July 14, 2020

Watch: Power Players: Fueling Latin America's Future

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

In fall 2019, nine Latin American and Caribbean countries announced a collective target of 70 percent renewable energy use by 2030 (more than double the percentage of the European Union's commitment). Latin America is known for its oil and gas deposits, but that hasn't stopped the region from developing one of the world's most formidable renewable energy sectors.

At this June 2020 event organized by the Duke University Energy Initiative and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke, three experts on Latin American energy policy analyzed key lessons from the region's renewable energy experiments.

Dr. Christine Folch talked about the development (and future) of the Itaipu Dam, the world's single largest renewable energy producer and the subject of her recent book recent book Hydropolitics: The Itaipu Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America (Princeton University Press, 2019). Dr. Stephanie Friede examined wind energy development in Southern Mexico, and Odette Rouvet identified factors that have helped shape renewable energy policy in Latin America and outlined the opportunities and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panelists emphasized the importance of integrating socio-political inquiry and analysis when assessing the feasibility of renewable energy projects or making decisions about project management. In many cases, the experts noted, the social, economic, and political context of a project is even more complex than the physics that makes its engineering possible—and is no less critical to its ultimate success.


Christine Folch serves as assistant professor of cultural anthropology and holds a secondary appointment as assistant professor of environmental science and policy at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the City University of New York and her B.A. in history (cum laude) from Harvard College. Prior to teaching at Duke, Folch served on the faculty of Wheaton College (Illinois). Her first book, Hydropolitics: The Itaipu Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America (Princeton University Press, 2019), is an in-depth look at the people and institutions connected with the Itaipu Dam, the world's biggest producer of renewable energy on the Paran√° River border of Brazil and Paraguay. Folch has written extensively on water, energy, and sovereignty in South America, as well as cuisine and culture. Her current research projects include how U.S. evangelicals "care for creation" and respond to environmental devastation as an act of faith and a cultural history of yerba mate, a popular South American stimulating drink.

Stephanie Friede (PhD '18) is a cultural anthropologist currently working as a teacher-scholar postdoctoral fellow in the Wake Forest University Department of Engineering. Her scholarship and teaching are located at the intersection of science and technology studies, environmental humanities, and the politics of energy and infrastructure development in Latin America. In her book manuscript, "Atmospheric Pressure: An Ethnography of Wind, Turbines, and Zapotec Life in Southern Mexico," Friede explores the politics of renewable energy in Southern Mexico, which have led to huge profits for some, largely at the expense of Oaxaca's indigenous Zapotec peoples. Her research seeks to complicate narratives promising technological fixes alone can solve the complex problems emerging from the burning of fossil fuels. Friede's work is motivated by the conviction that long-term interdisciplinary research can help the world address global climate change. She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University in May 2018. 

Odette Rouvet (MIDP '18) is a Paris-based public policy specialist on energy, environment, and climate change issues. A Mexican born in Cancun, Rouvet has spent much of the last decade working on environmental issues in Latin America and the Caribbean through positions in government, nongovernmental organizations, and as a private sector consultant. Rouvet earned a master's degree in international development from the Duke Center for International Development at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. As a Duke student, she was an International Rotary Peace Fellow, developing skills in conflict analysis, negotiation, and mediation. She also collaborated with Dr. Christine Folch (Cultural Anthropology) on research concerning the Itaipu Dam in Paraguay and Brazil, including opportunities and challenges for regional collaboration on energy, sustainability, development, and climate change issues. Rouvet earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the Instituto Tecnol√≥gico Aut√≥nomo de M√©xico.

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