A Framework for Haiti’s Energy Future

A team of Worldwatch researchers spent last week in Haiti meeting with energy sector stakeholders and visiting important energy project sites. The stakeholder meetings were incredibly enlightening and we learned a great deal about the obstacles to achieving improved and more widespread energy services throughout the country.

One successful energy project in Haiti is the solar installation on the roof of Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais. (Photo Credit: Matt Lucky)

Overall, there are a lot of determined people doing great work in Haiti, with the hope that they can improve the energy sector, including helping to expand electricity services beyond the 25 percent of the population that currently receives these services. A major barrier to expanded energy services, however, and something that was a common theme throughout our stakeholder meetings, is that Haiti currently lacks a clear and long-term energy framework.

While many energy plans have been developed by various government agencies, institutions, and consultancies, they remain interim, uncoordinated, and lack a common vision. As a result, plans often go unfulfilled or only accomplish isolated goals on a short-term basis. It is true that Haiti needs plans that can provide rapid results, as it is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake and dealing with a number of other urgent, immediate challenges. However, Haiti is also in dire need of long-term and stable infrastructure development that will help it to prosper in the future, and a forward-thinking energy framework will go a long way in helping Haiti to accomplish this goal.

An energy framework must address the energy needs of an entire country, and this framework should be guided by a long-term energy vision. Therefore, it is important that sector ministers and industry leaders come together to outline their future energy needs. Without input from leaders from all sectors within Haiti, any energy vision would be incomplete. Worldwatch, for that reason, believes it is vital that ministers and industry leaders work together to outline, communicate, and coordinate their own respective long-term goals. Only then can there be an open conversation about what energy infrastructure Haiti will need to accomplish those goals.

With a clearer vision for future energy needs, Haiti can then move forward and develop a long-term energy framework. While this framework will be guided largely by a strengthened and more forward-looking energy vision, Worldwatch, in consultation with partners in Haiti, already envisions the following five major pillars for this framework, targeted to address Haiti’s major energy challenges including a poor electrification rate, deforestation, unreliable electricity services, and expensive energy.

  • Energy governance: Institutional structures either do not exist or are ineffective. The country needs a legal framework comprising offices such as a Managing Department, a Regulator, and an Office for Rural Electrification. An Office for Rural Electrification is especially important since there is a risk that certain urban centers like Port-au-Prince, Cape Haitien, Jacmel, and Les Cayes will advance while rural areas are left behind.
  • Biomass: Efforts here will have to focus on fuel substitution, efficiency, alternative livelihoods, and creating industries that help to provide local energy needs. Fuel substitution is important since Haiti’s dependence on charcoal and fuelwood has led to deforestation of 97 percent of the country. Substitution could be done with briquettes, bagasse, sweet sorghum, and/or jatropha oil. Many people’s livelihoods depend on the charcoal and fuelwood industries, so finding suitable biomass substitutions that provide similar jobs and economic opportunities is important.
  • The Peligre Hydroelectric Plant is the largest power plant in Haiti and generates around 15 percent of Haiti's electricity. The dam comprises the majority of renewable energy generation in the country, but maintenance issues have led to an overall decline in total renewable generating capacity. (Photo Credit: Matt Lucky)

    Electricity: The state utility needs to become more financially viable and electricity services need to be provided to a greater part of the population. A reduction in losses and theft are linked to this problem and must be a priority. There also needs to be a focus on commercial sustainability, and while generation has been open to competition since 1989, further electricity sector reform needs to happen.

  • Hydrocarbon Management: Despite the critical importance and advantages of renewable development, it is inevitable that hydrocarbons will continue to play a significant role in Haiti’s energy matrix for some time. Fossil fuel imports are crucial to Haiti’s electricity supply, but right now, the country is far too susceptible to supply disruptions and high costs, with major implications for energy security. Liquefied Natural Gas can provide an alternative source of energy, but much of that will be determined by how much it costs to supply it there. Current fossil fuel infrastructure can also serve as a back-up to promising solar and wind resources.
  • Renewable Energy: Haiti needs to develop hydro, solar, wind, and biomass resources. Several areas in Haiti have tremendous wind potential that could be used for utility generation. Likewise, solar potential is great throughout the country and can be one solution to Haiti’s rural electrification needs. Political and financial barriers, however, will need to be identified and overcome to take advantage of these resources.

Worldwatch remains committed to helping stakeholders in Haiti to form an energy framework. The Institute believes that its technical analysis of renewable energy potentials throughout the country, economic analysis of cost effective resources, and policy analysis of laws and institutional structures will help to move this process ahead. Many stakeholders in Haiti are frustrated with the lack of implementation of energy plans. Worldwatch believes that an energy framework guided by a robust long-term vision will facilitate implementation going forward.

Matt Lucky is a Climate & Energy Research Associate at Worldwatch Institute.

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