Uruguay drought creates energy crisis

by Dave

18 de Julio - Main street in Montevideo

I stayed at the Central Palace hotel on 18 de Julio, in Montevideo last month. When I arrived on 20th April, late at night, I was wondering why there were no street lights. In the following days, I was told of the energy crisis. Wind energy projects need to be installed and brought online in double-quick time.

via MiamiHerald.com
First, the escalators stopped. Then shadows crept across the city in what appeared to be an epidemic of dead light bulbs.

As winter approaches, Uruguay has found itself in the grips of an intensifying energy crisis, brought about by a three-month drought that has crippled the country’s hydroelectric power generators. The scarcity — at a time of record high prices for imported oil — is prompting strict conservation measures.

For a while, the drought had little impact in Uruguay’s capital, where nearly half of all Uruguayans live and there is ample drinking water. But after the third unusually dry month in a row, President Tabaré Vázquez has initiated Phase 2 of the national ”Plan to Save Energy,” ordering businesses and homeowners to cut their energy use deeply.

To avoid the first scheduled blackouts since 1989, half of all elevators and escalators at shopping malls and supermarkets must be put out of service. At apartments and private homes, lights in gardens and patios are now contraband, lending the appearance of abandonment even at upscale buildings with underground garages and water views. Noncompliance is punishable by energy shutoffs ranging from three hours to five days.

”To overcome this energy crisis,” Vázquez said in his executive order, “we need everyone’s commitment.”

Rainfall returned to parts of the country in recent days. But it did not appear to be enough to compensate for the dry months and allow a lifting of the restrictions.

In many places, such as shopping centers, the conservation recommendations are largely in place. To cut energy use by 10 percent, for example, elevators at the national energy company’s headquarters have been programmed to stop at alternate floors, employees are being sent home at sundown and signs in shadowy hallways direct staff to the marble stairways for short trips.

”Without a doubt, people are worried,” said Claudia Viurrarena, browsing a jewelry display recently at the Punta Carretas mall, where the walls are papered with signs apologizing for the frozen escalators. “The predictions are bad.”

Along Montevideo’s main downtown boulevard, 18 de Julio, the energy crisis is also apparent. At night at the store La Selva, bags of maté, Uruguay’s national drink, are lit by moonlight and its red neon sign has been unplugged. At the display windows at the Indian Emporium, the eight flood lights that normally brighten leather boots and wool sweaters are now strictly ornamental.