Hydropower, The Clean Motor Of Latin America's Energy Future

Brazil's Itaipu dam illuminated
Brazil's Itaipu dam illuminated
Mauricio Garrón


LA PAZ — As it stands now, half of Latin America's power is generated by hydroelectricity, an energy source that is also of vital importance worldwide, producing more electricity than all renewables combined.

Hydropower is especially beneficial for countries that depend on global commodity prices — particularly with regards to oil, natural gas and coal — as it allows for deeper and more affordable energy independence. It is also why Latin America currently has the world's cleanest energy matrix.

In addition, hydroelectricity projects provide important investment opportunities in the region. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2035, Latin America's hydroelectric power grid will add 277 gigawatts of installed capacity at a cost of more than $250 billion.

This is a challenge for the public sector and a great opportunity for the private sector, which is gradually increasing its investment share in renewable energies and has already become a crucial financing component in the Latin American electrical market. Public-private partnership schemes must ultimately play an important role in bringing about these future projects and investments.

Latin America is well suited for hydropower. It has five of the world's most important rivers (the Amazon, Orinoco, Río Negro, Paraná and Río Madera), three of the world's biggest lakes and, in Brazil alone, a fifth of the planet's water resources. Brazil, in fact, is the world's second leading producer of hydroelectric power after China. And there's lots more power here that has yet to be tapped. Experts say that Latin American has so far developed just 20% of its total hydroelectric capacity.

The mighty Amazon — Photo: Wallygrom

Demand for electricity is rising in Latin America. And it must be met — with a safe and stable power supply of power, but with less reliance on fossil fuels. That's why hydroelectricity is so key. But there's a catch. For hydropower projects to really work, they must be done in a sustainable way.

This remains one of Latin America's greatest challenges, given the need to consider both economic, and environmental and social factors. It is essential, therefore, that all country's in the region join forces to face the challenges together. Only that way can we all benefit from this power source.

The good news is that we already have positive examples to draw upon. The Itaipú hydroelectric plant, for example, with a generating capacity of 14,000 megawatts, is able to supply around 17% of the electricity consumed in Brazil and 76% of the power needed in Paraguay. It has become an example of how to manage and improve the environment in which it functions, and is considered one of the world's top clean-energy projects.

Along those same lines, the Andean Development Corporation – Development Bank of Latin America, or CAF, as it's known, is working with national and regional authorities on a project to boost sustainable use of the region's water resources. The program helps countries identify untapped water resources, plan sustainable power projects, and improve and/or rehabilitate existing power plants to prolong their shelf-lives.

The message, looking forward, must be clear: We must work together to assure a stable and sustainable energy supply that will benefit all Latin Americans and ensure competitive use of our resources.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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