IRENA, SICA develop Central America Clean Energy Corridor initiative

An initiative to integrate more renewable energy into the Central America power system took a step closer to achieving its goal of diversifying the energy mix, reducing fossil fuel dependency and combating climate change.

To meet increasing energy needs with renewable energy, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Central American Integration System (SICA) are developing the Central America Clean Energy Corridor initiative.

Presented last week at a meeting of government representatives, energy officials and proponents of climate protection to discuss Central America’s energy future in El Salvador, the initiative aims to integrate more renewables into the existing Central American Electrical Interconnection System, which stretches from Guatemala to Panama.

IRENA points out that the recently finished 1,800 kilometer-long transmission line “is currently underutilized, presenting a clear opportunity for the deployment of more renewable energy in the region.”

With a population of 40 million and a more than 3% annual economic growth rate, Central America’s power needs are rapidly increasing: Regional demand grew 65% over the last 12 years and an estimated 7 GW of new electric generation capacity will be needed by 2020, the organization adds.

“Central America possesses vast resources for hydropower, biomass, geothermal, wind and solar energy. These could be harnessed to help provide clean, cost-effective and sustainable solutions to meet regional energy needs and support in-country development,” said IRENA Director General Adnan Z. Amin. “Accelerating renewables deployment will help the region achieve energy security, develop local economies and create jobs while contributing to efforts to address climate change.”

Last week’s workshop, the first jointly organized event since IRENA and SICA signed a memorandum of understanding last year, brought together key regional and national stakeholders to discuss next steps. While the potential of the corridor is high, there are still barriers to overcome, including the lack of regulation, technical tools and local experience operating a regional power system with medium to high shares of variable renewable energy.

IRENA said the workshop resulted in feedback that would help move the initiative from concept to reality.

“The corridor concept is not new. Its first implementation is already underway in countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa power pools, promoting cross-border trade of renewable electricity,” said Amin. “We believe that implementation of the Clean Energy Corridor in Central America can further diversify its energy mix, reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and shape a more sustainable future through harnessing its large renewables resource potential.”

As a precursor to the El Salvador meeting, Latin America energy leaders met in Abu Dhabi in January to discuss the deployment of renewable energy in the region. Attending IRENA’s Fifth Assembly were delegation heads from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. The Abu Dhabi event focused on the challenges in Latin America’s transformation to a sustainable energy future as well as on efforts to identify collaboration opportunities between IRENA and the region.