Empower the Caribbean! Reflections on CREF 2011

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at this year’s Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF), held in Bridgetown, Barbados. The two-day conference was a uniquely productive session that brought together more than 300 participants from 37 countries, including 11 government ministers. The exceptional vigor that the conference brought to the discussion was facilitated by a format that prioritized open, free form discussion over prepared remarks. I spoke on the last panel of the conference which analyzed the progress, problems and prospects of renewable energy development in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I had the pleasure of being joined by technical specialists and representatives from both countries’ governments and the World Bank. I would especially like to highlight the contributions of our dear friend, Julián Despradel, whose work as the Coordinator of the Projects Division, in the Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency Department of the Dominican Republic, I greatly admire.

Dominican Republic Wind Resource Assessment at 80 meters (Source: 3TIER).

I used my opportunity to speak to introduce a few insights contained in our solar and wind power roadmap for the Dominican Republic; the roadmap will be officially launched in November in Santo Domingo. While not without its challenges, the Dominican Republic has tremendous potential to exploit its rich solar and wind resources. Average Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI, a measure of solar radiation potential applicable to solar photovoltaic technologies) across the country ranges from 210 to 250 watts per square meter, a figure comparable to the American Southwest and superior to those of the Mediterranean coast and East Asia, where solar power penetration is currently highest globally. While solar potential is greatest in the country’s southwest, the two most populated cities, Santo Domingo and Santiago, also compare strongly with global averages. The country’s west has demonstrable wind energy potential; our study identified six provinces and 78 sites that are particularly promising.

Global Horizontal Irradiance in Santo Domingo (Source: 3TIER).

Inefficiencies in the current national grid necessitate investment to improve its reach and capacity, and to curtail transmission and distribution losses. However, the declining costs of both wind and solar technologies make the promotion of decentralized energy generation particularly attractive. Many private homes, businesses and tourist resorts already keep backup generators. The challenge then is to create an environment that encourages the implementation of renewable technologies. The government has adopted a great framework for action (one that is “long, loud and legal”) and many positive policies. But only the full implementation and better administration of these support mechanisms will bring renewables to their full potential. Other recommendations include a one stop window for project developers and investors to reduce bureaucratic hurdles, greater outreach to the private and financial sectors to improve buy in, and the creation of new, more attractive credit lines.

I left the conference thoroughly enriched and extremely hopeful. My interactions with its many committed and forward-thinking participants give me reason to believe that the future of renewable energy in the Caribbean is more promising than ever. This is good news because there will be no sustained economic development and improvement of the quality of life for the Caribbean people without the creation of a sustainable energy system built on renewable, domestic energy production, greater efficiency and smart grid solutions. Worldwatch has posted video clips from my panel to the website: of my opening remarks, of Julián’s remarks, and of a bit of the discussion. Click through to view. I am eagerly anticipating next year’s CREF conference for another chance to discuss, debate and develop ideas with the region’s policymakers.

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