McDonough School of Business
MS-ESM Student-run conference focused on the Uruguay energy sector
News Story

Exploring Uruguay’s Decarbonization Success: An MS-ESM Student-Run Conference

This story is part of the Student Voices series, which provides a firsthand perspective of the student experience at Georgetown McDonough.

Here, Ricardo Pereira Teixeira (MS-ESM’24) and Chloe Carton (MS-ESM’24) share their experience attending the student-run M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management speaker engagement with Ramón Mendez Galain, former Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Climate Change at Uruguay.

The Master of Science in Environment and Sustainability Management program (MS-ESM) recently hosted a conference centered on Uruguay’s renewable energy journey. As a current student in the MS-ESM cohort, witnessing the student-led orchestration and impact of the conference was a thrilling experience. The event featured a captivating talk by Ramón Mendez Galain, Uruguay’s former Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Climate Change, who shared insights on Uruguay’s decarbonization success – which achieved 98% renewable energy in less than a decade. 

Ramón Mendez Galain, Uruguay’s former Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Climate Change

A Focus on Uruguay’s Energy Sector

Lucía Szyman Mulero (MS-ESM’24), who is from Uruguay and one of our fellow MS-ESM colleagues, envisioned and organized Mendez’s visit to the hilltop. 

“When I was in college, I took a course on the energy sector where I studied how Uruguay had achieved almost 100% renewable energy supply in its grid,” Lucía shared when providing opening remarks. “I was fascinated to learn how my country achieved such an important milestone.”

The day began with Mendez’s participation in our Energy Transitions class, facilitated by Lucía. This session, which was co-hosted with Professor Stratos Tavoulareas and our peers, sparked insightful discussions on decarbonizing the power grid. The dialogue extended into a reception attended by Earth Commons members and representatives from the Uruguayan Embassy, highlighting the intersection of academic study and international diplomacy in sustainability efforts. Then the doors were opened to the Georgetown community and sustainability enthusiasts to hear Mendez talk on Uruguay’s energy transition. 

Three Crucial Takeaways We Learned from Uruguay

  1. Securing energy supply was a principal national interest and framed national narratives. One key strategy employed by Uruguay was the establishment of long-term contracts for renewable energy, which, unlike fossil fuels, allowed for fixed prices, shielding consumers from volatile energy markets and achieving 100% access to electricity. This was a crucial step for a just transition.
  1. Uruguay proved what no other country had ever believed – an entire grid can run on renewables without energy storage. Key to this plan was relying on historical and future meteorological data to forecast solar and wind energy production. They had a backup. Their insurance plan was a fossil fuel plant for 2-5% of annual energy. Most importantly, Mendez emphasized that perceptions of consumption need to be addressed and reduced to ensure a sustainable future.
  1. The Uruguayan example provides valuable insights for the United States. Uruguay’s dependence on fossil fuel imports created an energy crisis that led to social and political consensus on the need for renewable energy solutions. This shared urgency facilitated cooperation across ideological lines, emphasizing the national interest in energy security, affordability, and accessibility. Compared to countries like the United States, where the oil industry significantly influences policymaking, the energy landscape constitutes a complex challenge. Without a supportive government framework and positive narrative, substantial financial and technical resources may not suffice. Each country’s unique context and challenges necessitate tailored approaches to renewable energy adoption, emphasizing the need for comprehensive strategies that address economic, political, social, and environmental factors.

Attending the event and witnessing Lucía’s leadership in organizing it was inspiring and educational. Mendez’s insights into Uruguay’s energy policy provided a clear blueprint for what is possible when a nation unites behind the goal of sustainable energy. 

The conference underscored the power of visionary leadership, both in policy and in grassroots organizations, to challenge and change entrenched energy paradigms. This day was a vivid reminder of the impact that driven individuals like Lucía can have on our collective journey toward a more sustainable world.

M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management