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

Minister Chen speaks with Alexander Ochs, Haibing Ma, and Chris Flavin (from left to right).

“China is dedicated to low-carbon and sustainable growth,” said Chen Dawei, head of the visiting Chinese delegation to the Worldwatch Institute. “[The] Institute’s experience and current works on promoting green development are really impressive and I hope collaborative projects can be developed through this meeting,” said Mr. Chen. Back in China, Mr. Chen is the Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD). He is leading the Low-Carbon Economy and Sustainable Urban delegation, which consists of more than 25 high level officials from Chinese central, provincial, and municipal governments.

The visit was organized by the Global Educational Institute at Georgetown University. During the meeting, Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch’s president emeritus, delivered the opening remarks and briefly introduced to the Chinese delegation the institute’s history, program layout, and major works. Alexander Ochs, the Director of the Climate and Energy Program, detailed our work in the Caribbean region by highlighting the unique characteristics of our Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap approach. I then provided an overview of our previous and ongoing China-related research works. In addition, I used this opportunity to introduce various ideas of our future China work, including a sketch of our plan to work with different levels of Chinese government.

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China, Chinese delegation, effectiveness, efficiency, green development, green economy, green transition, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, MOHURD, renewable energy, sustainable development

Matt Lucky presenting the potential for wind energy in Haiti at an energy sector stakeholder meeting in Port-au-Prince (Source: Worldwatch).

Last week, Xing Fu-Bertaux and I presented Worldwatch’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap work to a conference convened by Haiti’s presidential advisor for energy, Dr. René Jean-Jumeau. The conference, held in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was attended by many of Haiti’s most important energy sector stakeholders and was organized to discuss the future of the country’s energy sector. The presentation was well received, and stakeholders were very interested in our high-resolution renewable energy resource maps.

With assistance from 3TIER – a company that generates GIS maps for solar and wind resources – I presented country-wide maps exploring the potential of wind and solar resources in Haiti. Stakeholders were enthusiastic to learn that nearly all of Haiti has high levels of Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI), which is the type of radiation applicable to solar photovoltaic (PV) development.

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Caribbean, Haiti, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, solar power, wind energy

The Dominican Republic ismaking strides in promoting renewable energy as a way to reduce its heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels. As part of our work collaborating with government and private stakeholders to develop low-carbon energy roadmaps for the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries, the Worldwatch Institute is conducting socioeconomic impact assessments for planned and potential renewable energy projects, focusing on solar and wind for the current stage of the analysis. The Dominican Republic has several solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power projects lined up, and the renewable resource potential to significantly expand on these investments. Examining the job creation potential of these renewable energy projects is an important first step toward understanding the full scope of benefits that renewable energy can provide, especially with high levels of unemployment in the Dominican Republic – 14.2 percent in 2010.


A worker installs solar PV rooftop panels.

Despite a rapidly growing economy (7.8 percent GDP growth in 2010), about half of the Dominican population lives below the poverty line. One reason that economic growth has failed to translate fully into widespread socioeconomic benefits is the Dominican Republic’s dependence on fossil fuel imports. The Dominican economy is highly susceptible to oil price shocks, with oil imports accounting for 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010, down from 9 percent during the global price spike in 2008. Domestic renewable generation can reduce economic vulnerability due to reliance on fossil fuel imports, but can it create enough jobs to tackle the country’s unemployment and improve the standard of living?

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Caribbean renewable energy, Dominican Republic, green jobs, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, solar PV, wind power

Earlier this year The Worldwatch Institute went to Santo Domingo for the 2011 Caribbean Clean Energy Business Forum. Alexander Ochs, the Director of our Climate and Energy team, presented on our Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap methodology and upcoming work in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Other presenters included Rene Jean-Jumeau, the Coordinator of the Energy Sector Management Unit at the Haitian Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communications and one of our key partners in Haiti. He spoke about the Haitian energy system and the needs and opportunities for investment in renewable energy.

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biomass, Caribbean, Caribbean renewable energy, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Low-Carbon Development, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, low-carbon roadmap, renewable energy, small hydro, solar, wind

Sunrise in Punta Cana

Worldwatch’s Energy and Climate team is busy implementing a one-year initiative, funded by the Energy and Environment Partnership with Central America (EEP), to develop a Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap for wind and solar power in the Dominican Republic. We will soon begin a similar project in Haiti and Jamaica and expand our work in the Dominican Republic to include other resources, including biomass, with the sponsorship of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

Through these initiatives, we are taking a holistic approach to documenting the potential for low-carbon development, which we believe will provide insights directly useful to policymakers and business leaders. The first half of the project has yielded good results, and we hope it will be the first of many such projects for our Caribbean Program.

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3TIER, biomass, BMU, Caribbean, Dominican Republic, EEP, Haiti, IKI, Jamaica, Low-Carbon Development, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, oil imports, REEEP, renewable energy, small hydro, solar, wind

The Worldwatch Institute has begun implementing a Low Carbon Energy Roadmaps project to help Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) transition to a low-carbon economy. Undertaking such a transition is an immediate imperative for these states. If they can capitalize on their indigenous, renewable resources they can reduce their oil imports, reduce exposure to volatile prices, and invest any saved money in other areas of their economy. Still, it’s always nice to have someone (or something) else burnish our argument.

In 2005, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez initiated the Petrocaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement, an arrangement that allowed 12 Caribbean nations, including the Dominican Republic, to purchase oil at a subsidized cost. Nevertheless fuel prices in the D.R. have jumped 50 percent in the last two years.  Gasoline and diesel currently cost around $4.60 and $4.16 per gallon, respectively. Dominican taxi and bus drivers have recently begun taking out their frustration over higher fuel costs on Venezuela, protesting outside the Venezuelan Embassy and demanding more information on the details of the Petrocaribe program. In response, Alfredo Murga, Venezuela’s ambassador to the D.R., pointed out that Dominican authorities set their own fuel prices based on international crude oil markets. In other words, even Petrocaribe does not protect Dominicans from the vagaries of oil prices.  These developments only reinforce Worldwatch’s position: such complete dependence on oil for electricity in addition to vehicle fuel is untenable for the Dominican Republic.

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Caribbean, Dominican Republic, electricity, imports, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, oil, oil dependence, Petrocaribe, SIDS, Venezuela

Recently the Brookings Institution hosted a panel that examined Haiti’s political and humanitarian developments since the January 2010 earthquake. A theme that came up regularly was that of competing priorities such as turbulent elections, a cholera outbreak, a lack of dependable energy supply, and gender-based violence.

As the Worldwatch Institute prepares to develop a Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap for Haiti, some have questioned whether limited donor resources should be channeled into something more pressing than assessing and improving the country’s energy infrastructure. Is an energy roadmap really needed right now, or are other matters more important?

Departments of Haiti

Haiti: Many sections, many challenges.

The cholera outbreak in Haiti is an urgent matter that deserves all the attention it is currently receiving. However, we must keep in mind that a lack of proper sanitation – due to a lack of electricity – helped cause the recent outbreak. Had the country’s energy infrastructure been more robust and sustainable, basic sanitation and electricity in hospitals might not have been lost and the current epidemic might have been avoided.

To be clear, Worldwatch is not suggesting that the Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap project we are undertaking is more important than addressing the cholera outbreak. But we believe that keeping an eye focused on the long term – while simultaneously addressing immediate concerns – can start a process that will help prevent such outbreaks in the future.

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developing countries, energy efficiency, energy security, Haiti, low-carbon, Low-Carbon Development, Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap, renewable energy, Small-Island Developing States (SIDS)