Penn’s Top Energy Prize Celebrates Uruguay’s Climate Ambition

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce this year’s recipient of its 2023 Carnot Prize: Ramón Méndez Galain, physicist, renewable energy visionary, and Uruguay’s former secretary of energy.

On October 2, Méndez will accept the Carnot Prize at a ceremony in the Energy Forum of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy on Penn campus.

During his tenure, Méndez transitioned the country away from fossil fuels and toward a diverse mix of wind, solar, hydro, and other forms of clean energy. Because of his plan, 98% of Uruguay’s electricity today is generated with renewable energy, and Uruguay is one of the most electrified countries in the Western Hemisphere—with 99.9% of its homes connected to the electric grid.

“Disruptive change is not possible without knowledge and innovation. We had to innovate in planning, in operation, in market design, and even in governance. I understand that this Carnot Prize is a recognition of those collective academic efforts to develop and implement that new knowledge,” said Méndez.

Méndez is known for designing policies that cross party lines. In 2010, he worked closely with then-president José Mujica to successfully win opposition approval for an ambitious national renewable energy plan.

Together Mujica and Méndez knew that governments come and go, but the country’s energy policies would need staying power to attract investment and support buildout. Méndez offered investors long-term contracts with fixed rates, eventually drawing in $8 billion in renewable project support.

The Carnot Prize is the university’s recognition of those who make distinguished contributions to energy policy. Over the past eight years, the prize has become perhaps the most notable annual recognition of energy policy impact by leaders around the world and across all sectors.

“Climate research and action on a global scale are essential to our shared future, and energy science and policy are the keystones,” said University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, who will present the prize in October. “As Secretary of Energy of Uruguay and as head of international efforts toward sustainable energy transitions, Dr. Méndez exemplifies everything the Carnot Prize seeks to elevate. As Penn continues its comprehensive academic efforts on these all-important fronts, we are proud to honor Dr. Méndez in this way.”

“We applaud Ramón Méndez for designing an energy system with much to teach us,” said Fritz Steiner, dean and Paley Professor at the Weitzman School of Design, home of the Kleinman Center. “His legacy reminds those of us in North America and Europe to look south, not just east and west, for inspiration.”

Méndez is the eighth recipient of the Carnot Prize, and joins a distinguished list of past winners, including: 

“Energy transitions happen when leaders combine scientific evidence with disruptive policies that spur action,” said Mark Alan Hughes, founding faculty director of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. “In Uruguay, Méndez also added a large dose of diplomacy—engaging disparate interests from many sectors. This was the key to success.”

About Ramón Méndez Galain. As Uruguay’s secretary of energy, Méndez led an unprecedented energy transformation, culminating in the country’s current mix of 98 percent renewables—including 40 percent from wind.

As Uruguay’s secretary of climate change, Méndez was the country’s chief negotiator for the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Soon after that, he was also listed in Fortune Magazine’s top 50 global leaders for showing the world that “it is possible to decarbonize an economy.”

Today, Méndez works to promote a sustainable transition throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, helping governments, the private sector, academia, and citizens lead the region toward a net-zero economy. He remains an active university professor, training young engineers and political scientists to become leaders in clean energy.

About the Carnot Prize. The Carnot Prize is named in memory of French scientist Sadi Carnot, the father of thermodynamics. Carnot recognized that the power of the steam engine would “produce a great revolution” in human development. The Carnot Prize honors those harnessing the power of energy to produce new revolutions in progress and prosperity.

About the Kleinman Center. As the world moves away from fossil fuels to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources, the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania drives policy innovations that support this transition. The center convenes students, faculty, and practitioners from all disciplines to explore complex challenges through research, courses, events, and hands-on learning. 

About the Weitzman School. The mission of the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design is to prepare students to address complex sociocultural and environmental issues through thoughtful inquiry, creative expression, and innovation. As a diverse community of scholars and practitioners, we are committed to advancing the public good—locally, nationally, and globally—through art, design, planning, and preservation.

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