This week, Xing Fu-Bertaux and Matthew Lucky of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy team are meeting with senior policymakers and educators in Port-au-Prince at a high-level workshop on Haiti’s energy future. They will be writing an in-depth post about the conference for ReVolt next week. As part of our ongoing work in the Caribbean, Worldwatch is currently focusing on the electricity sector in Haiti and the development of a low-carbon growth strategy.
Haiti has a population of nearly 10 million with a significantly underdeveloped energy infrastructure. Over 70 percent of Haiti’s people have gone without access to the electricity grid for years. The 2010 earthquake further exacerbated Haiti’s infrastructure challenges, leaving over 80 percent of the population without access to electricity and the many vital services that require power. For those Haitians that do have electricity access, service is often intermittent and unreliable.
Haiti’s current predicament has received ample media exposure since the earthquake. Although international aid and emergency relief programs are providing invaluable support, they are only part of the answer. Haitian leaders are searching for long-term solutions that promote sustainability, growth, and access to electricity. The Haitian Parliament’s recent approval of Garry Conille, President Martelly’s appointment for Prime Minister, has provided a measure of direction for the public sector in pursuit of its development and reconstruction goals. In anticipation of this new government, energy professionals are eager to set Haiti on a sustainable growth trajectory. Earlier this week, Worldwatch researchers Xing Fu-Bertaux and Matthew Lucky joined decision makers from all over the country for a special two-day workshop in Port-au-Prince organized by Dr. René Jean-Jumeau, Presidential Advisor for Energy, to discuss ways in which they can work together to promote the Haitian energy sector. Energy policy, procurement, rural electrification, and sustainability received particular emphasis at the workshop.
As in many island nations, Haitian electricity consumers suffer from the high costs associated with a long-standing reliance on imported oil for generation. These high costs, as well as a lack of access to the grid, are major impediments to economic growth and the social wellbeing of Haitian communities. Haiti currently imports costly fossil fuels to generate roughly 65 percent of the country’s electricity. The cost of imported oil leaves Electricité d’Haiti’s (EDH), Haiti’s state-owned utility, with little resources to invest in infrastructure. Confronting these challenges will require a synthesis of various policy approaches, including regulatory development that enables concentrated investments in sustainable energy. The recent $35 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) grant for Haitian electricity infrastructure has come at an ideal time for the country to implement the systemic changes needed to improve the electricity sector. With funds delegated for both policy reforms and capacity building, this grant offers the Haitian government a prime opportunity to execute a holistic approach to developing and incorporating renewable energy. In particular, solar and wind-based generation used in micro-grid applications and distributed generation can offer solutions to Haiti’s grid insufficiency.
Several months ago, the Climate and Energy team began investigating the Haitian energy sector and the unique challenges Haiti faces as a developing island country. While attending the workshop, Xing and Matthew were invited to present our work on renewable energy as a supply option for Haiti’s energy sector. Haiti’s 2007-2017 Energy Sector Development Plan outlines a lack of data on solar potential as a barrier to solar energy development. With the support of our recently completed 3TIER renewable energy resource assessments, Xing and Matthew provided the needed solar data and laid out the many ways in which solar and other renewable energy opportunities can benefit the Haitian electricity sector, as well as the additional policies and financial mechanisms needed to realize that promise.
Worldwatch is committed to partnering with the Haitian people to maximize the country’s renewable energy potential. While Haiti’s lack of electricity infrastructure poses very real challenges for development, it can also been seen as an opportunity for the country to leapfrog more developed economies and invest in a sustainable and efficient electricity infrastructure. Wind potential near Lake Azuei and widely available solar irradiance are just two examples of how Haiti’s natural endowments allow for renewable energy to play a much larger role in the overall energy mix. However, none of these resources will be harnessed without a clear energy policy and strong engagement of the government. In his closing remarks to workshop participants, Dr. Jean-Jumeau, quoting Xing Fu-Bertaux, reiterated that “policy drives investment.” Moving forward from this successful workshop, Worldwatch will continue working with leaders in Haiti to develop policies and public incentives that attract investment and enable the country to take advantage of its renewable energy potential.