This week members of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy team traveled to Barbados to participate in the Mobilization Forum in support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat’s Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy Initiative (C-SERMS). It was an opportunity for various projects to share their respective final results related to the larger C-SERMS platform. It was also a chance for international donors and project developers to take initial steps in exploring potential follow-up work. In the words of Ambassador Joan Underwood of Antigua and Barbuda, “This is kind of like speed dating. We’re not looking for a full on proposal, just trying to see if a pair might be interested in a second date.” While no “second date” officially materialized, those in attendance were very clear that the steps CARICOM member states are taking show real promise in creating a more secure and sustainable energy sector in the region and that strong interdependence will be necessary for that progress to continue.

Worldwatch staff at the Mobilization Forum. From left to right: Alexander Ochs, Senator Darcy Boyce (Energy Minister of Barbados), Evan Musolino, Mark Konold.

In March, our team presented the rough draft of the Phase 1 report at a special meeting of CARICOM’s Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED). Since then our team has finished the final deliverable report with some bold but achievable targets for the region. Worldwatch surmises that by 2027, renewable energy can account for 47 percent of electricity generation, energy intensity can be reduced by 33 percent, and emissions from the power generation sector can be reduced by 46 percent. The forum then gave Worldwatch an opportunity to demonstrate for high-level decision makers in the energy industry what it sees as important short, medium, and long-term actions that can be taken to begin achieving these targets.

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Caribbean, CARICOM, EU 20/20/20 policy, renewable energy, renewable energy policy

Globally, new investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2012. But in Latin America and the Caribbean (not including Brazil), it grew at a remarkable rate of 127 percent, totaling US$4.6 billion. This was the opening context for the 3rd Annual Renewable Energy Finance Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean (REFF-LAC), held this week in Miami, Florida. The yearly event, coordinated by Euromoney Energy Events, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and the Latin America and Caribbean Council on Renewable Energy (LAC-CORE), aims to connect developers and investors who can continue fostering the strong investment climate for renewables that is happening in the region.

LAC-CORE president, Carlos St. James, speaking at the 3rd Annual REFF-LAC conference. (Photo credit: Mark Konold)

Presenters included project developers, financiers, and government officials, all of whom had experiences to share about what’s working in the region. In some places, like Chile and Peru, project tendering is working to advance renewable energy deployment. In the Caribbean, mechanisms such as net metering and feed-in tariffs are still the preferred approach to fostering renewables development. Many presenters stressed that the key to continued success in the region is the political will that creates an environment conducive to successful renewable energy investment. They also highlighted how projects become more attractive the less they have to rely on subsidies or other support mechanisms.

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Caribbean, Central America, developing countries, energy, energy efficiency, energy security, finance, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable development

With Chavez gone, what will become of his PetroCaribe program? Photo credit: Valter Campanato, Agencia Brasil

Among the questions arising after the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is what will become of the PetroCaribe program he started in 2005 and upon which many Caribbean economies have become dependent. Since it began, PetroCaribe has become a much-needed lifeline to countries in the region that are overly reliant on fossil fuel imports to supply their energy and transportation sectors. However, it has also increased the unsustainable debt levels of these countries. What comes next is uncertain as Venezuela prepares to elect Chavez’ successor as president of Venezuela next month.

Chavez started PetroCaribe with the aim of helping neighboring countries bear the burden of oil dependence at a time when oil prices began to rise sharply. Touted on its Web site as a “shield against misery,” the program allows participating Caribbean countries to purchase Venezuelan oil under preferential conditions. At the outset, 50 percent of the payment was due within 90 days with the remainder being financed over an extended period, sometimes up to as long as 25 years. The interest charged on the balance was at 2 percent but fell to 1 percent once oil surpassed US$40 per barrel.

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Caribbean, Caribbean Sustainable Energy, Climate Change, Dominican Republic, fossil fuels, Haiti, Jamaica, Low-Carbon Development, renewable energy, south america, sustainable development, Sustainable Energy Roadmaps, Venezuela

CARICOM's Energy Programme Manager Joseph Williams with Worldwatch Institute Program Manager Mark Konold and Research Associates Evan Musolino and Katie Auth.

