Category Archives: RanTs

SWITCHing to a Low-Carbon Future

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By Diego Ponce de Leon Barido and Josiah Johnston

Re-Post from National Geographic: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/24/switching-to-a-low-carbon-future/ 

Rolling black outs and high electricity prices were a common ritual in Nicaragua a decade ago. Schools and shops often languished for hours without power. Hotels and restaurants relied on kerosene, candles and expensive generators to keep businesses open. From a financial and health perspective, this was not sustainable. Continue reading

IDB Ideas Winners 2015

Our research project “Cool Joule: Design and implementation of a wireless sensor network to enable flexible energy loads to provide cost-effective wind energy grid integration and societal co-benefits in Nicaragua” was one of 6 winners of over 280 applications all throughout Latin America. The research partnership is between the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab, Niuera, Pelican, SA and the National Engineering University. The research and implementation leads were myself (Diego), Stephen Suffian (Villanova University), and Javier Rosa (Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions, TIER – UC Berkeley). The videos below feature Lâl Marandin (Co-CEO of Pelican, SA – our implementation partner) and I on Canal 12, and the second video shows myself, Allan Cruz (Co-CEO of Pelican, SA), Carlos Melo (director of the Inter-American Bank in Nicaragua), and the Mexican ambassador to Nicaragua Miguel Díaz Reynoso.
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Building Bridges to a Sustainable Energy Future

Co-authored with Daniel M. Kammen and Published in National Geographic’s Great GEC Blog

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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

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.

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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

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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.

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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