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.

Read the rest of this entry

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

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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

Climate scientists were surprised to discover that U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions recently decreased to levels not seen since 1992. While renewable energy has no doubt contributed to this recent trend, it is clear that the “shale gas revolution” and the recent U.S. transition away from coal and toward natural gas generation has had a very large impact on this encouraging trend.

The LNG terminal in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (Source: Chicago Bridge & Iron)

One region where interest in natural gas has grown recently is the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago is already a global supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are LNG importers, and nations like Haiti and Jamaica are considering building LNG import terminals of their own. LNG—the liquid form of natural gas that has one-six hundredth the volume per unit of energy of naturally occurring natural gas—is the form in which gas is typically shipped overseas. LNG imports are gaining traction in the Caribbean region, where tanker ships offload the fuel to be re-gasified and used to fuel natural gas power plants.

As seen in the United States, natural gas can play a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Moreover, at least in the United States, a shale gas boom has led to very low natural gas prices, making it cost competitive with almost any other source of power generation. However, it is unclear whether such benefits would translate to small island nations. The question that begs analysis is whether or not natural gas—in the form of imported LNG—is appropriate for small countries like those in the Caribbean region.

Read the rest of this entry

Caribbean, Dominican Republic, energy, energy security, Haiti, liquefied natural gas, LNG, natural gas

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).

Read the rest of this entry

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

Worldwatch presents the Wind & Solar Roadmap to energy and government officials in the Dominican Republic. (From Left: Hon. Pelegrin Castillo, National District Representative; Manuel Pena, National Energy Commission; Maria Eugenia Salaverria, Energy and Climate Partnership of Central America; Mr. Enrique Ramirez, National Energy Commission President; Alexander Ochs; Mark Konold; Mr. Omar Ramirez, Executive President of the National Council for Climate Change and the Clean Development Mechanism

Yesterday the Climate & Energy Program of the Worldwatch Institute officially launched its first Sustainable Energy Roadmap in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Roadmap, which was completed with financial support from the Energy & Environment Partnership in Central America (EEP) and with guidance from the National Energy Commission of the Dominican Republic (CNE), focuses on strategies the government of the Dominican Republic can use to begin moving toward a more sustainable energy future.

The Worldwatch research team worked with 3TIER, a renewable resource mapping company, to develop detailed solar resource assessments for the country’s two major cities, Santo Domingo and Santiago, as well as wind resource assessments in six provinces. The report also explores the potential for distributed and centralized renewable power generation in the country, job creation opportunities from renewables, and challenges facing the integration of renewable energy into the existing electricity grid. It then examines the Dominican Republic’s energy regulatory framework and the current status of the country’s financial sector for supporting renewable energy growth. Finally, the Roadmap contains strong and actionable recommendations the government can follow to begin ramping up the presence of renewable energy, drawing down its dependence on fossil fuel imports and creating an energy future that is socially, environmentally and financially more sustainable.

Read the rest of this entry

Caribbean, Climate Change, Dominican Republic, energy, energy security, low-carbon, renewable energy

The Most Hon. Edward Seaga (UTech President & former Prime Minister), The Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller (Prime Minister) and H.E. Josef Beck (German Ambassador) at the Opening Ceremony on 16 May 2012. Photo courtesy of the German Embassy in Kingston.

Recently I was asked to participate in a Sustainable Energy Conference hosted by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Kingston and the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). The four-day event, which included considerable participation from the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Program (CREDP), was a great opportunity to highlight the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Jamaica. It was also a chance to continue the important debate over how quickly renewable energy can be adopted on the island.

Jamaica is currently one of three Caribbean countries for which Worldwatch is preparing a Sustainable Energy Roadmap. This project, sponsored by the International Climate Initiative of the German Ministry of the Environment, will provide decision-makers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica with a Roadmap containing concrete recommendations for promoting a more sustainable energy future.

Read the rest of this entry

Caribbean, energy, energy policy, energy security, Jamaica, renewable energy, sustainable development

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).

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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

In the fall of last year, the U.S. State Department permit review for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by energy company TransCanada gained significant attention in the media and political debates. If built, this pipeline would move bitumen, thick and heavy oil, from the Canadian province of Alberta through the American Midwest to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. In October, hundreds of environmentalists, including famously outspoken NASA scientist James Hansen, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, were arrested for civil disobedience while protesting the pipeline outside the White House. With climate change and clean energy as major drivers, environmentalists have focused on the Keystone XL pipeline protests as a means of preventing the transportation of oil to consumers and ultimately the extraction of tar sand.

TransCanada’s planned and existing oil pipelines (source: The Economist)

Tar sand is a mixture of bitumen, sand, clay, and water, which must be processed and refined to extract oil from the surrounding substances. Roughly twenty percent of the U.S. crude oil imports are from Canada, much of which is derived from tar sands. In order to satisfy the steady U.S. demand for oil, TransCanada plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline to extend the existing pipeline system and transport bitumen to U.S. refineries. The Keystone XL pipeline has been a source of disagreement for several years between environmental groups and the oil industry. The main environmental concerns are threats to water quality from potential pipeline leaks and increased greenhouse gas emissions from burning and extracting the bitumen. In a well-to-wheel analysis, tar sands emit roughly ten to forty five percent more greenhouse gases than standard petroleum.

Pipeline supporters counter that the Keystone XL pipeline would provide the U.S. with a steady supply of oil from a politically stable nation.  Proponents also argue that constructing the pipeline would create thousands of American jobs. Amid all the controversy, a Rasmussen poll found that fifty three percent of likely American voters at least somewhat support construction of the pipeline. 

Read the rest of this entry

Climate Change, energy security, Tar Sands, United States