Thursday, December 26, 2013

Renewable Power Down in Honduras

Despite having increased its installed base of renewable energy generation sources, Honduras is actually getting proportionally less energy from renewable sources than it previously was.

The result of this lower generation has been roving blackouts all across Honduras this year. This comes despite policies of the Lobo Sosa administration.

In 2010 they approved 47 renewable energy projects, with a combined generation capacity of 750 megawatts.  Only four of those projects have actually broken ground to begin construction, and only one, a small hydroelectric project generating 12 megawatts, is actually operating.

In 2010, Honduras generated  6,744.3 gigawatt hours of power, split as follows:
  • 3,449.6 gigawatt hours (52%) from oil fired plants
  • 3,080.3 gigawatt hours (44.8%) from hydraulic generation
  • 142.1 gigawatt hours (2.1%) from biomass 
  • 22.1 gigawatt hours (0.3%) from imported power

From 2010 to 2013, Honduras saw a slight increase in installed capacity, from 1610 megwatts to 1734.9 megawatts.  That's a 124.9 megawatt increase, nearly all of it because of a single wind power farm, Cerro Hule (102 megawatts), coming on line.

There was a slight increase in biomass generation by 2013 as well, from an installed capacity of 91.4 megawatts to 105.5 megawatts, primarily from sugar cane processing.

By installed capacity, in 2010 renewable sources represented 38.4% of the generating capacity of Honduras.  In 2013 that had risen to 43.7% of installed capacity, as the director of SERNA reported earlier this year.

But despite representing almost 44% of the generating capacity, renewable installations actually generated only 40% of the power produced in Honduras this year.

Why was this?

There was an overall drop in power generation in Honduras between 2010 and 2013.  In 2010, Honduras generated 6744.3 gigawatt hours of power.  In 2013, it generated 5898.8 gigawatt hours, a decrease of 845.5 gigawatt hours.

The good news is that wind power and biomass generation increased.

The bad news is that everything else decreased.  Oil-fired plants generated 22 gigawatt hours less electricity in 2013 versus 2010.

The biggest drop in generation came from hydroelectric.

In 2010 hydroelectric plants generated 44.8% of the power used in Honduras.  In 2013, only 33.7% of the power generated in Honduras came from hydroelectric, a drop of 11%.  Total hydraulic generation dropped by nearly a third, from 3083.3 gigawatt hours in 2010 to 1999.1 gigawatt hours in 2013.  Part of this is due to mismanagement of the El Cajón dam, built on the Comayagua River in the 1980s.

The amount of water in its reservoir has been lowered to reduce pressure on the dam, which is reportedly leaking more than 2000 liters per second through cracks that threaten to flood the turbine room.  Reduced water pressure means reduced production of electricity.

Another factor contributing to this decrease in hydroelectric generation is drought.  Much of the southern half of the country has been experiencing a multi-year drought.

The renewable energy strategy of ENEE places a higher emphasis on hydroelectric projects than any other form of renewable energy.  The majority of the 47 renewable energy projects approved in 2010 were hydroelectric projects, mostly small.

Honduras is at continuing risk for drought going forward, according to climate change maps.

Other types of renewable power would seem like better options for the future, and would lower the confrontations caused with local people-- often rural farmers, and in many cases indigenous people.

Unfortunately, when Honduras strikes out into renewable energy, it is just as likely to grant contracts to companies with no expertise.

So the hydroelectric projects that can be done with local resources keep on coming. But the power generated does not.


Cristian Padilla said...

Hey guys been reading your posts for a while and I've found them spot on and very very very VERY!!!!!!!!!!! informational thank u so very much for your hard work was wondering if you guys have a face book page to follow

S said...

1. Honduras lacks a sizeable buffer between peak demand and generating capacity. However, the primary cause of blackouts in Honduras is the transmission infrastructure - which is often unable to handle the ammount of load demanded of it. Here's an old, but still valid, article on the subject from La Prensa.

2. The problem identified by these numbers is the poor state of the El Cajon dam, which has had a serious impact on hydro generating capacity. Extrapolating this to a broader indictment of hydro power in general is not warranted.

3. Hydro and wind power are complementary, but do not fulfill the same function in a grid. Wind power is variable, and in periods of low - or high - wind speed the transmission dispatch needs to have another source of standby power. Hydro plants fulfill this standby (or baseline) function well. Are there problems with hydro power? Yes. It is, however, important to understand the difference between different types of "renewable energy".

4. Another good energy resource is CEPAL/ECLAC. Here is their 2012 study:

RAJ said...

Christian: We don't have a Facebook page to follow; you could follow our twitter feed if you want: @HondurasCultPol

The comment posted by "S" suggests our main point was that there was not enough alternative (wind) energy development. Our main point was that the energy policy in Honduras is disfunctional. The role of poor infrastructure leading to blackouts is a valuable addition, but doesn't change our main point. We also do appreciate that wind power cannot be counted on at all times.

What is most striking, though, is that a very large number of projects is producing a decreasing amount of energy while drawing a reasonably strong negative reaction from the affected population. That is bad energy policy.