In the face of the many challenges inherent in getting 15 countries—each with their own resources, priorities, and political complexities—to agree to anything, let alone a comprehensive regional energy policy, the Caribbean is now on the brink of taking a significant (and impressive) step forward. For the past half decade, a Draft Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Energy Policy—designed to address critical issues like energy security, affordability, energy efficiency, and renewable energy—has been circulating among CARICOM’s 15 member states, continually being revised to reflect the concerns of individual members, but never finalized.

Last week, a team from Worldwatch joined CARICOM Prime Ministers, Energy Ministers, government representatives, technical experts, and international organizations in Trinidad & Tobago for the Forty-First Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). On March 1, after more than five years of lengthy deliberation, delegates at the event provisionally adopted both the Draft Energy Policy and Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Targets for the region, marking an important step forward in the development of renewable energy and energy cooperation in the Caribbean.

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Caribbean, CARICOM, energy, energy policy, energy security, low-carbon, renewable energy, Trinidad and Tobago

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.

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Caribbean, developing countries, development, electricity, energy, energy policy, Haiti, low-carbon, renewable energy

Last month, Jamaica’s electricity regulator, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), released recommendations for the country’s anticipated electricity wheeling program. Electricity wheeling has been proposed in Jamaica as a way to promote distributed power generation, especially from renewable energy sources. Under the proposed wheeling program, a company or individual could generate electricity in one part of the country and pay the grid operator – the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) – a fee to transport that power to another location where it will be used.

Wind power in Jamaica. Photo credit: Mark Konold.

Wind power in Jamaica. Photo credit: Mark Konold.

Because JPS currently has a monopoly on electricity transmission and distribution on the island, a company would only be able to send electricity over the grid to be consumed at a location that it also owns. For example, a sugar company that generates electricity at a sugar refinery using bagasse can send excess power to its offices in Kingston to avoid paying high electricity bills there, but cannot sell electricity to another entity.

Several of Jamaica’s large energy consumers are considering participating in the forthcoming wheeling program to support investments in renewable energy. Hotel chain Sandals)the Caribbean’s largest poultry producer Jamaica Broilers and the National Water Commission, the largest single electricity consumer in the country, all have plans to wheel solar power. A National Irrigation Commission project using wind energy to power irrigation pumps also wants to participate in the program.

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Caribbean, Jamaica, renewable energy, Sustainable Energy Roadmaps

The DR’s National Energy Commission leads by example using Net Metering to reduce monthly bills. This solution also provides surplus renewable energy to the grid, reducing the country’s total amount of fossil fuel-based energy.

Since October 2012, the energy sector in the Dominican Republic has been in the spotlight as a result of President Danilo Medina’s efforts to deal with the country’s larger fiscal crisis. Over the years, decisions made within the sector have led to an unsustainable level of debt, poorly maintained infrastructure, and a reliance on fossil fuels that, in 2010, cost the government US$2.6 billion.

With all of this attention, the opportunity exists to overhaul the floundering electricity sector and bring it in line with the country’s vision of a sustainable future. The Dominican Republic has a stated goal of obtaining 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. And at the recent United Nations climate talks in Doha, Qatar, Mr. Omar Ramirez, Executive Vice-President of the Dominican National Council for Climate Change and the Clean Development Mechanism (CNCCMDL), said the country will reduce its carbon emissions 25 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

These are ambitious targets for a country that relies on fossil fuels for more than 90 percent of its primary energy. But they can be achieved if decision makers seize this moment and embrace new thinking. It will not be enough to just add more generating capacity to the mix. Real reform will come when subsidies not longer hide the true cost of fossil fuel use, when renewable energy promotion is prioritized, and when energy sector agencies are structured in a way that provides transparency and accountability and is in line with stated long-term energy goals.

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Caribbean, Climate Change, developing countries, Dominican Republic, electricity, emissions reductions, energy policy, energy security, renewable energy, sustainable development

Jamaica's current generation mix is heavily oil-dependent. New energy policies call for diversification.

