Central America Energy Plans, new emerging solar market

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by Dario Rossi

In Central America, solar power is in the early stages of market development. The region’s first utility-2012, and Nicaragua’s 1.2 MW La Trinidad plant, inaugurated in February 2013.72 Each installation will produce enough energy to power more than 1,000 households.
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) helped finance both projects, with Costa Rica’s totaling $11.5 million ($10 million from JICA and $1.5 million from ICE, the national utility) and Nicaragua’s totaling some $12 million ($11.4 million from JICA and $530,000 invested by Enatrel, the national transmission company).7Critics have argued that these costs were exorbitant and that the plants could have been built for much less; however, international experience has shown that the early adoption of renewable technologies in new markets in less industrialized countries often results in project costs that are significantly above the global average.
Elsewhere in the region, utility-scale PV projects are at varying stages of planning or development. El Salvador’s leading power producer, CEL (Comisión Ejecutiva Hidroeléctrica del Río Lempa), is developing a 14.2 MW PV facility adjacent to the company’s “15 de Septiembre” hydroelectric dam. CEL has designed the solar farm, acquired financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), and is seeking an installation contractor.77 As was the case in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the project would not have gone forward without international cooperation funds and is projected to be only marginally profitable over its lifetime. CEL has already installed a 24.5 kilowatt solar PV “investigation project” on the roof of its headquarters in San Salvador, assessing the costs versus power output for three types of PV technology: polycrystalline, monocrystalline, and amorphous thin-film.
In the near future, Panama is expected be home to two large-scale PV plants (of 2.4 MW and approximately 2 MW in capacity), and Honduras has taken initial steps in agreement with foreign investors to develop 50–150 MW of PV power.
In addition to the region’s two operational utility-scale PV installations and a handful of commercial-scale installations, solar PV has been widely adopted in small, distributed applications. Thousands of low-income, mostly rural, households have small solar PV systems (in the Watt range) to supply power for lighting and electrical appliances. Meanwhile, middle- to upper-income households and businesses—which often face higher electricity tariff rates—are increasingly installing off-grid and grid-tied PV installations, motivated by a desire to reduce both costs and grid dependency, as well as, in some cases, by environmental aspirations.
Solar thermal (or passive solar) has a growing presence in Central America and is used primarily for water heating as well as for commercial applications such as drying fruit or wood products. But it is not yet as common in the region as it is in places like China, Europe, or parts of the Caribbean.
The SWERA initiative has compiled solar resource data for Central America from several different international organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the German Aerospace Center, and the Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, as well as local groups. In addition to providing solar insolation maps for each of the seven countries, it provides data on seasonal variation, including breakdowns for the dry season, the transition from the dry to rainy season, the rainy season, and the transition from the rainy to dry season.
Private renewable energy companies are establishing partnerships with microfinance institutions to offer loans to low-income families for the purchase of solar PV systems for their homes. Several companies, such as Quetsol in Guatemala and Tecnosol in Nicaragua, report having established these connections in order to develop local markets for renewable energy.
Central America has come a long way in the past decade in developing policies and regulatory frameworks to promote renewable energy, despite challenges in some countries relating to the overall investment climate. Growing awareness among residents of the need to develop local renewable energy resources is creating opportunities for companies of all sizes—old and new, local and international—and on both the supply and demand sides of the financial market (i.e., banks and project developers). There is a growing understanding and interest from investors and lending institutions to provide loans and capital to renewable energy project developers. The main challenge is to foster an environment that allows investors to assess and manage the risk involved in order to convert the tremendous opportunities for sustainable energy development in Central America into successful ventures.

Renewables in National Energy Plans of Central American Countries


Country (Renewable Share of Electricity Use, 2011)


Energy Plan (Issuing/Overseeing Agency)


Goals and Targets


Belize (60%)


Strategic Plan 2012–2017 (Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities)


• Improve energy efficiency and conservation 30 percent by 2033 (baseline year 2011)

• Reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuel consumption 50 percent by 2020

• Generate a minimum of 50 percent of electric power from renewable sources

• Reduce conventional transportation fuel use 20–30 percent by 2033 (SIDS DOCK commitment)


Costa Rica (91.2%)


VI Plan Nacional de Energía 2012–2030 (Ministry of the Environment and Energy)


• Become carbon-neutral by 2021 (re-emphasizing commitment in Second Com­munication to the UNFCCC, 2009)

• Reduce residential energy consumption 7.8 percent between 2012 and 2030

• Equip 10 percent of households with distributed solar generation by 2020

• Provide 100 percent of population with access to energy by 2030

• Reduce electricity consumption in industry 8.5 percent by 2020

• Transform the vehicular fleet to be 39 percent high efficiency, 9 percent electric and hybrid plug-in, and 2 percent natural gas by 2030


El Salvador (63.3%)


Política Energética Nacional 2010–2024 (National Energy Council)


• Provide affordable and continuous power supply

• Build institutional capacity

• Reduce oil dependence

• Minimize detrimental environmental and social impacts of energy, considering climate change


Guatemala (64.2%)


Politica Energética 2013-2027 (Ministry of Energy and Mines)


• Cover current and future energy demand

• Strengthen electric power transmission

• Diversify the energy mix and reduce oil dependence

• Generate 80 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2027


Honduras (43.5%)


Visión del País 2010–2038

Plan de Nación 2010–2022 (Technical Secretariat for Planning and External Cooperation)


• Reduce reliance on hydrocarbons

• Mitigate and adapt to climate change

• Expand country-wide electricity coverage to 85 percent by 2015 and 90 percent by 2020

• Generate 60 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2022 and 80 per­cent by 2038

• Invest $1.5 billion in renewable and hydroelectric sources by 2022


Nicaragua (33.1%)


Plan Estratégico del Sector Energético 2007–2017 (Ministry of Energy and Mines)

Plan Nacional de Desarrollo Humano 2009–2011


• Diversify the energy mix

• Promote renewables

• Maximize energy efficiency

• Promote competitive markets and policies to ensure coverage and access to energy

• Provide a regulatory framework

• Identify 4,500 MW of renewable energy capacity, including hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, and biomass

• Supply between 95.2 and 98.1 percent of the estimated electricity demand with renewable sources by 2017


Panama (52.9%)


Plan Nacional de Energia 2009–2023 (National Secretary of Energy)


• Ensure domestic energy supply through renewable energy and energy efficiency

• Maximize the energy sector’s contribution to sustainable development

• Increase energy access

• Promote capacity building

• Develop biofuels in the transportation sector, and wind and hydropower in the electricity sector

  

source:  Worldwatch Institute

 

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