November 9, 2023
Journal Article

Exploring sustainable electricity system development pathways in South America’s MERCOSUR sub-region


South America has abundant natural water and energy resources, and exploiting these resources to achieve a clean energy future is central to the continent’s economic and sustainable development objectives for the next several decades. Designing pathways to achieving this clean energy future requires better understanding the structural, techno-economic, and policy forces that may influence the future development of the electricity sector in the region. Here, we focus on an interconnected electricity system of five South American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay – which represent major electricity generation, consumption, and trade dynamics in the region. We explore the implications of various forces that could shape the future composition of the power sector in the sub-region, including: evolving renewable energy cost and performance, natural gas prices, cross-border interconnection facilities, early retirement of installed hydropower, and different decarbonization goals. We use a model framework based on a power system planning platform (GridPath) to co-optimize investment and operations of generation, storage, and transmission facilities out to 2050. Our results in a Reference scenario indicate that the electricity system can maintain a relatively clean energy portfolio by leveraging existing hydropower capacity and integrating increasingly cost-competitive wind and solar power. However, dependence on natural gas in the region is likely to remain high. A low-carbon electricity system can cost-effectively be achieved through policy interventions (e.g., renewable portfolio standards) and by diversifying investments in wind, solar, battery storage, and some new hydropower capacity. We also find that existing hydropower is critical for maintaining reliable future grid operations. Enhanced regional electricity trade, mostly based on existing interconnection capacities with nominal investment in new transmission, can significantly benefit the clean energy transition in the region.

Published: November 9, 2023


Chowdhury A., J. Wessel, T. Wild, J.R. Lamontagne, and F. Kanyako. 2023. Exploring sustainable electricity system development pathways in South America’s MERCOSUR sub-region. Energy Strategy Reviews 49. PNNL-SA-177393. doi:10.1016/j.esr.2023.101150