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

In sub-Saharan Africa, seven out of ten people lack reliable access to electricy. Energy poverty reduces the      quality of education, contributes to illness and disease, and severely hinders economic growth. Building a clean-energy future is a crucial first step to sustainable development. On a national level, unreliable energy systems cost economies one to two percent of their growth potential annually due to outages and the inefficient usage of already scarce resources. On an individual level, a lack of electricity makes it more difficult to increase literacy rates and expand access to clean cooking fuels.

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Energy officials in Rwanda and Nigeria – two countries that have demonstrated remarkable economic growth in recent years, but still rely heavily upon expensive and dirty fossil fuels – have expressed interest in bringing Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Roadmaps to their own countries. Investment in renewable energy and efficient electricity delivery systems will help these countries reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, give marginalized people access to modern energy services, reduce electricity prices, create jobs, and improve health and education services.

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developing countries, development, electricity, energy, Energy Access, energy poverty, Nigeria, Rwanda, sub-Saharan Africa, sustainable development

At the close of a summer in which environmental news was dominated largely by record temperatures, devastating drought in the U.S. Midwest, and lackluster progress at the Rio+20 summit, reasons for optimism can seem few and far between. But in two seemingly unlikely places—countries commonly (though simplistically) associated with poverty, ecological disaster, and violence—renewable energy projects are demonstrating their ability not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to power economic and social recovery.

Solar panels stacked on the roof of Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital. (Source: Partners in Health)

In both Haiti and Rwanda, recent stories of progress and achievement reveal how renewables are powering national development from the ground up.

Haiti: Building back better

In the wake of Haiti’s disastrous 2010 earthquake, which thrust the country once more into the international spotlight as tragic victim, the Haitian government and international organizations voiced the intention to “build back better.” The goal was to ensure that the post-earthquake rebuilding process focused not only on reconstructing fallen buildings, but on making sure that the country as a whole became more resilient.

According to the Haiti Regeneration Initiative, Haiti currently faces four major challenges: post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction; economic and social development; environmental stabilization and restoration; and increasing resilience against future hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, and economic shocks. A crucial element for achieving all four of these goals is the extension of affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity services.

The Haitian government recognizes the importance of electricity access. In January 2012, the government launched the Ban m limyè, Ban m lavi” (“Give me light, give me life”) program, an ambitious plan to extend electricity access to 200,000 rural households over the next two years. The program demonstrates an explicit commitment to making rural electrification a central component of the country’s broader development strategy.

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developing countries, development, energy, Haiti, renewable energy, Rwanda, solar power, sub-Saharan Africa

Total subsidies for renewable energy stood at $66 billion in 2010, but are still dwarfed by the total value of global fossil fuel subsidies estimated at between $775 billion and more than $1 trillion in 2012, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. Although the total subsidies for renewable energy are significantly lower than those for fossil fuels, they are higher per kilowatt-hour if externalities are not included in the calculations.

Estimates based on 2009 energy production numbers placed renewable energy subsidies between 1.7¢ and 15¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) while subsidies for fossil fuels were estimated at around 0.1–0.7¢ per kWh. Unit subsidy costs for renewables are expected to decrease as technologies become more efficient and the prices of wholesale electricity and transport fuels rise.

The production and consumption of fossil fuels add costs to society in the form of detrimental impacts on resource availability, the environment, and human health. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimates that fossil fuel subsidies cost the United States $120 billion in pollution and related health care costs every year. But these costs are not reflected in fossil fuel prices.

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developing countries, development, emissions reductions, energy, energy subsidies, fossil fuels, renewable energy, subsidies

Last week, I attended a Washington event on Arctic energy; I was hoping for some insights on the challenges ahead, namely greenhouse gas emissions, diplomatic tensions, and indigenous rights. Since Arctic exploitation hasn’t yet enjoyed a “Keystone XL” level of public attention, it seemed healthy to get some first-hand information from Arctic experts, as major oil players like Shell are getting closer to full-scale commercial exploitation. After all, a generation’s treasure chest often turns out to be another generation’s ticking bomb.

Instead, I ended up listening to lengthy presentations by analysts, consultants, fellows and executives talking about climate change “removing constraints”, “effective diplomatic work” being made, and “supply chain complexity” hampering the process, for a solid two hours. There’s a saying in the marketing industry that ‘eco-friendly’ should be the third button to push when advertising a product, after, say, affordability or quality. In this discussion, ‘eco-friendly’ was clearly the fourth or fifth button, if it was mentioned at all. One should have expected this, however, as the event invitation used no apparent irony when announcing in the same sentence that Arctic experts would examine “what nations can do to protect the environment andincrease production” (my emphasis).

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arctic, Climate Change, coal, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy security, low-carbon, peak oil, renewable energy, Unconventional oil, United States

Following up on the recent blog I wrote about low-lying island nations, I spent part of last week getting a more direct experience with one of these countries. The United States Institute of Peace welcomed former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed for a conference on Monday, June 25th in Washington, D.C. Nasheed was ousted last February by a coup under controversial circumstances. Though he expressed regret over losing the unique stature and influence he had as head of state, Nasheed is still extremely active in the country, pushing for new democratic elections and actively promoting “The Island President”, a documentary narrating his story and seeking to cast light on his unique fight for the survival of his country and the establishment of a functioning democracy after centuries of authoritarian rule.

