Readying Colombia's Energy Sector Workforce

The USAID-NREL Partnership is part of a team supporting the government of Colombia in transforming its energy sector by providing comprehensive workforce training.

solar panels and wind generators under blue sky on sunset
Photo courtesy of iStock
To assist the government of Colombia in achieving its renewable energy integration targets, the USAID-NREL Partnership, in collaboration with other organizations, launched a comprehensive training program to enable Colombia's energy sector workforce to efficiently integrate growing volumes of variable renewable energy.

The development team includes NREL, the U.S. Agency for International Development Colombia Mission, USAID's Scaling Up Renewable Energy program implemented by Tetra Tech, and the U.S. Energy Association.

Workforce Training To Assist Colombia's Power Sector Transformation

Maximizing Impact through Inclusivity

Diversifying its energy mix to include more solar and wind renewable energy is a priority for Colombia, which is undergoing rapid transformation in its electricity sector as a result of changing economic, political, technological, and environmental conditions. Because the country depends on hydroelectricity for nearly 70% of its energy, dramatic shifts in rainfall such as the El Niño-induced droughts in 2016 led to rationing energy during peak hours. Further, coal and gas plants are paid a premium to operate during non-drought years to support the grid when hydro energy cannot.

Integracion eficiente de energias renovables variables al sistema Colombiano

To support Colombia's plans to transform its power sector, the team is developing a series of training modules designed to ready Colombia's energy sector workforce to participate in the construction, operation, and grid integration of variable renewable energy projects—such as wind and solar. Nearly 60 early-career professionals from over 20 organizations within the Colombian energy sector were selected to participate. The selection process focused on candidates who have the potential for future leadership roles, with an emphasis on the inclusion of women.

The seven training modules were originally designed to be presented in-person in Colombia; however, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the team swiftly reimagined and reformatted them into a robust online curriculum that includes both recorded presentations from leading energy experts plus virtual collaboration and discussion among participants. The program's added focus on promoting women's participation is designed to build strong skills related to the technical, economic, regulatory, and policy elements of Colombia's clean energy transition.

Topics covered include:

  • Future trends for solar and wind integration
  • Policy and planning for efficient integration of variable renewable energy (VRE)
  • The economics of VRE
  • Distribution sector planning for VREs
  • Implementing a resilient system with increased volume of VRE
  • Electrification of the transportation sector and beneficial electrification of the economy
  • Leadership and change management.

Electrifying Peace Zones

In addition to building capacity through workforce trainings, the USAID-NREL Partnership team will also provide support for a key aspect of the program focused on providing electricity to 117 communities identified within Colombia's ratified peace zones. The goal of this project is to increase the productive use of electricity in these areas via reliable, constant power and clean energy microgrids.

A Second Phase of Collaboration

Engagement with the government of Colombia began in 2017, when the USAID-NREL Partnership, U.S. Energy Association, and USAID's Scaling Up Renewable Energy program provided support for the design, preparation, and implementation of international renewable energy auction mechanisms to develop large-scale solar and wind energy resources and assign long-term power purchase contracts. 

NREL participated in a series of working sessions with the Colombian Commission for the Regulation of Energy and Gas to discuss how to structure the auction in the Colombian context. The sessions were key to allaying regulatory fears about the auction. NREL also worked with XM, the system operator, to discuss the best ways to integrate variable renewable energy in the future.

In February 2019, Colombia carried out its reliability auction and in October 2019, its first solar and wind power procurement auction. The two auctions resulted in a total of 2.5 gigawatts of new solar and wind projects to be in operation by 2023, which will allow the government of Colombia to surpass its initial goal. The government of Colombia then announced it would increase its goal of increasing the share of solar and wind integration to 20% by 2030. As such, the government of Colombia is considering and developing supportive policies, regulations, programs, and initiatives to successfully meet their renewable energy targets.

Colombia's Power Sector Transformation Videos

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