Author Archives: diegoleonbarido

Building Bridges to a Sustainable Energy Future

Reposted from National Geographic: National Geographic’s Great GEC Blog


The twenty 2012-2013 Fulbright NEXUS Fellows and the management team from the Institute of the International Education and from the U. S. State Department along with Lead Scholar Professor Dan Kammen and his program assistant, Diego Ponce de Leon Barido at Lake Louise, Alberta. (Photo by Daniel Kammen)

The Americas are undergoing a transition in the energy sector that will have global geopolitical ramifications. At the same time as the United States is touted to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, and a net exporter by 2030, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Panama show the most promise in becoming regional hubs not only for clean energy investment, but for sustained low-carbon economic growth (see related story: “U.S. to Overtake Saudi Arabia, Russia as World’s Top Energy Producer“). Continue reading

Evidence and future scenarios of a low-carbon energy transition in Central America: a case study in Nicaragua

Published: Ponce de Leon B, D., Johnston, J., Moncada, M., Callaway, D., and Kammen, D. Evidence and Future Scenarios of a Low-Carbon Energy Transition in Central America: A Case Study in Nicaragua. Environmental Research Letters. 10 (2015) 104002

The global carbon emissions budget over the next decades depends critically on the choices made by fast-growing emerging economies. Few studies exist, however, that develop country-specific energy system integration insights that can inform emerging economies in this decision-making process. High spatial- and temporal-resolution power system planning is central to evaluating decarbonization scenarios, but obtaining the required data and models can be cost prohibitive, especially for researchers in low, lower-middle income economies. Continue reading

A Brief History of Oil in Mexico

In 1979, Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo (1976 – 1982) announced to the world that Mexico had begun exploiting ‘Cantarell’, the world’s third largest oil field at the time (just behind the Ghawar and Burgan fields of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait). This bounty came with promises of jobs, technological development, commitment to industrialization, and sustainable city-building. Above all, Lopez Portillo (and his team of experts) stressed that this windfall of wealth would be reinvested in Mexico to guarantee a future ‘beyond Oil’.

It only took 24 years for Cantarell to reach ‘peak oil’ status. This means that in 2004 Mexico’s largest oil field had reached its maximum rate of petroleum extraction, after which it entered a state of terminal decline. The US and Norway ‘peaked’ in 1970 and 2001 respectively, and Brazil has become a net exporter of oil since 2009. Brazil’s recent success has been led by a stubborn decisiveness to dramatically reduce oil consumption, a strong emphasis on research and development, and a focus on non-fossil fuels alternatives for national consumption. Since 2003 it followed an aggressive ethanol blending policy – and today 80% of the cars in the country run on blended fuel.

It’s no surprise that Mexico’s ‘energy reform’ recently faced doubt and opposition. For decades, US, British and even Dutch companies exploited and extracted Oil from the country, in a time period marred by internal political conflict and tax evasion. It is also not clear how taxing PEMEX has benefited Mexicans – it is taxed close to 60% -, but it isn’t clear where the money has gone. It certainly hasn’t solved Mexico’s poverty, education, and ‘technical workforce’ woes. During the protests regarding the country’s most recent energy reform there was plenty of debate of how the money should be spent, but the attacks and questions seemed misled. Some important questions were not part of picture but are crucial for Mexico’s long term sustainability: Has oil done Mexico any good? Has the country suffered a resource curse? Has oil played a role in the country not moving or advancing forward? Where do we invest PEMEX funds? How do we take advantage of energy companies investing in Mexico? How can we ensure transparency in the sector and how do we track accountability? Will Mexico use the new found oil and gas resources for a future beyond oil? Or, will the country just let history repeat itself?

Paradox of Plenty: Innovation and Growth

The 2013 Global Innovation Index report describes different characteristics of countries that learn and innovate. There are 'innovation leaders' or those that have succeeded in creating well-linked innovation ecosystems where investments in human capital thrive in 'fertile and stable innovation structures'. There are also the 'innovation learners' - which include a group of 18 middle income countries that are 10% or higher above the trend line (Republic of Moldova, China, India, Uganda, Armenia, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Jordan, Mongolia, Mali, Kenya, Senegal, Hungary, Georgia, Montenegro, Costa Rica, Tajikistan,and Latvia) and demonstrate rising levels of innovation due to improvements in 'institutional frameworks, a skilled labour force with expanded tertiary education, better innovation infrastructures, a deeper integration with global credit investment and trade markets, and a sophisticated business community'. Countries like Uganda, Mali, Kenya, and Tajijistan have above-average performances, relative to their income class.

Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Montenegro, China, and Moldova, country's with relatively smaller income per capita scored higher innovation points than Mexico - how can this be? Similarly to other 'resource rich' countries in the report, countries endowed (or, historically endowed with) oil, gas, or some other natural resource crowd out investment in other productive sectors and hinder innovation. This phenomenon, known as 'the resource curse' or 'paradox of plenty' has been well documented historically. Some low- and middle-income oil rich countries usually use Norway as an example of 'what's possible when one is resource oil rich', but fail to realize that Norway is an extremely poor innovator, punching far below its weight relative to the amount of money that the country has.

