Rural Columbian CommunitiesA geographically and economically diverse country, Colombia experiences a high poverty rate, with around 39.3% of its 50 million inhabitants living in poverty as of 2021. Although the national poverty rate has declined from the 42.5% peak that it reached at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the country’s progress in reducing poverty has been limited to urban areas: according to the World Bank, poverty in rural Colombia in fact increased from 42.9% to 44.6% between 2020 and 2021. Difficulty in expanding the grid to reach the country’s remote rural communities has limited their access to electricity, among other resources, and exacerbated the rural-urban divide. However, renewable energy holds the potential to improve life and livelihoods in rural Colombian communities, foster equitable economic growth and reduce the country’s poverty rate as a whole.

Colombia’s Renewable Energy Potential

Colombia already embraces renewable energy, long relying on hydroelectric power for up to 77% of its energy needs, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Yet, changing weather patterns and climate shocks like droughts have increasingly compromised the reliability of hydroelectric power. Furthermore, the maintenance of such systems has posed a challenge.

For instance, in 2011, a school in the small rural village of San Antonio installed a micro-hydroelectric power plant in hopes of ensuring access to reliable and affordable power for students and teachers. Yet, due to insufficient servicing and installation, the plant’s efficiency fell short, providing only five hours of electricity per day. This highlights the need for proper implementation and ongoing maintenance for the sustained reliability of renewable energy sources. Moreover, diversifying energy profiles in rural Colombian communities could enhance reliability and establish long-term solutions for addressing poverty.

On the bright side, Colombia holds great potential for energy diversification, with many rural Colombian communities presenting ideal conditions for wind and solar energy generation. Since these communities are off-grid, renewable energy plants and infrastructure can be tailored to their specific strengths and needs, enabling rural Colombian communities to implement locally suitable and sustainable energy production methods, as is being done on Colombia’s Providencia Island.

Impact on Education

Implementing reliable renewable energy infrastructure could significantly help improve education in rural Colombian communities. For example, even the five-hour daily supply of electricity that the San Antonio school generated with its hydropower plant was unreliable due to ongoing work on dams in the area. Power outages frequently reduced planning time for teachers and study hours for students. Additionally, the school’s health center, a vital community resource, lacked sufficient power to refrigerate vaccines and anti-venom serum, putting the many students who boarded at the school and inhabitants of this geographically-isolated community at great risk. 

Across rural Colombian communities, a lack of reliable electricity has hindered students’ learning, teachers’ teaching capabilities and schools’ ability to provide essential medical care, safe drinking water and basic sanitation services. Consequently, USAID and organizations like Tierra Grata have prioritized the implementation of reliable renewable energy resources in Colombia’s off-grid, rural regions. Already, the combined efforts from these organizations are making a significant impact on students, teachers and entire communities.

For instance, as part of a larger initiative “to develop renewable energy projects” in rural Colombian communities, USAID stepped in to help repair San Antonio’s hydropower plant, install supplementary renewable energy infrastructure and provide solar lamps for teachers’ home use. As one teacher noted, access to a solar lamp allowed him to prepare for classes at night, leading to more interactive classroom time. He also noted that, as a result of USAID’s interventions, children did not need to spend as much time gathering wood for energy, allowing them to devote more time to their studies. Overall, USAID’s interventions aim to reach more than 13,000 inhabitants across rural Colombia.  

Impact on Local Economies 

Implementing renewable energy production methods in rural Colombian communities could also contribute to poverty reduction by improving local economies. In addition to reducing energy consumption and costs, renewable energy can help create sustainable income opportunities, ensure environmental preservation, enhance efficiency and improve the quality of life in rural, off-grid communities. 

For example, a common rice-drying practice involves laying rice out in the open, and this exposes the grains to animals who might consume it before it dries completely and is ready for sale. To address this issue, USAID is working to implement solar-powered grain dryers in communities that rely upon rice for income and sustenance. The initiative will allow for more efficient grain processing, minimizing product losses and allowing local economies to grow with increased production and sales of rice. As the rural development specialist of the USAID project summarized, this approach represents “rural development from the starting point of clean energy.”

Looking to the Future

Despite the inordinate poverty that Colombia’s rural communities face, such initiatives demonstrate how reliable access to renewable energy resources can help mitigate poverty and its many effects. Across these communities, the effective implementation and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructure could reduce energy and education-related inequality, foster growth in local economies through increased productivity and alleviate the disparities caused by geographic isolation.

– Ada Rose Wagar
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in ColombiaIn the past decade, the nation of Colombia has made great changes to the way that it obtains energy. These changes have allowed the country to become more reliant on its abundant renewable water resources. Today, Columbia relies heavily on hydroelectric power; so much so that it accounts for 65% of its annual energy consumption. During 2010, Colombia saw higher growth than any other country in the use of renewable energy. This is because of the transition to hydropower, with renewable energy generation at 2,543 MW. However, though hydroelectric power accounts for much of the energy production in the country, Columbia also has an abundance of other potential sources, including solar power, biomass and wind. This abundance of renewable energy in Colombia may become necessary in the years to come.

Wind Energy

Wind energy opportunities are extremely abundant in Colombia. Many experts have come to the conclusion that wind energy could sustain Colombia’s current total consumption. One area of Colombia, called La Guajira, is known for its extremely high wind speeds. This region on its own has the potential to provide an estimated capacity of 21GW. Colombia’s first wind farm is actually located in this area. It is possible that more could be installed to increase the potential of wind energy.


Biomass is another potential source of renewable energy in Columbia. Due to the large agricultural sector within the nation, there are large amounts of agricultural waste that could be used to generate energy. For example, coffee is the largest agricultural export in Colombia, providing one-fourth of agricultural jobs within Colombia. Bananas and rice are important agricultural products as well;  overall, about 2 million metric tons of bananas and 1.8 million of rice are produced annually. These staple crops create large amounts of agricultural waste, which gives Columbia the potential to create biomass projects that could convert that waste into energy.

The Negatives of Reliance on Hydropower

Renewable energy in Colombia is clearly abundant. Yet, the country is extremely reliant on mostly hydropower. Part of the reason for this preference is due to a 1990s privatization act in Colombia, which led to about 50% of the hydropower production converting to private ownership. However, the use of alternate renewable energy might prove essential to the future of Colombia’s energy.

According to Energy Transition, Colombia’s reliance on hydropower could have negative outcomes. Just like other forms of energy, hydropower can have an invasive effect on the environment: dams that are used to generate hydropower can detrimentally impact various ecosystems, and even cause floods – such as the Hidroituango hydropower plant, which majorly flooded in 2018 and severely impacted the surrounding environment.

About 27% of people in Colombia live in poverty, and that number grows to 36% for those living in more rural locations. Additionally, impoverished and developing nations are often more negatively impacted by natural disasters than other nations. These statistics place impoverished Colombians at a great disadvantage if hydropower triggers any other large-scale environmental event; thus, diversification of energy resources is necessary.

While hydropower has done some good, renewable energy in Colombia still has the potential to be expanded. It can protect important ecosystems and prevent those living in poverty from natural disasters that can be prevented. Renewable energy in Colombia can accomplish this all while paving the way for increased reliance on clean energy.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Unsplash