers increasingly need more electricity, especially on the Coast where there are jumps in demand of up to 20%. And new energy projects must come in to provide power,” Sierra stressed.

For Luis Fernando Londoño, Marketing Manager at Isagen, we don’t have to go that far. “Of a next Niño or a next summer? We will not be able to cope with the next intense summers if demand continues to grow,” Londoño resolved. For this reason, he assures that we must diversify the matrix “by increasing the production of intermittent energy such as wind and especially solar, as well as those that operate today such as hydroelectric and thermal.”

To provide clarity on the social and economic effects of a possible power blackout in the country, Natalia Gutiérrez, president of Acolgen, brought up the calculation of the economic cost of one hour of rationing per day in the country, made by the management of economic investigations of the Bank of Bogotá. “The result in cost is approximately 204,000 million pesos, but if we had experienced blackouts like the one in 1992, which was from 6 pm to 12 pm, the impact on production would be 1.1 billion a day and 35 billion pesos per month, which represents approximately 26% of Colombia’s GDP in one month,” Gutiérrez warned.

More Content*. A Special Editorial Content project from EL TIEMPO in alliance with Acolgen.

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