“Anni”, as he is better known by people of the archipelago, has not left behind his ideals in the presidential office, particularly with regard to climate change. When he touched on the topic of climate change at last week’s conference, the former President called it, as he very often does, “a very serious issue happening right now.” With an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, and the world’s lowest natural peak at an astounding 2.4 meters, the archipelago is indeed at the forefront of climate disruption and sea-level rise. Attempting to shame the rest of the world into taking action to mitigate carbon emissions, in 2008 Nasheed launched an ambitious plan for carbon neutrality. The plan seemed achievable: it tapped into the archipelago’s ample wind and solar energy resources, completing the mix with biomass to meet the modest energy needs of this country of 400,000 people, which has a low reliance on electricity and (understandably) almost no cars. Even the country’s most prominent and energy-consuming economic sector, high-end tourism, started bringing itself up to speed. Nasheed’s government planned to offset aviation emissions, which make up the lion’s share of the archipelago’s carbon footprint,  by using the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme. Finally, as “The Island President” abundantly documents, the Maldives also took the lead in making the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) a force to reckon with in international climate summits.

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climate, Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy, energy policy, Green Technology, low-carbon, low-lying island nations, Maldives, Nasheed, renewable energy, sustainable development, sustainable prosperity, UNFCCC

With the United Nations “Rio+20” Conference fast approaching, the word “sustainable” is more present than ever – including in our own State of the World 2012 publication – sometimes to the point of excess. For low-lying island nations, however, “sustainability” is more than the mild, consensual definition of the United Nations: it is really about maintaining the environmental conditions necessary to sustain human life as we know it. Many countries, regions, and cities fear the potential consequences of runaway climate change, be it desertification, droughts, or increasingly frequent storms. What makes the cases of countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Micronesia, and the Maldives so unique is that their very existence as sovereign states is at stake, and some of their younger citizens might live to see that existence brought to an end – the IPCC (2007) has predicted 0.5 to 1.5 meters of sea-level rise before the century is over.

For low-lying island nations, climate change and sea-level rise are not really a matter for debate, but already a threatening feature of everyday life (Source: The Atlantic.com)

Whether that prediction turns out to be overly optimistic or gloomy is still to be determined, but low-lying island nations are not passively waiting to find out. Despite their remarkably low carbon-footprints, they are trying to lead by example when it comes to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions: while an international treaty would only, by the timeline set at the 2011 climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, come into force in 2020, the Maldives and Tuvalu (among others) have pledged to become carbon-neutral by that date. But these nations have understood that due to natural – as well as political – inertia, more emissions and increased sea-level rise are already locked in. This is the basic reasoning behind the islands’ adaptation policies, which are only as varied as they are extreme. For instance, though the President of Kiribati Anote Tong admitted it sounded “like something from science fiction”, the country seriously considered building offshore floating islands and higher seawalls last year, for a total cost of about US$ 3 billion – quite a challenge for a country with a GDP of US$ 200 million in 2011 (about US$ 6,000 per capita).

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Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, green economy, Kiribati, low-carbon, low-lying island states, Maldives, negotiations, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable development, Tuvalu, UNFCCC

Following the devastating 2010 earthquake, much of Haiti’s infrastructure, including its already limited ability to manage its municipal solid waste (MSW), was damaged or destroyed. Due largely to lack of public waste management services and sewage treatment centers, thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands more have suffered through outbreaks of cholera. Haiti needs improved sanitation, and improving and building infrastructure to reliably collect MSW will help achieve this goal.

Improved MSW management can also increase power generation from domestic sources in Haiti, providing some relief from its dependence on imported heavy fuel oil and helping to electrify a country where 75 percent of people do not have access to the grid.

Caribbean, developing countries, Haiti, health, renewable energy, sustainable development, waste-to-energy

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

Two men install a photovoltaic system in Sri Lanka. (Source: MPRNews)

Kenya’s power grid does not reach the small farming village of Kiptusuri, making it difficult for local farmers to charge their cell phones. Mogotio, the nearest town connected to the grid, has a small cell phone charging store where waits can be as long as three days. One Kiptusuri resident, Sara Ruto, took the initiative to purchase a solar photovoltaic system, providing lighting for her children to study by and allowing her to provide local residents with more reasonably priced cell phone charging services. Sixty-two other families in the village subsequently installed solar power systems, providing electricity to a previously unlit town.

Small-scale distributed renewable energy is also being developed in places such as Nepal, where 80 percent of the population has no access to the national electricity grid. Solar photovoltaic systems are beginning to be employed in clusters in outlying villages, providing power to between 6 and 12 houses each. Micro-hydropower programs have been implemented in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. There are even efforts to use small subterranean chambers designed to convert cow manure into biogas. The United Nations Development Programme has begun focusing on microgrid solutions as the primary method of providing electricity to rural areas. In many cases, microgrids are more economical and, in addition to off-grid technologies, they represent one of the best options for electrifying the most remote areas.

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Climate Change, developing countries, distributed generation, renewable energy, solar power, sustainable development