Q&A Series: Aniella Descalzi

Aniella Descalzi is an Executive and Renewable Energy Consultant. She is currently pursuing her MBA with a focus on energy markets and regulation at Fundação Getulio Vargas and holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the Universidad de Chile. She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Question: Could you please describe yourself and your work?

Aniella: I am an Executive and Renewable Energy Consultant who has worked in the public sector on regulatory issues and in the private sector in transmission, development and construction of renewable energy projects. I have over eight years of expertise developing solar plants and assessing connections to high voltage transmission lines in emerging markets. I spent two years working as a climate change researcher. 

Formerly, I was with SunEdison Sigdo Koppers and Evergreen Investment & Partners, where I delivered over 1 GWp of PV projects and 600 kilometers of HV transmission lines and managed the development, construction and interconnection of energy assets with a value in excess of $700 million. Prior to this, I worked for the Chilean Ministry of Energy of Chile where I oversaw the coordination of communication between the TSO (Transmission Services Operator) and PMGD (distributed generation) developers and assisted foreign investors venturing in Chile.

Q: As a Renewable Energy Consultant and with your experience climate change, how do you think these two areas are related in Latin America?

Aniella: Since the Paris Climate Change Conference, the main global goal is that the increase in the average temperature of the planet does not exceed 2°C towards the end of this century. The consequences of increasing global average temperatures are well known, such as droughts, floods, storms and forest fires. The latest report from the IPCC shows us the importance of limiting the temperature to 1.5°C and the consequences that we could have if we limit it just to 2°C, there is an urgent call to face an important threat of climate change. Temperature and emissions are directly correlated and without going any further: 2019 was the second warmest year in history after 2016, the number of extreme weather events have jumped fourfold since the 1980s, increasing to an average 200 events for the past 20 years (source: IMF 2020). To reach the goal and avoid a climate crisis, it would be necessary to abruptly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy is one of the sectors that contributes the most to total GHG emissions, so decarbonizing the electro-energy matrix is considered an effective measure to combat climate change. GHG emissions from energy supply can be significantly reduced by replacing or stopping operation of thermoelectric plants and increasing generation with renewable energy.

Energy and climate change have a common denominator, which is the current system of energy production and consumption dominated by fossil fuel energy. The development of clean, low-carbon energy must be a priority in promoting coordinated climate and energy governance. The latest Research Report on Global Electricity-Carbon Market prepared by GEIDCO explains it very well: The Electricity-Carbon Market is the most effective way for allocating climate and energy resources. An increasing number of countries around the world are actively developing the electricity market and carbon market”, Electricity-Carbon Market may be the most promising solution to development under the Paris Agreement. The Latin American region has issued only 2% of the global green bond market.

The Latin American region has a mainly hydroelectric matrix, currently about 48% of the region’s installed capacity, which contributes significantly to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. However, climate change is likely to alter distribution and availability of water, which will significantly affect the different basins of the region’s electrical systems. Consequently, it is projected that by 2030, hydropower participation will decrease, contributing only about 12% in Latin America. In addition, there are studies of climate change that foresee an increase in the frequency of extreme climate events, which could also effectively affect existing and future energy infrastructure.

In general, advancing the renewable-based energy transformation is an opportunity to meet international climate goals while boosting economic growth, creating jobs and improving human welfare.

Q: What do you believe are the greatest areas of opportunity for the Latin-American renewable energy sector?

Aniella: The installed capacity of non-conventional renewable energy like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy has increased dramatically in recent years in Latin America. Currently the installed capacity of this type of source represents about 14% of the total installed capacity in the region. Chile and Mexico stand out in the installation of new solar energy plants, Brazil in wind and biomass energy, with a participation of around 15GW installed of wind energy and around 14GW installed of biomass, and Mexican and Central American plants lead the production of energy geothermal in the region.

According to IRENA’s Global Renewables Outlook 2020, “Latin America and the Caribbean would reach the highest proportion of renewable energy in the total primary energy supply in 2030, with 53%.” In my opinion, the expansion of generation to 2030 in the region will be mainly of intermittent renewable energy (solar and wind), which represents a great opportunity in the region. This is thanks to the most competitive costs, knowledge of implementation that we have acquired, excellent natural resources that we have and the strong complementarity both daily (wind-solar) as seasonal (wind-hydro, wind-biomass).

Q: Now, what do you see as the primary barriers or challenges Latin America faces on its path to clean, affordable energy?

Aniella: We are currently experiencing an energy transition from where the energy matrix is ​​transitioning to have more non-conventional renewable energy plants, especially wind and solar energy. To face this transition, we must prepare our electrical network to have more flexibility and have more agents in the distribution network.

In addition to the political and geopolitical barriers of the region, there are now regulatory barriers that could affect the growth of intermittent nature energies, and it is necessary to have more flexible systems and for that we must mature the regulation of storage systems and improve the planning in the future transmission.

In reference to challenges, I believe that the greatest challenge in the region is the South American electrical interconnection that provides extraordinary natural and complementary resources such as hydroelectricity in Brazil, solar energy in Chile and Peru, wind energy in Argentina and Brazil. The interconnection of the South American region is very important to achieve a 100% clean energy matrix in the region.  Also, green bonds issued in Latin America represent only 2% of the global green bond market and about half of these were destined for renewable energy.  Green bonds could be an important instrument to finance the transition and it is a great challenge for our region to work on long-term energy transition plans and policies to boost this green bond market.

Another sector related to energy is the transportation of people and goods, as well as transport energy. It should also be a strategic challenge for the region. The increase in electromobility, the expansion of underground railways and more are also part of the path.

Q: Finally, how can Latin America lead in the path to 100 percent renewables? And what progress do you envision for the region over the next few years?

Aniella: Globally, Latin America is the region that currently leads the use of non-polluting sources in power generation, and I think as a region we will continue to be for at least 30 more years.

The pandemic that we are experiencing today has brought a lot of uncertainty and also a clear interruption in the energy transition. Due to this, the regulatory landscape in Latin America might be focused on the recovery of the economic health of the energy market facing the abrupt reduction in demand, lower energy prices (lower oil prices), lower growth expectations (which directly affect financing) and devaluation of emerging currencies. However, in Latin America, where wind and solar energy have expanded dramatically in recent years and also has enormous potential to continue growing, this will undoubtedly facilitate the potential development of the green bond market in the region.  Additionally, we must take this opportunity to generate investments, jobs, boost economic growth and support communities in sustainable, equitable and resilient ways.