Renewable Energy for Diesel Replacement in the Caribbean & Latin America 

Diesel generators are the primary source of electricity for small and “mini” electric grid systems for many islands and isolated locations.  Diesel fuel poses an ever-present risk of degrading marine and terrestrial ecosystems through accidental spills.  Diesel generators also emit substantial quantities of carbon dioxide per unit of electricity.  Renewable energy has a proven ability to supplement or replace diesel generators to produce electricity for mini-grids and dedicated stand-alone applications, but its use remains limited in much of the Caribbean and Latin America.

GMI seeks to help raise awareness about renewable energy options for diesel replacement.  Below are some resources and case examples that stakeholders and project developers might find useful as they explore options and develop plans for diesel substitution activities.

Diesel replacement initiatives and tools

Analytical models

HOMER – An optimization model developed by NREL that determines the least-cost hybrid system configuration.

Hybrid2A simulation model developed jointly by NREL and the University of Massachusetts for determining the cost and performance of a variety of hybrid or conventional power systems.

RETScreen – Developed by Natural Resources Canada, the RETScreen International Clean Energy Project Analysis Software is used to evaluate the energy production, life-cycle costs and greenhouse gas emission reductions for various types of proposed energy efficient and renewable energy technologies.

Organizations, programs, and projects

Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP) – A partnership of developing and industrialized country governments, public and private organizations, multilateral institutions, consumers and others designed to ensure access to modern energy services by the poor. 

Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA) is a UNEP- and GEF- financed program that provides solar and wind resource data and geographic information assessment tools to energy stakeholders in developing counties.  Caribbean and Latin American participant countries include Brazil, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

United Nations Energy for Sustainable Development – A UN project overseen by the Division for Sustainable Development whose aim is to assist developing countries achieve their sustainable development goals as they relate to energy access.

Related materials

Technical Handbook for Marine Biodiesel in Recreational Boats, by Randall von Wedel – While the focus of this handbook is for marine applications of biodiesel fuel, it provides practical information that transcends specific applications.  

Case studies of selected diesel replacement activities


Localities with tropical ecosystems in the Americas and elsewhere are experimenting with biodiesel from local sources as an economically viable supplement to conventional diesel fuel.  Experiences by SOPAC in Fiji have proven valuable in assessing the potential for tropical biodiesel applications using the coconut.

Brazil: Biofuels for the Transportation Sector - In the 1970s, Brazil undertook an ambitious program to introduce ethanol into the transportation fuel mix.  With average production of around 5 billion liters in recent years, it is the largest commercial producer and consumer of biomass for energy in the world.  A study in the 1990s found that ethanol use in the transportation sector alone reduced over 7 million tCO2e annually.  Other countries in Latin American and the Caribbean that are experimenting with ethanol fuel technology include Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, and Jamaica.

Brazil: PROVEGAM Biodiesel Project – The Centro Nacional de Referência em Biomassa (CENBIO), in collaboration with several other Brazilian partners, is installing and testing the use of unprocessed palm oil as a complement or substitute for diesel fuel in rural Amazonia.


Some biogas development programs have been and are operated in several Caribbean countries.  Most projects utilize the biogas to power electricity generators.  One project of note is a joint activity undertaken by Penn State University (US) and The University of Technology (Jamaica).  The Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE) also coordinates and supervises several biogas technology activities in the region. 

Brazil: GASEIFAMAZ biogas project – The Brazilian Reference Center on Biomass (CENBIO) project seeks to install and operate small-scale (20 kW) fixed bed gasifier systems in remote Amazonian communities.  The systems, developed at the Indian Institute of Science, rely on wood and agricultural resources for 80% of the generators’ energy input.


Grenada: Nutmeg shell cogeneration project – Conceived and designed by Global Sustainable Energy Islands Initiative (GSEII) partners, this project sought to build a 50 kW plant using nutmeg shells for electricity and heat generation of electricity in a nutmeg processing facility.  The project was cancelled in 2004 due to damage to the local nutmeg crop from a major hurricane.

