Central America is an economically and ecologically diverse region with growing energy needs and unique vulnerabilities to climate change. Boosting investment in renewable energy is a key way that the region can protect its ecologically sensitive areas while achieving reliable access to clean energy for its population. In Central America, the top four renewable energy sources are geothermal, hydroelectricity, biomass, and wind. The relative importance of each renewable resource is different for each country depending on the geographical and geological situation. The Worldwatch Institute has recently begun work aimed at creating a favorable policy and investment environment for renewable energy in Central America.

Globally, the electricity sector is one of the largest and fastest-growing consumers of energy.  It is therefore important

The BELCOGEN bagasse plant in Orange Walk, Belize.

The BELCOGEN bagasse plant in Orange Walk, Belize. Photo Credit: Belize News

to consider the role of state and private utility companies in transitioning Central America to renewable energy sources. One of these companies, BELCOGEN, a subsidiary of state owned Belize Electricity Ltd (BEL), has received enormous amounts of attention and praise due to its recent investment in a 31.5 megawatt (MW) biomass power plant fueled by bagasse. BEL invested US$63 million to create BELCOGEN and the bagasse project. The price tag has officially made the deal the largest private investment ever made in Belize. Originally, the project was scheduled to be completed in 2007 and the investment was much lower; however, the necessary investment grew as the scheduled date of completion was postponed, and the project was finally completed in 2009. The plant runs on a combination of 92 percent bagasse and 8 percent heavy fuel oil. BELCOGEN is contractually obligated to sell at least 106 gigawatt-hours (GWh) to BEL for the first year of operation, making the company the source of at least 20 percent of Belize’s national energy demand. The rest of the energy produced (up to 44GWh) will be sold to Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI).

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bagasse, BELCOGEN, Belize, biomass, Central America, developing countries, development, electricity, emissions reductions, energy security, renewable energy, sustainable development

As discussed in a previous blog, Haiti remains largely dependent on charcoal and fuelwood for its energy services. This reliance has contributed to Haiti’s remarkable level of deforestation – only three percent of its original forest cover remains – and has led the government to begin considering energy alternatives. Previously, I described the costs and benefits of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and other energy alternatives like efficient cookstoves and waste paper briquettes. Below is an examination of another energy source that has gained some footing in Haiti recently: the jatropha tree.

Jatropha seedlings at a pilot project in Haiti (Source: Chibas).

The jatropha tree can grow in arid climates with poor soil quality, making it very suitable for a country like Haiti that has largely deforested and degraded lands. One study estimates that 1.114 million hectares of jatropha production could meet Haiti’s entire energy demand, and since 500,000 hectares of degraded hillside are available for jatropha production in Haiti, it could realistically replace much of the country’s current charcoal consumption without displacing food crops.

Jatropha could prove to be a useful crop, especially in the Haitian context, because of its diverse services. In terms of the electricity and transportation sectors, with some processing, jatropha oil can be blended into biodiesel and used for power generation or fueling cars. Unprocessed jatropha vegetable oil could also be used to fuel kerosene lamps and could even power households or small community electricity generators with little to no alterations.

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biomass, Caribbean, electricity, energy policies, energy security, Haiti, jatropha, renewable energy, sustainable development

The Haitian government has identified energy as a key priority for the country’s future, providing direction for the Secretary of State for Energy to weigh various energy options. Previous posts have examined Haiti’s strong solar and wind generation potential. However, considering that only 5 percent of Haiti’s total primary energy is currently used for electricity production, it is extremely important to consider other energy uses.

An aerial view of the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right). Only 3 percent of Haiti's forest remains. The charcoal and fuelwood industries have contributed significantly to deforestation. (Photo source: NASA)

Haiti depends heavily on charcoal and fuelwood for cooking services. About 95 percent of Haiti’s 10 million people use these fuels for their daily cooking needs, and charcoal (39 percent) and fuelwood (32 percent) account for 71 percent of the country’s total energy consumption.

Unfortunately, Haiti remains one of the most deforested nations in the world, with only 3 percent of its original forest cover remaining. Since fuelwood and charcoal – simply the product of wood heated in an oxygen-free environment – are derived from the remaining forest cover, the current energy industry is clearly unsustainable and Haiti needs to find suitable replacements for these fuels in the near future. There are many alternative energy sources, but a robust analysis of the economic, environmental, and social consequences of each is necessary for making informed decisions regarding future energy development.

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biomass, charcoal, energy, energy policies, green economy, Haiti, jatropha, liquid petroleum gas, sustainable development
Source: Xinhua

Water hyacinths block transport vessel passage in the Pearl River.

Last month, the section of Pearl River running through the city of Guangzhou in China was rapidly invaded by an explosion of water hyacinths. After two days of intense skimming (455 tons of water hyacinths removed on the 17th and 495 tons on the 18th), the river was still not fully cleared. Last month’s rainfall washed the plants downriver causing them to accumulate in the slow-flowing estuary, a common occurrence in flood season. From April to June of this year, water hyacinths accounted for 80 percent of the 15,000 tons of floating rubbish collected by Guangzhou city.

Introduced to China in the 1960s, the water hyacinth is now widely distributed in nineteen provinces across the country.  Warming temperatures due to climate change have created favorable growing conditions for water hyacinths across most of China – plant mass can double in two weeks in water temperatures between 27 and 35 degrees Celsius. Floods of water hyacinths occur regularly in many important bodies of water, including Dianchi Lake and Yangtze River.

