Characterization of energy use in Central America: households choices and opportunities to promote energy transition initiatives in low and middle-income countries

While developed countries are increasing their reliance on renewable energy sources, low and middle-income countries maintain their energy matrix on conventional fuels and natural resources, increasing their energy dependency and unsustainable use of natural resources to respond to a growing population and emerging economy. There is a need to understand the current status and the drivers of energy transition in low- and middle-income countries to promote a change in the current energy model.

In Central America, where natural resources are overexploited, and most rural areas are isolated and disconnected from the electricity grid, the energy matrix remains dependent on fossil fuels. A high share of energy comes from oil sources (50%), followed by biomass (38%) and electricity (12%, estimated in 2013). Biomass corresponds mainly to firewood used in homes for cooking (PEN, 2016). With the expansion of the economies, the use of fossil fuels is increasing, while the use of fuelwood as main cooking source continues being unsustainable (Dolezal et al., 2013). Central America had the double challenge of ensuring the provision of the energy needed for its development and, at the same time, reducing the social, economic and environmental impacts associated with the use of traditional sources (Galvez et al., 2010).

As a response, regional development goals and national interests are aligned towards the embracement of renewable energies and sustainable alternatives. In this aspect, several projects and initiatives are currently working on improved stoves, using forestry waste for bioenergy and photovoltaic systems, to mention some, aiming to spread the access to energy sources, increase the efficiency of energy generation and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the region. For example, the regional strategy on environment and health (2009-2024) considers the efficient use of energy and biofuels together with energy, social and environmental sustainability criteria (SICA et al., 2008). However, Dolezal et al. (2013) highlight deficiencies in the delineation, implementation, and functioning of national policies, accompanied of financial, technical and other barriers. Mechanisms driving household choices behavior remain unclear, hinder the transition efforts. Therefore, we aim to understand the use of energy at a household level and the potentiality of available alternatives in order to coordinate future research, development, and policy efforts towards an energy transition in Central America.

Project Goal and Methodology
We aim to understand the status of energy use in Central American households to coordinate future research and development efforts on the potential energy alternatives, ensuring policy embracement for energy transition in low- and middle-income countries of Central America. For this, we will combine data of energy consumption and available alternatives at household level with efforts from initiatives, research and development projects conducted in the region, national strategies that sustainably pursue provision of energy, and findings from previous studies.

Specifically, we will:

  • Explore the current data from Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) and additional data sources at country level to assess the heterogeneity for households choosing energy alternatives.
  • Identify energy options available at small scale in the region and compare the potential for household economies, environment, and national energy dependence.
  • Register current projects and initiatives present in the region to find implementation gaps.
  • Assess relevant literature about the regional approach of energy generation and use to find research gaps, common objectives, and policy needs.
  • Consider which type of data, primary surveys or secondary data, is required for future research based on experiences from previous studies in the literature review.

This project is in coordination with the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI).

Project status
Project | 28 July 2017