Energy for all: a goal within Latin America and the Caribbean


Ensuring access to electricity seems a very ambitious goal, but it is a fundamental factor in the fight against poverty

In Pokigron there has always been a lot of light. Surrounded by the green sea of the Suriname jungle, that community of 600 inhabitants has plenty of sun, but until very recently, it had no electricity. The Government of Suriname inaugurated there last year the first solar plant in that country to provide 24 hours of energy to rural communities, barely accessible from the capital, Paramaribo.

The investment in that solar plant, developed with the financial support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is a step towards achieving a goal throughout Latin America and the Caribbean: providing electricity to all its inhabitants. It is a goal in which the region has made steady progress in recent years, thanks to strategic investments in the sector. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) establish that by 2030 all countries guarantee universal access to electricity.

Energy is important for the productive and economic development of countries, and a fundamental factor in the fight against poverty: it is vital in the creation of new business opportunities and encourages the creation of new productive spaces that open job opportunities. In addition, it has a relevant impact on key issues, such as access to quality services in health and education.

Latin America and the Caribbean is currently one of the regions with the cleanest generation matrix in the world and its coverage percentage is one of the highest. The region went from 92% of electricity coverage in 2000 to 98% in 2017, a percentage much higher than the world average of 87.3%.

Latin America and the Caribbean is currently one of the regions with the cleanest generation matrix in the world and its coverage percentage is one of the highest

Some countries such as Barbados, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Costa Rica are very close to reaching the goal, with coverage levels above 99%.

In other countries the progress in recent years has been spectacular. Between 2000 and 2017 Nicaragua increased from 55.1% to 90% coverage between 2000 and 2017. Bolivia expanded its electricity coverage to 88% in 2017, that is, 32.7 percentage points in the same period. Between those same years, Guatemala increased its coverage by 31.2 percentage points to 95.1%. While Peru went from 62.7% to 92%.

But, despite these enormous advances, the region has yet to bring electricity to the remaining 2.2% of Latin Americans and the Caribbean. And this is not an easy task. According to an IDB analysis, to close that gap, about 600 million US dollars need to be invested per year until 2030. These investments are larger and more complex – at cost per additional user – because they are developed in more dispersed and remote regions. of the generation centers.

For example, in Bolivia about 9% of its population does not have access to this service. This is equivalent to just over a million people, of which 87% live in rural areas. Therefore, that country continues to invest and move forward in electrifying these areas through ambitious and innovative methods.

But there are also huge challenges in countries like Haiti, whose electricity coverage is less than 40%. 6.7 million Haitians lack access to energy, which constitutes almost half of all 14 million in the entire region that lack the service. As in the whole region, the rural area is the most affected in this country, and the areas that do have the service, receive electricity at an average of six to eight hours per day.

The results of these last years have been accompanied by important lessons learned. The increase in coverage has been achieved, to a greater extent, because there is a great political commitment to close that gap, and because access is considered a development priority in the countries. Also, entities or agencies responsible for implementing ambitious access programs have been created, which are also responsible for coordinating all actions related to the creation of infrastructure.

At the same time, several of the countries in the region have established financial and operational models that seek to reduce costs to expand access. Sustainable access programs have also been established that guarantee the continuous supply of electricity, considering fixed and variable cost recovery models associated with the electricity supply, as well as transparent and focused support programs.

Another important lesson is to co-responsible users for the use of electricity infrastructure, contributing to the cost of equipment to access electricity, especially when applied to isolated systems.

The goal of electric energy for all seems very ambitious, but at the same time, achievable: the trend, actions and political commitments indicate that several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are heading to close the access gap to electricity before 2030. Countries where there is more lag could learn from experiences like Pokigron’s, where now the sun provides energy not only during the day, but also at night.

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