Suriname’s energy system: what are the main issues?

Here come some facts and opinions of mine on the current state of the Surinamese energy system and how to increase its sustainability:

Current energy mix:

  • Amongst the Caribbean countries, Suriname has the lowest reliance upon fossil fuels for electricity generation.
  • Energy demand: from 1970 to 2009 the peak load increased from 22MW to 170MW (and is expected to rise to about 250 MW by 2015), with Greater Paramaribo and the mining sector (gold, oil and bauxite) being the biggest energy demanders.
    Energy demand is estimated to grow between 8 to 10 % per year (quite an enormous number!).
  • The most significant source of electricity is hydro-electricity, which is supplying more than half of the country’s electricity generation requirements.
  • The electricity grid connected to the Afobaka hydro dam expands to Paramaribo and its surrounding coastal districts (Wanica, Commewijne and the communities between Afobakka and Paramaribo). The other districts (such as Nickerie, Albina, etc. as well as the villages in the interior) generate energy via thermal power plants or smaller generators supplied with diesel. EBS and the State Oil Company of Suriname also operate several thermal power plants in Paramaribo, to meet the gap between the demand and electricity produced by the hydro-dam.
  • Oil is becoming a more and more important domestic source of energy as the State Oil Company is not only exploring oil on-shore, but is looking into offshore-explorations, too. The State Oil Company is also currently constructing a second oil Off-shore drilling (especially in the deep sea at several kilometers depth) will come with new environmental risks.

Energy Access:

About 40,000 people live in the interior of the country. The Rural Electrification Department (Dienst ElektriciteitsVoorziening, DEV) of the Ministry of Natural Resources is currently providing and maintaining standalone diesel generator sets in the capacity range of 10 to 60 kW for about 130 villages. The diesel is sent on a monthly basis by boat to these villages, that do not pay for any of those services. Nevertheless, electricity is then only provided for 4 to 6 hours per day during night time (from 6pm onwards). During day time few people use small solar panels and batteries (bought on their own initiative). For cooking, most people in the interior of Suriname still rely on wood. A pilot solar energy plant has been installed in Gunsi village on the Suriname River in 2013/2014.

Some people in the interior install their own solar systems on their houses so to have electricity also during day time.

Some people in the interior install their own solar systems on their houses so to have electricity also during day time.

Energy efficiency:

No national energy efficiency measures or programs have been put in place as of now, although huge potentials exist not only in the area of (public and private) lighting, but especially in cooling (air-conditioning!), in the power generation chain as well as to improve car efficiency. No green building code exists, which would certainly help to inspire low-consumption houses, office buildings, etc., thus reducing the need in air-conditioning significantly.

As a matter of fact, energy efficiency has been a constantly ignored topic on the energy agenda in Suriname.

Energy Pricing:

Energy is extremely cheap in Suriname. Electricity only costs about 14 dollar cents per kWh (only for people in the cities; people in the interior do not pay for the electricity provided by the government at night). Although it has been discussed for years, the government is still reluctant to raise electricity prices in fear of losing their voters’ support. Nevertheless, the current pricing scheme does not give any incentive to reduce energy consumption or to invest in energy efficiency measures.

Renewable energies:

Hydropower

  • Hydro-electricity counts for a majority of the country’s electricity production (see above) and is also the least expensive. It is provided by the Afobaka hydro plant at the Brokopondo lake (an artificial lake of 1550 square kilometers, created in 1963, originally as power source for the bauxite company SURALCO). The Afobaka hydro plant has 189MW installed power, but only 105-110MW is currently used, because water flow is insufficient to use the installed capacity. Actually, the Afobaka is one of the most inefficient hydro dams of the world (comparing the lake’s surface with electricity output)!
Brokopondo Lake (view from Brownsberg Nature Park)

Brokopondo Lake (view from Brownsberg Nature Park)

  • About 5000 people were displaced by the dam, particularly Maroon people. This created some tensions between the different groups of Maroons, since their
  • Environmentally speaking, the dam has contributed to the emission of large volumes of greenhouse gases due to Methane emissions caused by the decomposition of plant material that was left in the lake (particularly trees). Further, the fragmentation of the Suriname River altered the natural flow patterns of water, sediments and nutrients. After the closure of the dam, fish communities were found to have decreased in number of species, diversity and changed in distribution (Source: WWF Living Guianas Report 2012).
  • The government has been exploring options for a second hydro-dam, either in the East (Tapajai project) or West (Kabalebo project). If the government will indeed realize one of these projects, in-depth social and environmental impact assessments will have to be carried out and civil society groups as well as local populations better to be involved.
  • Besides large-scale hydro projects, also mini and piko-hydro projects are possible options for energy supply in the interior: run-of-the-river systems have and are still tested by the University of Suriname.
Suriname River and its many rapids

Suriname River and its many rapids – potentially suitable for run-of-the-river mini-hydro systems?