Cuba: Sugarcane bagasse and solid waste cogeneration project - This UNDP project attempted to remove barriers to the substitution of sugarcane bagasse and trash for fuel oil in power and steam co-generation.

A private corporation, Caribe Waste Technologies, Inc., is negotiating contracts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to operate solid waste recycling and energy generating facilities.  The plants will process 3,168 and 660 tons of solid waste per day respectively, generating roughly 650 kWh per ton of waste.


While efforts to date to develop geothermal resources for commercial power generation in the Caribbean have not been successful, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is now supporting the Eastern Caribbean Geothermal Development Project (Geo-Caraïbes), in collaboration with Organization of American States (OAS), UNEP, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Electricité de France (EDF), Compagnie Française de Géothermie (CFG), and the governments of Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia.   This project represents a significant effort to facilitate commercial development of geothermal power in the region.


There are ample rainfall resources and high average hydraulic head levels in the CaribbeanCuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and St Vincent/Grenadines all operate hydroelectric plants of varying generating capacity.

Trinidad & Tobago: Micro Hydropower.  The UNDP Small Grants Programme has funded a pilot micro hydropower station that will replace the use of diesel generators and is designed to create spin-off effects such as increased employment, improved medical care, reduced urban migration, conservation of biodiversity, and improved sustainable agriculture practices. 

Methane capture

Cuba: Biogas Capture and Renewable Energy  – this project is designed to capture landfill methane and generate 9.4 GWh per year.  Project developers anticipate CO2e savings of over 180,000 tons per year.

St. Lucia: Ciceron Landfill Gas to Energy Project – GSEII members are developing plans to build a 400 KW plant powered by captured methane emissions.  Its project developers plan to market over 8,700 tons per year of carbon emission reduction credits from the project via the Clean Development Mechanism.

Natural gas 

Several of the largest Caribbean islands are considering or have developed liquid natural gas regasification terminals to supplement their energy supply.  According to the US Energy Information Agency, Jamaica plans to import up to 1.1 Mmt of LNG per year from Trinidad and Tobago.  An American utility operates a facility in the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico imports LNG for a 540-MW natural gas-fired power plant.


While PV technology can be used on its own or in hybrid systems to replace diesel fuel for power generation in mini-grids, due to cost considerations PV is most commonly used in combination with wind power to supply mini-grids.  Still, some standalone PV-diesel hybrid mini-grid systems exist, in Peru and Morocco, for example, and doubtlessly elsewhere.  Stand-alone applications of PV can also supplement or replace diesel generators for dedicated applications such as water pumping and communications.  In some cases PV home lighting systems replace diesel generators as well.

Solar water heating

Solar water heating (SWH) is a cost-effective renewable energy technology in many areas and can play a substantial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional water heating.  In most Caribbean countries, electric water heaters are the norm and contribute substantially to overall electricity consumption. 

Barbados has been particularly effective in introducing SWH into the country’s energy mix.  A combination of high electricity costs and aggressive government incentives have fueled a robust local manufacturing base and resulted in the use of solar water heaters by more the 30% of the country’s households.


Wind is an increasingly popular renewable energy resource for diesel replacement activities.  The Caribbean is endowed with ample wind resources, especially in the eastern Caribbean’s “Windward Islands”.  

Honduras: Utila Island wind/diesel hybrid project  – a project developed by a consortium, the Tennessee Valley Infrastructure Group, to add a wind power component to an existing diesel-powered electric grid.

Jamaica: Wigton Wind Farm – In July 2004, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, in collaboration with Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (RES), built a 23-turbine wind farm, with a total generating capacity of 20.7 MW.  Annual CO2 reductions are approximately 50,000 tons.  The wind farm was conceived as a CDM project and is selling CERs on the Kyoto compliance market.



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