The 40th anniversary of the Arab Oil Embargo offers a unique opportunity to reflect on four decades of developments in the energy sector in the United States and around the world. In many ways, the shock of the embargo helped reshape the world energy sector, yet four decades later many of the same problems faced in 1973 persist, especially in the United States.

The Oil Embargo forced gasoline rationing across the U.S. (source: Wikipedia)

To a large extent, fossil fuels continue to power global economic growth and energy security, and the competition for these resources remains a significant concern for governments around the world. Just as in 1973, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the oil that its member states produce continue to be an undeniable force in global geopolitics. OPEC’s hold over 81 percent of the world’s proven crude reserves gives it a largely unchecked control over international oil prices, which it achieves by setting OPEC-wide production targets.

Although OPEC has played a key role on the production side of the international oil market over the past four decades, the consumer landscape has changed dramatically since 1973. Significant economic growth in the developing world has led to increasing competition for energy resources. Oil demand in developing countries topped demand in the industrialized nations of the OECD for the first time ever in April 2013, a drastic change from just a decade ago when all developing countries combined consumed only two-thirds of the oil used in OECD member states (by volume).

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energy policy, Oil Embargo, renewable energy, United States

In the coming years, Latin American countries will have to make major investments in electricity generation and grid infrastructure in order to meet growing energy demand and provide universal energy access. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, power generation in Latin America and the Caribbean will have to double by 2030, requiring an investment larger than $700 billion. Over 31 million people in the region lack access to electricity and many countries still depend on fossil fuels for power generation, causing economic vulnerability due to volatile prices. Hydroelectric power is the other main source of electricity for many Latin American countries, but recent changes in precipitation patterns signal an uncertain future for this traditionally reliable baseload energy source in the face of climate change.

Creating integrated regional power systems by connecting national electricity grids can alleviate some of these challenges facing Latin America, especially for those countries seeking to provide affordable and reliable electricity to their citizens while constrained by limited natural resources, poor infrastructure, and low investment levels. By pursuing regional integration, countries benefit from economies of scale, complementary energy resources, lower costs of energy infrastructure development, and stronger regional cooperation. A regionally integrated power system can provide energy security at lower costs by increasing power generator and utility access to markets and diversifying the mix of energy sources. Furthermore, it facilitates the penetration of renewable energy by creating a market for financing large-scale projects and by providing increased grid stability necessary for high levels of intermittent energy sources like solar and wind.

Latin America could benefit greatly from regional power systems integration (source: commons.wikimedia.org)

In April 2012, at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, the Connect 2022 initiative was introduced. Its aim is to ensure universal access to electricity to people in the Americas by 2022. This past June, in support of the Connect 2022 initiative, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the U.S. Department of State hosted a dialogue in which commitments for energy integration in Latin America were strengthened.

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Central America, Connect 2022, developing countries, electricity, energy policy, grid integration, IDB, Latin America, Proyecto Mesoamerica, regional electricity integration, renewable energy, SIEPAC, SINEA

New electric buses and a charging station in Chengdu City. (Source: http://scnews.newssc.org/system/2012/07/31/013588311.shtml)

Over the past 30 years, China’s rapid economic growth and industry development have been driven in large part by specific national plans that set very ambitious targets for certain industries. The electric vehicle (EV) industry is no exception. Yet even with prioritization by the central government, the EV industry does not seem to be on track to meet its targets.

According to the Ministry of Science and Technology’s (MOST) 12th Five-Year Plan for Electric Vehicles and the State Council’s Energy-saving and New Energy Automotive Industry Development Plan released in 2012, 500,000 EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are to be deployed by 2015, along with 400,000 charging piles and 2,000 charging or battery-switching stations. The nation is targeting 5 million EVs and PHEVs on the road by 2020.

In addition, MOST and other governmental entities, such as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and National Development and Reform Commission, initiated the “10 Cities and 1,000 Vehicles” program in 2009 to support EV development in 25 cities by providing subsidies.

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12th Five-Year Plan, China, electric vehicles, energy policy, green transportation

Here at the Asia Clean Energy Forum in the Philippines, President Obama’s speech on climate change has been greeted with enthusiasm.  In particular, his decision to redirect U.S. financing of coal fired power plants to expanding the use of clean energy in developing countries is seen as a signal that the U.S. understands that coal is risky and expensive—at a time when the costs of biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind power are declining rapidly.

