By Cinthya Alfaro Zúñiga

As a native Costa Rican and Worldwatch Institute/INCAE Research Fellow, I was excited to attend the Energy and Environment Partnership’s (EEP) 21st Regional Forum in my home country earlier this month. EEP’s primary objective is providing finance for renewable energy projects, but it also seeks to build capacity by exploring diverse topics such as different energy technologies, policies needed for successful implementation, and regional obstacles and opportunities through stakeholder dialogues.

Worldwatch and INCAE presented Phase 1 of "The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America" in Costa Rica in March.

Under the title “Biogas and Energy Efficiency in Central America,” the most recent Forum convened a group of 200 experts, project developers, governmental representatives, financiers, and the general public. The speakers addressed topics such as the contribution of energy efficiency policies and renewable energy toward carbon emissions reductions. Other important themes included the status of biogas and energy efficiency in Central America, as well as a run-through of EEP energy efficiency and biogas projects in the region.

The three-day event featured speakers from the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ), the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), and the Worldwatch Institute, among others.

On behalf of Worldwatch, President Emeritus Christopher Flavin presented on the global status of renewable energy and Climate & Energy Director Alexander Ochs summarized the results from the first phase of the Worldwatch/INCAE project, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” which applies the Institute’s sustainable energy roadmap methodology to the region. Dr. Ana María Majano, Associate Director of the INCAE Business School’s Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS), joined Ochs as the lead in-country implementation partner.    

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Central America, development, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, energy efficiency, energy policy, renewable energy, sustainable development

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

Kerosene lamps, such as this one, are used widely for illumination in eastern Africa, but contribute to numerous health and economic problems (Source: Firesika).

The United Nations recently declared the beginning of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, continuing the focus on energy access that it began in 2012 with the Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Energy access is widely recognized as a key component of achieving the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations, with impacts on the improvement of health, education, and economic development.

This international focus on energy access stems from the fact that, in many developing areas of the world, energy use is still mostly limited to traditional biomass use (i.e. burning wood for cook fires) and kerosene for lighting, with extremely limited or zero access to modern energy services. In Ethiopia, only 2 percent of the population in rural areas has access to electricity. In Kenya, the inhabitants of remote areas are only slightly better off, with 4 percent electrification rate for the rural population.

However, the use of kerosene for illumination brings with it numerous health, environmental, economic and social problems.  Indoor use of the fuel use significantly deteriorates air quality in homes, leading directly to respiratory illnesses and fatalities. And, as if chronic illnesses are not enough, the risk of fire from overturned kerosene lamps is extremely high. In an interview with an in-country energy expert in Kenya, Worldwatch learned that estimates ranged between 6,000 and 12,000 deaths per year from kerosene fires in Kenya alone, with many of them being children. Overturned kerosene lamps are known to ignite homes quickly and the impacts disproportionately affect women and children, who spend much more of their time within the house.

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Africa, developing countries, development, distributed generation, electricity, Energy Access, Ethiopia, Kenya, kerosene, rural electrification, sub-Saharan Africa

Smog in Beijing recently reached record levels. (Source: Flickr user michaelhenly)

China recently announced that it would be joining the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), as a global leader in terms of installed capacity and investment. This acknowledgement of its status as a clean energy leader may come as a surprise to some, given the recent headlines about the country’s astounding air pollution. But in 2012, China invested US$ 68 billion on developing renewable energies, 55 percent greater than U.S. investments, making it the largest clean energy investor in the world. Installed capacities for hydro and wind power rose to 249 and 63 gigawatt (GW), achieving another two global “top spots.” Looking into 2013, with aims to add 21 GW of hydro, 18 GW of wind and 10 GW of solar power in a single year, it seems that nothing can stop China’s clean energy ambition.

However, what matters to the energy sustainability is not only the scale of clean energy products, but also the environment-friendly approaches through which the sector is built and operates. While clean energy is certainly not to blame for the large portion of pollution problems, China’s efforts to develop renewable energy so quickly have generated some environmental problems, too. A lack of effective environmental policy-making and regulation has led to unsustainable practices in the renewable energy sector that cast a shadow on those “top spot” numbers.

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China, developing countries, development, energy, energy policy, low-carbon, renewable energy

During the last two decades, the global installed capacity for geothermal electricity has nearly doubled. Despite this recent expansion, geothermal energy is not getting the same level of attention as other renewable energy resources, and it remains heavily underutilized. If the world were able to tap just a small portion of the Earth’s heat, we could provide everyone with clean and safe energy for centuries. Current estimates of our global potential for geothermal energy range from 35 gigawatts (GW) to 2,000 GW. However, simple technological improvements could greatly increase these projections.

For example, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study concluded that if the United States were to invest US$1 billion in geothermal research and development over the next 15 years, the country could increase its generating capacity by 100 GW by 2050. Currently, the United States is the world leader in installed capacity, but it still produces only about 3 GW of geothermal energy. Encouragingly, the same MIT study estimated that, with the proper technical improvements, 2,000 zettajoules (1 ZJ=1021 joules) of geothermal energy would be extractable in the future. This is equivalent to the estimated energy contained in the world’s petroleum reserves as of 2010. Recognizing this vast potential, some countries are finally taking action to tap into this clean energy source.

