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Using Partnerships and Governance to Solve the Energy "Trilemma"

This post was co-written with Sarah Martin, an intern with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative.

The theme of today’s Blog Action Day is the “Power of We,” a celebration of people working together to make a positive difference in the world. The idea of partnership is at the core of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), a network of civil society organizations dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector. In honor of Blog Action Day, this post outlines some of EGI’s most recent work towards finding new responses to the emerging energy “Trilemma.”

The energy “Trilemma” is a newly developed concept outlining the main hurdles to achieving universal access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy. The Trilemma involves three interrelated challenges: meeting the growing demand for clean, affordable, and reliable electricity; ensuring economic growth and energy security; and developing a low-carbon growth strategy.

WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI) is a network of more than 30 organizations from 10 countries dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector. EGI recently held its annual retreat, where partners representing 10 countries discussed how good governance and collaboration can help tackle the energy Trilemma.

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White House’s Industrial Energy Efficiency Plan Will Boost Manufacturing, Curb Emissions

Yesterday, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a national goal of deploying 40 gigawatts (GW) of new combined heat and power (CHP) and waste heat recovery (WHR) by the end of 2020, a 50 percent increase from 2010 capacity levels.

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India’s Blackouts Highlight Need for Electricity Governance Reform

India recently experienced one of the world’s worst blackouts, with 670 million citizens directly impacted. While media reports have focused on the repercussions from two days of outages, this incident illustrates a much larger, more systemic problem: the need for improved electricity governance.

India’s History of Power Problems

India has the world’s fifth-largest electrical system, with an installed electric capacity of about 206 gigawatts (GW). India initiated power sector reforms in the early 1990s through a range of legal, policy, and regulatory changes. Over the last two decades, some of these reforms have been impressive, but several others weren’t taken. This lack of follow-through has resulted in a growing gap between electricity demand and supply throughout the country. Recent blackouts may have shined a spotlight on this gap, but it’s a situation that’s widespread in India: Not only do 400 million Indians lack access to electricity, but electricity supply is unreliable and of poor quality even in large parts of “electrified” India. In addition to the existing demand, Indian consumers, businesses, and industries seek more electricity to power appliances, processes, and products, further exacerbating the demand-supply gap. By 2035, India’s power demand is expected to more than double.

In looking at the recent blackouts and India’s power supply situation in general, three major governance issues jump out:

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4 Ways Water Is Connected to India's Blackouts

Early last week, the strained electrical power infrastructure in northern and eastern India was pushed to its breaking point. Two days of power failures impacted a staggering 670 million people (or, put another way, more than the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America, and Brazil!) , leaving them in the dark and without air conditioning during a period of sweltering heat. India is now putting increased scrutiny on its power grid, with an independent audit already in the works. However, last week’s blackouts were created as much by pipes and pumps as they were by power plants and transmission lines. In many ways, the country’s power problems are symptoms of a growing water crisis.

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Rio+20 in the Rear View: Why We Need to Connect the Grassroots to the Grasstops

Sarah Martin and Gayatri Gadag also contributed to this blog post.

Rio+20 may have ended more than three weeks ago, but the environmental and development communities are still feeling the disappointment. One of the biggest shortcomings was the lack of collaboration between citizen groups (the “grassroots”) and the policy research organizations that influence policymakers (the “grasstops”).

As WRI’s Manish Bapna points out, “A gap and lack of coordination between grassroots and grasstops institutions was evident during the Rio+20 summit. Advancing sustainable development in a meaningful way hinges on bridging this gap.” In other words, creating political will and building the constituency necessary to support the policy changes being advocated for requires collaboration between different segments of civil society.

Expanding Clean Energy Access

Bridging the grassroots-grasstops divide is especially necessary when it comes to clean energy access, an issue that received much attention at Rio+20 as a result of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4A) initiative. SE4A is a global initiative that aims to mobilize action from all sectors of society to support universal access to modern energy services, improve energy efficiency, and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. However, actually expanding clean energy access will require cooperation between think tanks, institutions, governments, and the citizens who are most in need of sustainable energy access.

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EPA’s New Source Performance Standards: A Positive Step Toward Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On June 25, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the 2012 Annual Energy Outlook (2012 AEO) – the same day the public comment period closed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new power plants. The NSPS proposal marks EPA’s first step toward controlling carbon pollution from stationary sources, and the agency received a record-breaking more than two million comments supporting the rule. EPA will take the comments it receives into consideration before finalizing the rule later this year. (Get more information on the proposed rule, including WRI’s official comment).

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Clean Energy for All: Strategies for Expanding Access in the Developing World

This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Check out the first installment.

Accessing reliable energy is one of the greatest obstacles the developing world faces. Globally, about 1.3 billion people go without electricity, while 2.7 billion lack modern energy services. Providing these populations with energy is difficult—ensuring that generation occurs in environmentally sustainable and cost-effective ways makes the task significantly more challenging.

Expanding clean energy access has been a big part of the conversations during this week’s Asian Clean Energy Forum, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID in partnership with WRI. The talks mirror discussions that clean energy project developers and financiers had at a March 2012 workshop that was organized by WRI and the DOEN Foundation. Knowledge from this group and demonstration of their business models showcase the key elements to in implementing successful clean energy projects.

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Clean Energy for All: A Global Challenge

This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Tune in tomorrow for the second installment, which will highlight specific ways institutions can implement successful clean energy projects.

This week, key leaders from the policy, industry, government, NGO, banking, and civil society sectors are gathering in the Philippines for the 7th annual Asian Clean Energy Forum (ACEF). The event, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID, aims to foster discussions about how to scale up clean energy initiatives and curb climate change in Asian nations.

One the forum’s key themes is access to clean energy. In March 2012, the World Resources Institute and the DOEN Foundation also organized a workshop focused on innovative practices in providing access to clean energy in developing countries (check out the new video about this forward-thinking event). The workshop brought together an inspiring group of practitioners, project developers, and financiers who are all successfully implementing clean energy access projects in communities across the world. These practitioners are bringing efficient cook stoves to Africa, solar home systems to India, and small-scale hydro to Indonesia – reaching poor rural communities who are in great need of clean energy solutions.

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On Clean Energy, Time to Follow Where Google, GE, Buffett Lead

This post also appears on Forbes.com

Google is backing it. So is Warren Buffett, America’s most-watched investor. GE, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, is too.

Each of these corporate icons is placing big bets and hundreds of millions of dollars on a future powered by wind and solar power. Apple just joined them, announcing plans to power its main U.S. data center in Maiden, North Carolina, entirely with renewable energy by the end of this year. So why - yet again - are pundits making dire warnings about prospects for renewable energy?

The answer is that the clean tech industry is at a critical crossroads.

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