Solar

  • Despite the enormous solar radiation and potential for solar energy in Suriname, no medium- or large-scale solar projects (neither PV nor solar thermal) have been installed in Suriname yet. Some projects have been carried out in the interior (for example, in Kwamala Samatu), but failed due to lack of community ownership and participation resulting in poor maintenance of the equipment. Nevertheless, as long as the villages in the interior will not be connected to the national grid, solar will remain the cheapest and cleanest option for electricity supply in the interior!

    Solar power panel in Pikin Slee village on the Suriname River

    Solar power panel in Pikin Slee village on the Suriname River

Biomass

  • The country possesses a lot of biomass resources it has not been making any use of. Two of them are particularly to be named: (1) forest residues from forestry activities (usually only about 50% of a cut tree is actually used, the rest is “waste”), and (2) rice husk (currently burned in huuuuge amounts just next to the rice mills in the West of the country). Of course, household waste, is also an important source of biomass which is currently just landfilled and not being used.
  • Staatsolie is now also working on an ethanol biofuel project in Wageningen (Western Suriname) made from sugarcane.

Wind

  • Several tests have been carried out, but so far wind energy is not considered a feasible energy source for Suriname due to too many fluctuations in wind speed (wind can blow very powerful, but not regularly enough).

Main actors:

  • EBS (Energie Bedrijven Suriname/Energy Company Suriname, nvebs.com), a state-owned company with a monopoly on electricity distribution to the general public (which it mostly buys from SURALCO’s hydroelectric plant). EBS also owns thermal power plants.
  • State Oil Company of Suriname (Staatsolie Maatschappij Suriname N.V., staatsolie.com), a limited liability company with the Suriname State as its sole shareholder. Staatsolie explores for, produces and refines crude oil, on-shore and with possible off-shore activities in the future.
  • Suralco (Suriname Aluminum Company, alcoa.com/suriname). Around 1963, Suralco built a dam creating a reservoir for a hydropower production plant with a maximum capacity of 185 MW. The electricity is used by the Suralco aluminium factory located 70 kilometres north of the lake Brokopondo. Currently 65 MW of produced electricity is transported to Paramaribo to support the demand that cannot be supplied by the EBS.
  • DEV, the Electrification Supply Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources, is responsible for energy supply in the interior.

 

Some reflections on the sustainability of Suriname’s energy system:

One of the major drawbacks that hinder improvements in the sustainability of Suriname’s energy sector, is that the country does not have any energy legislation (i.e. policies, laws, …). It lacks a long-term strategy and planning on how the government envisions the country’s long-term energy (and economic) development. Without such vision and strategy, the government is actually only following the advice and demands of the big power operators (EBS, Staatsolie and Suralco), and is putting in place ad-hoc decisions that do often benefit neither people nor the environment on the long-run (an example for this is the recent decision by the Government to install additional thermal power plant capacities instead of working on a renewable energy plan). Once such a strategy would be in place, public authorities would have to be strengthened in order to be able to enforce those regulations.

Although the Government of Suriname has been assisted by a number of international donors (such as Inter-American Development Bank, CARICOM Energy Program, OLADE, ECLAC, German Development Aid, and others) in developing an energy law, act and policies, no real results have been achieved so far. Let’s hope that they will soon be ready!

Further, the country would clearly benefit by opening up and decentralizing the energy market, especially when it comes to renewable energy systems. Financial and fiscal incentives could help to engage citizens and companies in setting up their own solar home systems, for example. This would create opportunities for small-scale renewable energy vendors, which could be coupled with micro-loans for lower income groups).

The huge potentials of the sun over Suriname remain yet to be harnessed.

The huge potentials of the sun over Suriname remain yet to be harnessed.

Sources and further reading:

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SURINAME’S MAJOR SOCIO-ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Here come the top three socio-environmental issues in Suriname (based on my personal observations, readings and interviews):

(I will get in more depth on each topic in the following posts)

(1) Gold mining (especially small-scale artisanal gold-mining)

(2) Energy

(3) Urban planning

  • land use changes and biodiversity loss (due to deforestation, hunting, …)
  • pollution of waterways due to mercury use and sedimentation
  • public health (mercury and cyanide intoxication)
  • prostitution, human trafficking, violence

Degraded area after small-scale mining operations (Source: WWF Guianas)

Degraded area after small-scale mining operations (Source: WWF Guianas)

  • renewable energies
  • energy efficiency
  • energy access for remote communities in the interior
  • need for real energy strategy, development plan, policies, fiscal incentives, need for more private sector involvement, etc.

One of the thermal power plants operated by EBS in cenral Paramaribo (very noisy, I can tell you!)

One of the thermal power plants operated by EBS in central Paramaribo (very noisy, I can tell you!)

  • public transport
  • flood prevention and sea level rise adaptation
  • sewage systems and waste water management
  • urban solid waste management
  • green space
Dumpsite I saw at Brownsberg Nature Park

Dumpsite I saw at Brownsberg Nature Park 😦