The launch of the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi (WFES2012) marks the beginning of what could be an exciting year for progress on making access to modern energy universal. Ban Ki Moon has thrown his weight behind a programme which could transform the lives of the 1.3 billion people (1/5 of the population) who currently lack access to electricity, and with the anticipated inclusion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the Rio+20 Summit in June, 2012 could be a defining year in the fight against poverty and climate change. However, greater support and investment from world leaders and the private sector will be necessary if this dream is to become a reality by the 2030 deadline targeted by the UN. Indeed, previous UN “International Year” initiatives have not always fulfilled their potential; the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010 a notable example .
Access to modern energy has an enormously transformational impact on poor communities in the developing world. Energy is at the heart of development, improving health, education, and agriculture; as well as stimulating enterprise and providing a viable source of income generation. At Renewable World, we have witnessed this first-hand through our programmes in East Africa, South Asia and Central America, which are testament to the fact that delivering small-scale affordable renewable energy services for off-grid communities in areas of market failure can contribute to market development in some of the most challenging environments as well as support social and economic development.
Only just this week, I have been in Kenya visiting one of our Partners – the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) which is Kenyan organization working across East Africa to help bridging the ‘digital divide’. It creates information exchange networks at ‘Maarifa Centres’ to enable poor farmers to maximize the price received for crops. They also help rural students to access better education facilities and equip unemployed youth with modern skills for employment. Renewable World is working alongside ALIN, to promote the appropriate use of renewable energy across their network of centres. Critically clean, affordable and reliable distributed energy allows ALIN to establish centres in extremely remote locations, bringing their award winning poverty alleviation, digital information access and peer-to-peer learning techniques to isolated, off-grid communities.
ALIN Nguruman Maarifa Centre in Kenya
As this example demonstrates, there is much promise for renewable energy to provide an opportunity for poor communities in the developing world to successfully utilize their natural resources and break the cycle of poverty through green, clean tech solutions . However, increased funding is necessary to stimulate such activity. An estimated $48bn is necessary each year to secure universal access to modern energy by 2030. At just 3% of total energy investment estimated for 2030, this is not just necessary, but eminently feasible .
The private sector has the greatest potential for growth, but without an enabling environment promoted by government the ability to build capacity in developing countries is unlikely to take off. If adequately supported, the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All has the potential to catalyse growth in a green economy in the developing world and open a window of opportunity to make progress in the fight against poverty. This should form a critical part of the discussions at Rio+20 Summit later this year. If the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All is to achieve greater success than its older siblings, genuine governmental support and increased private sector investment are both crucial.