Jamaica is hostage to oil and needs to diversify its energy mix. Astoundingly, in 2010, the country’s oil imports exceeded its exported goods in value by 118 percent. Like most Caribbean island nations, Jamaica has limited domestic fossil fuels and relies heavily on outside sources to meet its energy needs. In 2010, it imported 20.5 million barrels of oil at US$1.62 billion, representing 11.6 percent of GDP.

The electricity sector accounts for 32.4 percent of Jamaican oil consumption and is the country’s second largest oil consumer, after transport. Ninety-five percent of domestic installed capacity is oil-based, compared with only 5 percent for renewables. As a result, the electricity sector is heavily susceptible to oil price fluctuations, and as prices rise, the country needs to look to other energy sources to provide power. 

In 2010, Jamaica elaborated a new energy policy that includes long-term targets for fuel diversification and renewable energy use. The plan stipulates that by 2030, the primary energy mix should include a 70 percent non-oil-based supply. Options include natural gas as well as a range of renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, and biomass.

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Caribbean, electricity, energy, Jamaica, natural gas, renewable energy

The Dominican Republic faces many challenges. Some are easier to solve than others.

Danilo Medina was sworn in as the new president of the Dominican Republic in August 2012. Two months into his presidency, he is choosing to address some significant financial challenges that have plagued the Caribbean nation for years. Among them is the state of the country’s electricity system. This vital sector faces a staggering US$700 million shortfall, soaring levels of technical losses and electricity theft, as well as recurring outages. Meanwhile, paying customers suffer painfully high electricity prices.

In recent weeks, President Medina (or “Danilo” as he is referred to locally) made headlines when he announced a sweeping tax reform to help address the government’s budget woes. The electricity sector will be spared from new taxes, but Danilo is calling for an overhaul of its structure, including a controversial call to renegotiate the contract between the government (responsible for transmission and distribution) and generators ahead of the contract’s expiration. Industry professionals, on the other hand, think that addressing the persistent issues of losses and poor bill collection, and substantial investment in generating capacity, would go farther to right the ship.

In truth, a combination of these factors contributes to the debt that the Dominican Corporation of State Electricity Companies (CDEEE) now faces. After a recent visit to the island nation, representatives with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded that the country’s electricity sector should focus on investing in the electricity grid to reduce technical losses and address the high levels of electricity theft nationwide, both of which result in more than 40 percent system loss. Equally important is the fact that distributors currently collect less than 60 percent of what customers owe them.

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Caribbean, Dominican Republic, electricity, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, renewable energy

Despite its small size and population, Belize is one of the most culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse countries in Central America. As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as well as the Central American Integration System (SICA), it is the only Central American country with strong ties to both the Caribbean and Latin America. In the initial phase of our project in the region, the Worldwatch Institute is assessing the existing barriers to and opportunities for a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable energy system in Belize—an outcome that could connect these two neighboring yet culturally distinct communities and provide tangible benefits to both.

Source: Public Utilities Commission of Belize

With a population of only 350,000 and a national economy of US$1.5 billion in 2011, Belize does not consume large amounts of energy. Peak electricity demand in 2010 was 80.6 megawatts (MW), well below the U.S. state of Vermont’s peak energy demand of 953 MW in 2011. Belize’s low energy consumption makes it a suitable location for further development of clean, indigenous energy sources.

Currently, Belize depends heavily on foreign energy sources. In 2010, the country imported more than a third of its electricity from the Mexican power provider, Comisión Federal de Electricidad. In addition, Belize spent approximately $129 million, or 18.2 percent of its total import expenditures, on imported fuels. Not only has this raised energy prices for consumers, but if Belize continues to rely largely on imports to meet its energy demand, it will be highly susceptible to fluctuations on the international market. The Belizean government must explore other, local energy resources to strengthen and stabilize the country’s energy sector.

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Belize, Caribbean, Central America, developing countries, development, energy, low-carbon, renewable energy, sustainable development