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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.

The Trilemma in the Developing World

EGI partner countries vary with respect to the Trilemma challanges. For example:

  • India’s access to electricity varies from region to region, with some regions having less than 40 percent access to electricity and half of rural households lacking access to power. Issues relating to energy access will become more challenging as demand for energy is expected to double by 2020.

  • Thailand benefits from 100 percent electrification rates, but currently imports more than 60 percent of its energy supply. Moving forward, Thailand is looking for solutions to reduce its energy dependence.

  • In South Africa, addressing issues related to low-carbon planning are vital, as the country is Africa’s largest carbon emitter and the 17th-largest emitter worldwide.

As global initiatives like the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All seek to integrate solutions to the Trilemma, it’s important that citizens are involved in the development and implementation of policies that directly impact them. Engagement is important so that citizens can ensure decision-makers consider issues that are key to maintaining long-term support for transformational policies, including the affordability and environmental impact of policies.

That’s Where the Power of We Comes In

EGI’s approach to the Trilemma is to work with our in-country partners to focus on the governance frameworks necessary to find holistic solutions to energy access challenges.

Discussions throughout the EGI retreat made clear that partnerships like those EGI has with its in-country organizations are essential in achieving on-the-ground results that address the Trilemma. The first step in our partnerships (EGI 1.0) is to help focus civil society attention on governance aspects of electricity sector decision-making.

In each country, EGI’s work with partners has resulted in a comprehensive governance assessment that positioned civil society to have a seat at the table of national sector initiatives and achieve results. For example, in Kyrgyzstan, the Civic Environmental Foundation (UNISON) worked with EGI to complete an assessment of the country’s electricity sector. Assessment results fueled the establishment of the Fuel and Energy Security Transparency Initiative (FESTI), which addresses transparency concerns in electricity pricing and other key issues affecting energy security and service delivery in the country. The initiative resulted in large cost-savings in the country’s transmission development projects, more traction among civil society to push for increased accountability of government, and reduced energy distribution losses.

Continuing to Build Partnerships, Strengthen Governance, and Tackle the Trilemma

In its second phase (EGI 2.0), EGI will continue to embrace “the power of we” and build off its successes by developing a new suite of tools designed to address the Trilemma’s three challenges. These tools are currently being developed collaboratively and were discussed at the retreat:

  • The 10 Questions to Ask (10Qs) Series provides Civil Society Organizations (CSO) with a research framework and a suite of relevant questions, aiming to help consumers and CSOs participate in important discussions relevant to the electricity sector, such as renewable energy planning;

  • The Low-Carbon Policy Implementation Framework uses a policy assessment framework to analyze the effectiveness of climate strategies and low-carbon policies being implemented by national governments; and

  • The Electricity Distribution Interface Toolkit will use a “checklist survey” to to understand the key issues affecting consumers and provide potential solutions to key problem areas.

This suite of tools is being developed to empower civil society to engage with sector actors, using a common framework and language to define “good governance.” The tools are designed to be used in a modular way, in countries where they are most useful and relevant to tackling the energy Trilemma. The tools are currently being piloted by many partner countries, and we expect the first to be ready in early 2013. Stay tuned, and visit our website’s “Projects Under Development” page for more information.

To learn more information about EGI projects under development, request a retreat report, or find out how you can support this work, please contact Sarah Lupberger at

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