The positive reaction to Obama’s initiative is hardly surprising: many Asian countries share the U.S. President’s concern about climate change: recent fires, droughts, and typhoons have devastated large areas, stirred public concern, and spurred governments to act.

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coal, energy policy, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, Southeast Asia, United States

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city (SSTEC), China’s latest and largest eco-city project, saw its first residents earlier this year. The city is built on a blend of non-arable saline and alkaline land that was virtually uninhabitable five years ago. While this is an accomplishment in and of itself, SSTEC is trying to go even greener in terms of the energy efficiency of its buildings.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in 2012 (Source: http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/)

SSTEC aims to offer green building certification based on more stringent standards than anywhere else in the country, including the national standards. It has already set up a Green Building Evaluation Committee (GBEC) to supervise building quality.

But in terms of energy efficiency, SSTEC’s GBEC still lacks the clearly defined requirements found in comprehensive international standards like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. According to a World Bank report, the GBEC provides standards only for the building envelope and central heating, unlike LEED, which covers a broad range of energy systems including lighting, air conditioning, water heating, and appliances. While the ambition in this eco-city project is commendable, the oversights in SSTEC’s efficiency standards reflect a lack of comprehensiveness in green building standards across China, as the GBEC is already the country’s most advanced and comprehensive building standard.

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12th Five-Year Plan, China, emissions trading, energy efficiency, energy policy, Green Buildings, greenhouse gas emissions, LEED

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

Last month, the United States filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge India’s domestic content requirements (DCR) for projects under the country’s Solar Mission – a national program aimed at reaching 20,000 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected solar power capacity in India by 2022, enough to power almost 30 million Indian homes at current average levels of consumption. According to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the DCR provisions in the Solar Mission that require projects to use solar panels produced within the country, as well as subsidies to solar power producers using domestically manufactured equipment, violate WTO rules prohibiting discrimination in favor of domestic goods.

India's domestic content requirements for solar projects has prompted the United States to file a complaint with the WTO. (Source: Treehugger).

Phase I of India’s Solar Mission, which draws to a close at the end of this month, requires crystalline silicon (cSi) solar photovoltaic (PV) projects to use Indian-manufactured modules and concentrating solar power (CSP) projects to use at least 30 percent Indian-manufactured equipment. During Phase I, thin film solar PV panels were exempted from the DCR due to the lack of thin film manufacturing within India.

While the United States has long stated its opposition to India’s Solar Mission DCR provisions, the recent timing of the WTO challenge is likely due to the expectation that India will expand the DCR to cover thin film PV modules in Phase II, which starts next month. While there is significant competition in the global cSi PV manufacturing market, the United States is a dominant player in thin film manufacturing. First Solar, an American company, is by far the world’s largest thin film manufacturer. First Solar thin film systems currently make up more than 20 percent of India’s solar PV market. Conversely, solar projects in India accounted for eight percent of the thin film modules manufactured by First Solar in 2011, and the company continues to seek opportunities in the country. A DCR provision for thin film solar projects in India could deal a significant blow to U.S. solar manufacturers, in particular First Solar.

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energy, energy policy, green economy, India, renewable energy, solar power, solar war, trade dispute, World Trade Organization, WTO

Wind farm in Xinjiang welcomes a new dawn. (Source: Flickr user zhouyousifang)

Last year, China was the world’s top investor in renewable energy, and the country has expressed even greater ambition for 2013. But before it can realize its planned additional 49 gigawatts (GW) of clean power, it needs to first lead its clean energy industry out of the swamp of overproduction and low-end manufacturing. China’s recent embrace of a set of revised renewable energy policies might bring new hope for the industry’s—and the country’s—ambitions.

Controlling reckless development

In the last decade, in order to increase the share of clean energy in the overall energy mix, the Chinese government released a series of laws and subsidies to give the industry a boost. While such efforts significantly ramped up China’s clean energy equipment manufacturing and renewable energy installations, they also led to reckless development that caused severe overproduction and wasteful investment practices and resource use.

To address these issues, the government has been taking regulatory and policy steps. In August 2011, the National Energy Administration (NEA) issued a new regulatory policy on wind power, requiring that all new projects, including those with installed capacity less than 50 megawatts (MW), be reviewed and registered at the NEA before they can receive government approval or subsidies. Such restrictions are aimed at containing the over-construction of small-scale wind power projects under 50 MW. (See Worldwatch’s earlier post on this issue.)

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China, energy, energy policy, renewable energy

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