PublicationJournal Article Evidence and future scenarios of a low-​​carbon energy transition in Central America: A case study in Nicaragua

September 24, 2015
Publication Type:
Journal Article

A video abstract for the paper is avail­able here.

The global car­bon emis­sions bud­get over the next decades depends crit­i­cally on the choices made by fast-​​growing emerg­ing economies. Few stud­ies exist, how­ever, that develop country-​​specific energy sys­tem inte­gra­tion insights that can inform emerg­ing economies in this decision-​​making process. High spa­tial– and temporal-​​resolution power sys­tem plan­ning is cen­tral to eval­u­at­ing decar­boniza­tion sce­nar­ios, but obtain­ing the required data and mod­els can be cost pro­hib­i­tive, espe­cially for researchers in low, lower-​​middle income economies. Here, we use Nicaragua as a case study to high­light the impor­tance of high-​​resolution open access data and mod­el­ing plat­forms to eval­u­ate fuel-​​switching strate­gies and their result­ing cost of power under real­is­tic tech­nol­ogy, pol­icy, and cost sce­nar­ios (2014–2030). Our results sug­gest that Nicaragua could cost-​​effectively achieve a low-​​carbon grid (≥80%, based on non-​​large hydro renew­able energy gen­er­a­tion) by 2030 while also pur­su­ing mul­ti­ple devel­op­ment objec­tives. Regional coop­er­a­tion (bal­anc­ing) enables the high­est wind and solar gen­er­a­tion (18% and 3% by 2030, respec­tively), at the least cost (US$127 MWh−1). Poten­tially risky resources (geot­her­mal and hydropower) raise sys­tem costs but do not sig­nif­i­cantly hin­der decar­boniza­tion. Oil price sen­si­tiv­ity sce­nar­ios sug­gest renew­able energy to be a more cost-​​effective long-​​term invest­ment than fuel oil, even under the assump­tion of pre­vail­ing cheap oil prices. Nicaragua’s options illus­trate the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges of power sys­tem decar­boniza­tion for emerg­ing economies, and the key role that open access data and mod­el­ing plat­forms can play in help­ing develop low-​​carbon tran­si­tion pathways.

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