It seems that being richer, and throwing more money at problems doesn't fix them. For an economy of over $1 trillion dollars, Mexico only has 15 venture-capital funds which only invested in 25 projects in 2011. The Bay Area alone (California) invested over $2 billion in the first quarter of 2013. What Mexican researchers and innovators need is support - institutions and incentives - that can fund projects from technology to market. Not empy promises.

Read More: The Global Innovation Index

Force-Directed Graph

Note: I grabbed the data from Mike Bostock’s wesite. I only used this example to embed my first d3.js graphic. The rest of the posts from now on, will be inspired by Mike, but will be product of my own work

This simple force-directed graph shows character co-occurence in Les Misérables. A physical simulation of charged particles and springs places related characters in closer proximity, while unrelated characters are farther apart. Layout algorithm inspired by Tim Dwyer and Thomas Jakobsen. Data based on character coappearence in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, compiled by Donald Knuth.

The thermodynamics of mineral wealth, fossil fuels and drugs.

A first lesson, taken strictly from ecological economics and its use of thermodynamic laws, is very telling about the history of resource exploitation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Energy quality and energy surpluses often determine the development of social and cultural patterns, and the unidirectional character of energy can dictate the economic and social arrangements through which wealth accumulation occurs in society.1,2

Consider the unidirectional flow of water (and energy) downstream. Historically, bulky raw materials such as grains, ores, and timber were ‘produced in the hinterland and sent downstream to river mouth cities where those raw materials were combined to produce more valuable goods’.1,2 For this process of ‘upgrading’ matter into highly ordered thermodynamic structures, economic production is established, adding productive value to the economic cycle at each stage of thermodynamic progress.3-5 Great accumulations of wealth occurred in downstream cities, but very rarely did this wealth find its way back upstream. Silver from Potosi (Peru) and Guanajuato (Mexico), gold from Ouro Preto and Minas Gerais (Brazil), sugar cane from Cuba, coffee from Colombia, precious woods (and later sugar) from the Caribbean, and bananas and fruit from the entire Western Hemisphere were sent to the United States and Europe. Resource wealth flowed in one direction, fostered industrial growth in the north, and created a Latin American and Caribbean dependence for technology and goods produced in the industrial north.6-8

More recently it is rare earth metals, oil, and drugs that flow downstream.

Cerro Potosi

The City of Potosi and Cerro Rico, Bolivia. Image Source: Andrea Marston.

Continue reading

Energia y Cultura

El primer parque eólico en México fue construido en 1994 en la comunidad de La Venta (La Venta I), Oaxaca, con una capacidad instalada de 2 MW. Actualmente el potencial de viento en México se valúa en 71 GW, un enorme recurso energético, renovable, para el país.

México es un país dotado de magníficos recursos de energía renovable a pesar de lo cual se pronostica  por los expertos  una severa crisis energética en la siguiente década.1  Ante la constante disminución en la producción de sus pozos petroleros mas importantes, y con el inevitable crecimiento de la demanda energética en el país, se espera que México será un importador neto de energía para el año 2020.2

Continue reading

Mexico Negro – Reloaded

La iniciativa de explotar el gas de lutitas, punto crucial de la ‘Reforma Energética’ demuestra lo poco que México ha aprendido en tantos años de explotación petrolífera. También señala con que facilidad se evaden las preguntas mas importantes de una reforma energética. ¿Cual es la historia del petróleo en México? ¿Quienes fueron y son los dueños de la energía? ¿Que clases sociales se han beneficiado mayoritariamente de la explotación petrolera? ¿Cuales son los grupos que han sido marginados? ¿Que relación tiene la violencia actual con nuestra ‘riqueza’ de recursos fósiles? ¿Será la historia del gas similar a la del petróleo, o será peor?

Otras potencias, principalmente las grandes petroleras americanas y el gobierno estadounidense, siempre han determinado el rumbo energético-económico de México.1,2 William Taft y las grandes petroleras americanas expulsaron a Porfirio Díaz y armaron a Madero a cambio de grandes concesiones, para luego removerlo e incorporar a Victoriano Huerta al ver la amenaza que representaba un presidente con visiones de expropiación petrolera, ferrocarrilera, y cobro. 2,3 Durante mas de dos décadas después de la Revolución Mexicana, el gobierno estado unidense y las petroleras cambiaban de gobierno o de presidente para asegurar su producción e incrementar sus ingresos: Carranza, De la Huerta, Obregón y Calles, todos fracasaron en realizar una verdadera reforma energética siempre siendo controlados por estas grandes potencias. 2,3

Img Credit: Pete Gamlen.

Img Credit: Pete Gamlen.

Continue reading

Lets Take it Outside

Growing up in Mexico City, and everyday on our way to school, my sister and I would stare at the two highest mountains in the country: Popocatepetl (5,426 meters) and Iztaccihuatl (5,200 meters). At sunrise, and after a hard rain, the mountains would rise over a thick layer of smog, would fade throughout the day, but would always return at dawn. Omnipresent, yet taken for granted, these mountains and their glaciers go largely unexplored by most Mexicans, including myself, as it took me more than 20 years to break away from the urban jungle.  Continue reading