Central America, in particular, is progressing quickly as several countries begin to develop previously untouched geothermal resources. Central America is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, a volcanically active region that has excellent potential for geothermal electricity. Estimates for the geothermal potential of the region are as high as 13,000 megawatts (MW). However, the region is harnessing only 506 MW of this energy and is still heavily dependent on expensive imported fossil fuels.

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Central America, development, El Salvador, geothermal, renewable energy

Renewable energy development is critical to climate adaptation efforts for numerous reasons, including its minimal use of increasingly scarce water resources. (Source: ClimateTechWiki).

For countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change—especially developing countries—the lack of urgency in the recently ended United Nations climate talks failed to reflect the reality back home. In many of these places, the effects of climate change are already taking their toll on social and economic development, not to mention human lives. So it’s no surprise that throughout the halls and meeting rooms of the 18th Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar, the most vulnerable countries made it abundantly clear that—for them—adaptation, not mitigation, is the number-one priority.

The impacts of climate change are mounting. Shifting rainfall patterns are already affecting Kenya’s agricultural sector, and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events are necessitating rebuilding in numerous Caribbean countries. But unfortunately, both adaptation and energy, a critical area for development, are consistently shortchanged in climate negotiations. Of the “fast-start financing” provided by Germany in 2010 and 2011, only 28 percent was allocated for adaptation projects, while mitigation received 48 percent of the funds (the rest went to REDD+ and multipurpose activities).

Meanwhile, the energy sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and the emission reduction opportunities that the sector presents, hardly made it into the recent discussions. When renewable energy is brought up, it is most often in the context of mitigation, highlighting how a shift away from fossil fuel-fired power generation can reduce emissions and slow further climate change.

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adaptation, Climate Change, developing countries, development, energy, renewable energy, UNFCCC

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

Last month, the Indian Parliament devised legislation to replace the archaic Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the British colonial-era law that dictates terms for government acquisition of private land. The new law, which would be renamed The Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act, aims to address India’s chronic land disputes between developers and local communities (which I addressed in part in a previous blog on coal energy in India). The legislation is currently being reviewed by a Cabinet committee due to concerns expressed by several Cabinet ministers that the conditions stipulated for land acquisition are too steep for industry.

Industry interests hope that the new law will streamline the existing land acquisition process and resolve ongoing delays to project development. The legislation under negotiation would allow not only government but also private companies that provide “public” services to acquire land for industry and infrastructure projects, provided that they (1) obtain consent from at least 80 percent of affected landowners, (2) provide compensation at two to four times the market value for rural land and two times the market value for private land, and (3) assist displaced persons with resettlement.

Despite the more concrete procedure for land acquisition outlined in this draft legislation, some business groups, including the Confederation of Indian Industry, complain that the provisions will increase costs to industry and make some projects unviable. It is with these industry interests in mind that the Cabinet committee is reviewing the legislation.

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coal, development, India, land acquisition, land use, negotiations

Esta es la traducción del blog “Moving Renewable Energy Forward in Nicaragua” publicado anteriormente en reVOLT. Para leer el original en inglés hacer click aquí.

This is the translation of the previous blog “Moving Renewable Energy Forward in Nicaragua.” For the original English version, click here.

La semana pasada, el equipo de Centroamérica del Worldwatch Institute – junto con nuestros socios de INCAE Business School – reunimos a un grupo de trabajo de cerca de 40 expertos en energía renovable en Managua, Nicaragua. El taller, cuyo tema principal fue “El acceso a la energía en comunidades de bajos recursos a través de iniciativas sostenibles” contó con la destacada participación y ponencias de representantes del Ministerio de Energía y Minas de Nicaragua, de  la Asociación de Renovables de Nicaragua, del desarrollador de proyectos eólicos más importante de la región, así como de una serie de iniciativas energéticas en zonas rurales. El grupo de trabajo analizó la investigación y metodología del Worldwatch Institute así como nuestro impacto a la hora de incrementar la participación de las renovables en la matriz energética de la región.

Los participantes del taller “El Futuro de la Energía Renovable en Nicaragua” en el campus de INCAE Business School, en Managua, Nicaragua.

El Director del Programa de Clima y Energía del Worldwatch, Alexander Ochs, se dirigió a los participantes del evento recordándoles que el objetivo principal de nuestros esfuerzos no es simplemente promover las diferentes tecnologías energéticas renovables por sí mismas – si bien estas discusiones pueden quedarse estancadas en detalles técnicos – sino los resultados ambientales, sociales y económicos que conlleva la energía limpia y localmente generada. La energía renovable es un medio para alcanzar prioridades políticas de ámbito general: dar acceso a fuentes modernas de energía, mitigación de la contaminación local y el cambio climático, y abordar cuestiones importantes de salud, educación y género. En una región donde los países dedican de un 5 al 15 por ciento de su PIB para la importación de combustibles fósiles, los cuales conllevan costos sociales, ambientales y económicos adicionales, la producción de energía renovable local es un requisito para su desarrollo económico sostenible.

Los objetivos de nuestro taller fueron reunir a un grupo de líderes de la política, industria y comunitarios con el fin de analizar los conocimientos y actividades existentes en la región en torno a las energías renovables, así como la identificación de lagunas en materia de capacidad y la necesidad de reformas políticas y administrativas. Estos objetivos se lograron mediante una serie de ponencias seguidas de un diálogo abierto e interacciones entre los participantes. El taller fue organizado en dos sesiones plenarias y cuatro grupos de discusión.

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Central America, development, energy, renewable energy