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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Pathway to affordable, sustainable energy in Dominican Republic unveiled

An efficient, renewable-based energy system could save the island nation up to US$25 billion over the next 15 years

Executive Director of Climate Change and Viceminister of Energy Ernesto Vilalta, Minister of Energy and Mines Antonio Isa Conde, Worldwatch Climate and Energy Director Alexander Ochs, and Secretary of State and Vice-President of the National Council for Climate Change Omar Ramírez
Executive Director of Climate Change and Viceminister of Energy Ernesto Vilalta, Minister of Energy and Mines Antonio Isa Conde, Worldwatch Climate and Energy Director Alexander Ochs, and Secretary of State and Vice-President of the National Council for Climate Change Omar Ramírez

The Worldwatch Institute has presented analyses and recommendations to government officials and energy stakeholders to support a transition to a sustainable energy system in the Dominican Republic. The presentation was made during the week at the Energy Ministry in Santo Domingo.

Minister for Energy and Mines Dr. Antonio Isa Conde, Vice Minister of Energy Ernesto Vilalta, Secretary of State and Vice-President of the National Council for Climate Change Omar Ramirez, and other high-ranking governmental officials met with Worldwatch’s Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch and the director of the study, to receive the report, titled: Harnessing the Dominican Republic’s Sustainable Energy Resources.

Representatives from the Ministry and stakeholders in the energy sector were then briefed on the social, economic, and environmental benefits of transitioning to an efficient, renewable-based energy system.

According to the report, transitioning to an electricity system powered 85 percent by renewables can decrease the average cost of electricity in the Dominican Republic by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2010. Such an ambitious pathway to renewable energy would improve the safety and reliability of the island nation’s energy supply. It also would create up to 12,500 additional jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Dominican electricity sector to a mere 3 million tons annually, all while making power generation in the country more resilient to the impacts of climate change and reducing local air and water pollution.

The Dominican Republic depends on fossil fuel imports for 86 percent of its electricity needs, a reliance that brings enormous economic and environmental vulnerabilities and costs. The country spends up to a tenth of its gross domestic product on fossil fuel imports and spent US$1 billion on subsidies in 2011 to keep electricity rates more affordable. Transmission and distribution losses remain very high, at 32 percent, leading to significant financial losses for the Dominican power system. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels also results in high local pollution and healthcare costs and contributes to global climate change.

“Transitioning to a sustainable system is in the country’s best long-term interest,” says Ochs “This Roadmap provides decision makers and stakeholders in the Dominican Republic with the technical, socioeconomic, financial, and policy analysis needed to guide the country’s further transition to an electricity system that works.”

“The study demonstrates that an alternative pathway exists, one that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable,” says Ochs. “Together with our partners on the island, we have proven that a power system built on the efficient distribution and competent use of the country’s vast available renewable resources is the only smart way forward for the Dominican Republic.”

Improving power generation efficiency and reducing grid losses – of which are far short of international standards – are a first step to reducing electricity prices for consumers, the report finds. The lowest-cost ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the country include installing efficient lighting controls in new commercial buildings, switching from incandescent light bulbs to LEDs and investing in more-efficient electronics in the commercial and residential sectors, and replacing fuel oil plants with natural gas-fired plants. Even with improvements in efficiency, however, new power capacity will still be needed to meet the country’s needs.

If grid strengthening measures are implemented, renewable energy can reliably meet up to 85 percent of the Dominican Republic’s electricity demand while still lowering energy costs. Of the possible renewable installed capacity, the majority (85 percent) could be met with solar (4,708 megawatts) and wind (4,205 megawatts) by 2030, according to the most ambitious scenario presented in the report. The rest would come from small hydropower and bagasse.

Renewable energy technologies are already fully competitive with conventional power solutions, even if so-called “externalities” are not accounted for, according to Worldwatch’s electricity cost modeling. Moreover, “the social and economic case for renewables becomes even stronger once the very real air and water pollution costs, as well as related health costs of fossil fuel generation, are included,” says Ochs. “Add climate change to the equation, and the rationale behind clean modern energy technologies becomes an economic no-brainer.”

Distributed generation—- producing power where it is consumed, such as using rooftop solar systems—- can greatly reduce grid losses. It is also more resilient than centralised fossil fuel generation to climate change impacts, such as hurricanes, inland flooding, or droughts. Renewable energy sources—- particularly distributed systems—- are also the only feasible long-term solution to provide affordable electricity to the 4 percent of Dominicans who live in remote areas without any access to the power grid.

The report provides detailed geographic and temporal analysis of the country’s strong solar and wind resources. It demonstrates how a good weather forecasting system and a reliable, modernised grid allow for both reliable production and system protection in the case of extreme weather events.

The largest hurdle is the upfront costs of such a system change. Building up enough renewable energy capacity to power 85 percent of Dominican electricity would require investments of around US$78 billion. However, the switch to renewables is much more affordable than any scenario that relies on conventional energy sources, including installing, operating, and fueling fossil fuel-based power plants. Total savings to the country in the highest renewable scenario (85 percent) is US$25 billion by 2030. This would free up significant public money over the next 15 years to spend on other pressing social and economic concerns.

The Roadmap makes concrete suggestions for building both financial and human capacities to make the sustainable energy pathway a reality. The suggestions aim to improve the investment environment for public and private as well as domestic and international financing.

To speed the energy transition, the report recommends that the Dominican Republic make renewable energy an overarching development priority, rallying key governmental and non-governmental actors behind a clean, independent, affordable, and reliable energy vision. Creating a new Ministry of Energy and Mines in July 2013 was a strong first step toward mainstreaming the country’s myriad energy-related resources. The Roadmap outlines additional concrete finance and policy recommendations to strengthen the investment environment for renewables and to allow the energy sector to follow the best path forward based on conclusions from the report’s modeling and analysis.

“A paradigm shift is happening in the Dominican Republic, and our Roadmap will further accelerate it,” says Ochs. “The country’s government, private industry, and civil society actors have come to see the important role of energy reform in reducing electricity costs, bolstering the national economy, creating social opportunity, and contributing to a healthier environment.”

“The country is now at a crucial point where it must implement targeted measures in order to achieve the full benefits of a sustainable energy system for generations to come.”

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