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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.

As a direct result of the workshop, $1.6 million of investments have been forged between DOEN and three-to-four enterprises aimed at contributing to the accelerated delivery of clean modern energy services to communities in Asia and Africa. What this community of socially oriented energy enterprises shares is an intimate understanding of the needs of poor consumers – and from that understanding, an ability to devise innovative solutions to provide them with clean energy.

The Global Need for Clean Energy Access

It’s certainly an important goal—one with vast, global implications. Worldwide, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity, while 2.7 billion go without modern energy services. Energy access is not a new agenda for the development community, but the challenge now is how to provide this access well (in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner) and provide it fast. With the threat of climate change, dwindling natural resources, and urgent development needs, there is a clear call for providing reliable, clean, and affordable energy services to these underserved communities. Though energy access is a significant challenge, a growing arsenal of experience, reductions in the costs of clean energy technology, and innovative business models are driving new solutions for extending modern energy services.

Turning Ideas into Action

Take Tanzania, where 37 million people live without access to clean cooking facilities. Rural women can spend up to three hours per day collecting firewood to fuel these inefficient devices, while families suffer from childhood pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease as the result of cook-stove pollution. A social enterprise organization called TaTEDO is addressing this challenge by developing efficient cook stoves and taking measures to install them in villages throughout the country. TaTEDO designs its products and services to respond to the needs of local communities. For TaTEDO, putting the consumer first means conducting surveys to identify appropriate clean energy technologies, including consumers in the project planning process, providing business and market development support, and training local personnel to help distribute clean energy products such as stoves or solar lighting systems. These steps ensure that community members are receiving the products and services they need, and are able to play a role in promoting and maintaining these clean energy solutions.

Solutions like TaTEDO’s still face obstacles to scale, but there is proof that with the right delivery mechanisms, financing, and supporting policies, it’s possible to accelerate the provision of clean energy services to the rural poor across the globe. Discussions here at the 2012 ACEF and those held at WRI’s and DOEN’s event continue to explore ways to scale up and replicate successful business models to ensure effective delivery of access to clean energy projects in developing countries. The international community—including multilateral, bilateral, and national development banks; the private sector; civil society organizations; and socially oriented energy enterprises—will have to work collectively. It’s going to take a lot more global collaboration, innovation in technology and approaches, stable policies, peer-to-peer exchange, and investment. And in all of these practices, we need to make sure that international initiatives listen closely to the voices on the ground.

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