Business

Belize Renewable Energy Potential

There are several global indices that rank Belize in less-than-favorable positions. For crime, we rank a little too high for comfort, and a rank of 121 on the Doing Business Index (DBI) places us a little too low. However, there are those areas that the statistics and measures indicate that we have great promise as an economy. One such area is that of renewable energy.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in its report entitled “Renewable Capacity Statistics 2017”, provided data on the “renewable power capacity” for individual countries (and regions). More specifically, IRENA’s report presented data on the “net generating capacity of power plants and other installations that use renewable energy sources to produce electricity.” The capacity reported, which are measured in megawatts (MW), “reflects the capacity installed and connected at the end of the calendar year”.

Looking at the Central American and Caribbean region, the net generating capacity (NGC) totaled 13,266 MW, a figure that represents more than a 93% increase in the region’s NGC between 2007 (when the total NGC was 6,869 MW) and 2016. Three Central American countries, however, account for more than 57% of that amount: Costa Rica (2900 MW), Guatemala (2662 MW), and Panama (2005).

If those heavy hitters are excluded, then the remaining countries in the region account for 5,699 MW. Disaggregating further, however, we can isolate only the twenty-three Caribbean countries that were included in IRENA’s report (2017). The total megawatt for these 23 Caribbean countries amounts to 2,517, with Cuba, Dominica Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica accounting for roughly 80% of this total.

Even with the inclusion of the Caribbean major players, out of these 23 countries, Belize—as of 2016—could be said to hold the rank of sixth place with its 89 MW of renewable energy capacity, as reported by IRENA. Equally impressive is the fact that Belize’s installed Renewable Energy Capacity has increased from 42 MW to 89 MW (an increase of more than 110%) between 2007 and 2016.

It must be underscored at this point that IRENA (2017) is reporting on installed capacity, and not necessarily accounting for untapped potential. Speaking of hydroelectric potential alone, a 2014 report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), “The Energy Sector in Belize”, noted that the country’s potential is approximately “75 to 100 MW”.

In terms of wind, the National Energy Policy Framework (NEPF-Belize) (2011) stated: “Belize also has approximately 3,500 square miles of offshore marine water area with moderate-to-excellent wind resource up to 70 miles off the coastline…This works out to a gross energy production potential of 69,087,590 MWhs (per year) from offshore areas with moderate-to-excellent wind resource at 80 metres above sea level. To put this figure in perspective: this is over 140 times our current electricity demand; and sufficient to meet the projected electricity needs of the entire Central American region, excluding Mexico, for the next 10 years.”

With similar statistics for other renewable energy sources including waste material, biomass, and solar, it is no wonder that renewable energy is highlighted among Belize’s top priority investment sectors, alongside staples such as agriculture and tourism. More importantly, it is data like this that explains why the National Sustainable Energy Strategy (NSES-Belize) includes goals such as turning Belize into a net exporter of electricity by 2020, as well as the vision to “triple the amount of modern energy carriers derived from waste material.”

Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), in their annual report for 2016, explained that it sold 541 gigawatt hours (GWh) (converted to MWh, the NEPF-Belize’s estimates for wind energy supply being more than 100 times local demand is still valid) to roughly 91,000 accounts (more than 71,000 customers), with a peak power demand of approximately 96 MW.

As of 2016, BEL reported that 56% of its energy was derived from indigenous renewable sources. The goal is to reach 80% in the next eight years, as well as to simultaneously reduce the need for imported energy from Mexico’s CFE.

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