As an invasive species that multiplies rapidly, heavy infestations of water hyacinths have to be quickly removed from impacted water systems to prevent economic and environmental damage. While water hyacinths do remove nutrient pollutants (N, P, K, Mg, Cu, Zn, and Mn) from waters, outbreaks cover water surfaces and consume most of the dissolved oxygen leaving little for fish and other aquatic species, which die off as a result. Unless removed, water hyacinths release nutrient pollutants back into the water when they die. Massive outbreaks cause further economic harm by blocking water transportation.

Despite these serious drawbacks, water hyacinth invasions can be harnessed for environmental benefit and renewable energy production. Water hyacinths have high cellulose content, making them a potential renewable energy source. Currently however, technical and cost barriers have forestalled widespread development of this energy option.

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agriculture, biofuels, biogas, biomass, China, water
Weyerhaeuser Biomass CHP Plant

This Weyerhaeuser paper mill in Kentucky installed a highly efficient 88 MW biomass CHP system in 2001.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed revisions to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that would restrict the eligibility of wood-burning biomass electricity generators to qualify for renewable energy credits (RECs). The regulations are now being reviewed for comment by a committee within the state legislature and should go into effect early this summer.

The Massachusetts RPS requires that retail electricity suppliers within the state derive a certain share (6 percent in 2011, rising at 1 percent per year) of their power from renewable sources, either directly or through the purchase of RECs.

The proposed revision to the state RPS comes in response to an independent study by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), which found that large-scale biomass-fired electricity would result in a 3 percent increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 as compared with coal generation. Based on this finding, reliance on biomass to meet the RPS proves inconsistent with other state environmental priorities, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls for ambitious economy-wide GHG emission reductions of 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent reductions by 2050.

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biomass, Climate Policy, energy efficiency, RPS

Earlier this year The Worldwatch Institute went to Santo Domingo for the 2011 Caribbean Clean Energy Business Forum. Alexander Ochs, the Director of our Climate and Energy team, presented on our Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap methodology and upcoming work in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Other presenters included Rene Jean-Jumeau, the Coordinator of the Energy Sector Management Unit at the Haitian Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communications and one of our key partners in Haiti. He spoke about the Haitian energy system and the needs and opportunities for investment in renewable energy.

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biomass, Caribbean, Caribbean renewable energy, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Low-Carbon Development, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, low-carbon roadmap, renewable energy, small hydro, solar, wind

By Hans Kordik, Counselor for Agriculture and Environment, Austrian Embassy

The call for energy independence has been on the political agenda across the globe for many decades. While most countries share a growing energy demand, their reasons for looking to reduce energy dependency as well as their chosen strategies vary significantly.

In the U.S., the desire for energy independence had already emerged during the oil embargo of the early 70’s. Most of the State of the Union addresses since have elaborated on this objective. Just in the last Congress, the advocates of climate legislation defended their proposals not so much as mitigating emissions, but rather as finding a solution to the challenge of energy dependency. Even though all sides talk of energy independence as a worthy goal, since the early 70’s, the share of imported oil has nearly doubled in the United States.

Just like the U.S., Austria depends on energy imports in the form of fossil energy, primarily oil and natural gas. But Austria has been working hard to reduce its dependency. Nowhere is this effort, and its benefits, more evident than in the region of Güssing,

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Austria, biomass, embassy series, energy efficiency, energy security, green jobs, Gussing, municipal solid waste, renewable energy

Sunrise in Punta Cana

Worldwatch’s Energy and Climate team is busy implementing a one-year initiative, funded by the Energy and Environment Partnership with Central America (EEP), to develop a Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap for wind and solar power in the Dominican Republic. We will soon begin a similar project in Haiti and Jamaica and expand our work in the Dominican Republic to include other resources, including biomass, with the sponsorship of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

Through these initiatives, we are taking a holistic approach to documenting the potential for low-carbon development, which we believe will provide insights directly useful to policymakers and business leaders. The first half of the project has yielded good results, and we hope it will be the first of many such projects for our Caribbean Program.

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3TIER, biomass, BMU, Caribbean, Dominican Republic, EEP, Haiti, IKI, Jamaica, Low-Carbon Development, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, oil imports, REEEP, renewable energy, small hydro, solar, wind

Two recent studies lay out compelling scenarios under which virtually all of the world’s energy needs could be met with renewable energy sources by 2050. But despite their similar end goals, the energy futures foreseen in these two reports—published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a team of university scientists, respectively—are vastly different.

Wind turbine in South Africa

A wind turbine in South Africa. Will there be more of them in 2050?

WWF’s The Energy Report, published last week in collaboration with Ecofys, a Dutch think tank specializing in renewable energy, concludes that it is technologically and economically feasible for 95 percent of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2050. The authors argue that such a transformation would even be cheaper than relying on conventional, carbon-intense energy sources.

Meanwhile, Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi from the University of California at Davis have written an ambitious two-part paper titled “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power,” soon be published in Energy Policy. The study concludes that the electrification of all energy sectors can lead to a fully renewable energy supply by as early as 2030, or—if political and social obstacles are taken into account—by 2050.

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100% renewable energy, 2050, biomass, electrification, energy efficiency, pathway, renewable energy, stanford, study, The Energy Report, transformation, WWF