This article was originally printed in Haiti Libre, a Haitian news outlet that aims to catalyze the debate of ideas, promote the expression of critical thinking, and initiate a participatory process.
There is hardly a place on Earth where the advantages of domestic renewable power are as evident as in Haiti. Today, the country’s electricity system relies largely on dirty, expensive, unreliable, imported fossil fuels supplying an outdated and insufficient distribution system. The result: Seven percent – and more, depending on the year – of Haiti’s gross domestic product each year is sent overseas for the import of fossil fuels, limiting the capital that can be invested domestically to rebuild the economy. And still three quarters of the population do not have access to modern electricity services.
Haiti’s government faces two urgent and interwoven challenges: First, it must develop the infrastructure needed to provide reliable and affordable energy access to as many Haitians as quickly as possible. Second, it must diversify its power supply to improve energy security and resilience to natural disasters and climate change. Currently, the country relies on two technologies that are both increasingly questionable: The burning of petroleum-based products (e.g., to operate diesel generators) for most of Haiti’s power production has created enormous dependence on volatile commodity markets and rising fuel costs. In addition, erratic rainfall patterns and increased siltation from deforestation threaten hydropower production, the second leg of today’s supply. The existing system is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake as well as major storms and droughts – events that are forecast to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change.
The answer to the country’s energy problems and the precondition of sustained future development is not rocket science. It is a system that generates power from domestic and renewable energy sources that are provided every day free of charge: wind, sun, water, plants. It is a system that uses the produced energy as efficiently as possible. And it is a system that tries to produce electricity as closely to where it is needed to reduce the costs and the amount of energy lost in distribution. In the absence of a centralized nation-wide grid system, Haiti has an opportunity to leapfrog 20th century energy development, modeling a pathway to electrification and resilience that harnesses the country’s strong biomass, small hydropower, solar, and wind resources.
As you read this, my colleagues and I are in Haiti to hand over to the government a study that we have been working on for the last three years. We call it the Sustainable Energy Roadmap. Sustainable here stands for economically, financially, socially, and environmentally sustainable. The report we present assesses the potentials of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and alternating grid solutions; it analyzes the social and economic impacts of various electricity pathways; it looks into financing opportunities; and it suggests policy and institutional reforms that will make sustainable energy investments more attractive.
Among the results:
- Only 6 square kilometers of solar photovoltaic panels could generate as much electricity as Haiti produces today. A few medium-sized wind farms near Lac Azuei to the east of Port-au-Prince would do the same. Gone the dependency on unsustainable fossil fuel imports.
- Building an electricity system powered almost exclusively by renewables would decrease the average cost of electricity by about two thirds. The most ambitious scenario we modeled (90% renewable energy supply) shows savings of almost 6 billion US dollars by 2030, compared to business as usual.
- To power all of Haiti in the year 2030 with 90% renewable electricity would cost less than USD 7 billion in investment between today and then – an investment far outweighed by its enormous economic benefits, and much cheaper than a system built on fossils. Up to 1,870 new jobs would be created, local air and water pollution reduced, and health and education improved.
- Existing barriers to achieving a sustainable energy transition can be overcome using an effective policy framework. Key components include an ambitious, long-term strategy for energy sector development; concrete short-, mid-, and long-term targets; improved institutional capacity and administrative efficiency, including the creation of an independent regulator and a Bureau of Rural Electrification, the de-monopolization of L’Électricité d’Haïti (EDH) and the opening of the market to other power producers and grid operators; and a mix of well-designed and complementary concrete support policies, including tax or tariff incentives for renewable technologies.
Haiti has already demonstrated its commitment to achieving a more diverse, sustainable energy supply.
We will continue to support the government and civil society as they move forward. This Roadmap is dedicated to the citizens of Haiti and to all those individuals—including energy practitioners, policymakers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and academics—who volunteered their time and expertise to support this project. Ultimately, it is for the Haitian people and through the Haitian people that the roadmap becomes a reality. Let’s now move from plan to action!
Alexander Ochs is Director of Climate and Energy at the Worldwatch Institute, an independent non-for-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C, USA. He led an international research team that prepared the study “Haiti Sustainable Energy Roadmap” that is presented in Port-au-Prince this week. This work was prepared in cooperation with the Haitian government and supported by the German Ministry of the Environment.
Download the Roadmap for free today!