Leonardo Beltran is a non-resident fellow at the Institute of the Americas, an executive fellow of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and is serving on the Board of Sustainable Energy for All.
Question: Please describe yourself and your work.
Leonardo: My career in energy includes 13-years in public service in Mexico government, which includes being the longest-serving Deputy Secretary of Energy (2012-2018). In this capacity, I led the Ministry’s coordination of Mexico’s National Energy Strategy, a policy document that served as the foundation for energy reform in 2013. I also serve on the Board of Directors of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico’s national oil company and the world’s 10th largest oil producer and was alternate Chairman of the Board of Directors of Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), Mexico’s national power utility and a Global 500 company.
Additionally, I was the Chief Technology Officer and chaired the boards of the national laboratories of the energy sector (Mexican Petroleum Institute; National Institute of Electricity and Clean Energies; National Nuclear Research Institute) and presided the board of a billion-dollar R&D trust fund that created the Mexican Centers for Innovation on Energy (biofuels, CCS, geothermal, ocean, solar, and wind), the largest clean-energy technology innovation networks in Latin America, and invested in the biggest talent development effort in the energy sector in the country. I have been named several times as one of the most influential leaders in the energy sector in Mexico and personality of the year in renewable energy (including in 2018).
Q: What made you want to join the Path to 100%?
Leonardo: Today, we operate in a far more complex setting than we could have imagined. One where the environment; geopolitics; economics and trade; water security; and technological development must all be considered in any energy policy decision. The current energy system, as we know it, is unsustainable. Thus, the global energy sector as a whole must aim towards accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. Today and in the future, governments need to use their networks, their collective knowledge, and their influence to be a catalyst for change in global development policy, to help the world towards a sustainable future. Thus, joining a community where thought leaders and industry experts create a dialogue on how to achieve an operationally and financially realistic approach towards a 100% renewable energy future is an amazing opportunity to embrace the future and take action from our respective responsibilities.
Q: Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in Latin America and the United States.
Leonardo: I am passionate about renewable energy because I had the chance to serve in the public sector in my country and learned firsthand about the advantages of renewables, in terms of job creation, regional development, and innovation. Not only did I learn that, but I also had the opportunity of being exposed to the international community. For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated with a high degree of confidence that if we are to limit the risks from global warming by 1.5°C, transitions should include widespread adoption of new and disruptive technologies and practices and enhanced climate-driven innovation. Therefore, we need to act now and speed up the process toward a net-zero path.
Moreover, had the chance to promote the enactment of the Energy Transition Act (second country after France), a law that made operational the constitutional reform of the energy sector in Mexico by embracing sustainability across the value chain. In this act, we were able to first raise the importance of energy efficiency to be equally important as renewable energy and then set a target for 2050. Secondly, we established a decarbonization pathway by setting progressively increasing renewable energy targets to meet at the time an aggressive goal, i.e. 50% of renewables by 2050. Thus, I have been able to experience the challenges of bringing to the table all stakeholders, understand their concerns, and generate consensus based upon scientific evidence, key elements for a regional initiative to advance towards the “Path to 100”!
Q: How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?
Leonardo: The ultimate forum for creating change at a global scale on climate change is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. If we are to inform the discussions taking place at the UNFCCC, we would be able to bring to the table relevant experiences, expertise, and knowledge that can help move the needle to the “Path to 100.”
Q: What do you think are the best areas of opportunity for the renewable energy sector in Latin America?
Leonardo: I think the best areas of opportunity are both in public procurement at the national level and with the private sector, especially the automotive sector and manufacturing.
Q: Now, what do you consider to be the main barriers or challenges Latin America faces on its path to clean and affordable energy?
Leonardo: Policy changes are the main challenges the region faces, because the energy sector is highly capital intensive, and the maturation of the projects are for the long-term. Therefore, a policy change in the short-term can have lasting effects if decisions are made for a given asset, i.e., for instance developing a new fossil-fuel based power plant or investing in new oil and gas fields that have lifecycles that span for decades.
Q: Finally, how can Latin America lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years?
Leonardo: I think the leading exporting sectors are the ones that can spur innovation and have to compete globally. Consequently, if these sectors do not lead the change, they will bear the costs and the opportunities will be grabbed by the competition.
Latin America and the Caribbean are in the best position to consolidate their leadership. Today, this region has the cleanest energy portfolio, having 60% of renewable installed capacity. The region can enjoy the first-mover advantage, and their exporting sectors can enjoy that competitive advantage if there is a possibility to align incentives, strengthen regulation, benefit from the large renewable resource endowment of the region, and work hand-in-hand with the private and public sectors.
Photo by Filipe Resmini on Unsplash