I had an inspiring day attending the Ashden Awards Conference on behalf of Renewable World last week. Set up in 2001, the Ashden Awards Conference is a key date in the calendar for enterprising leaders and organisations in the UK and overseas who are doing transformative work to promote universal access to sustainable energy and a shift to low-carbon economies.
Indeed, two of our current partners who we are working with in Nepal, the Centre for Rural Technology and Biogas Sector Partnership, are winners of the prestigious Ashden Award for their innovative work to change the lives of poor communities through providing access to affordable renewable energy solutions, so I was really excited to attend this year’s conference to hear about the work of the finalists.
The morning’s presentations focused on the UK. Projects were varied, ranging from the community-owned wind farms managed by Energy4all which have saved 19,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2011 alone, to the retrofitting of National Trust properties with renewable energy sources and energy-efficient measures, to the Student Switch-off campaign which has engaged 18,000 students in 43 universities to promote energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.
All finalists have been hugely successful in changing culture and behaviour within their respective target audiences and beyond, encouraging people to think sustainably, and more importantly, to act sustainably, for if we have any chance of saving this planet, that is what we all need to be doing.
Before the afternoon’s sessions kicked off, and during the breaks, we had a chance to network with delegates, exhibitionists and finalists. It was clear from the positive vibe that everyone present was truly committed to finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint, to mitigate against the ever-increasing reality of climate change, whilst promoting sustainable development both in the UK and internationally.
The passion of the afternoon’s international finalists to do just that was so apparent. With 2012 being the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, the importance of providing universal energy access has been raised up the political agenda. It was therefore fitting that Richenda Van Leeuwen, the Executive Director of Energy and Climate (Energy Access) at the United Nations Foundation, which is leading the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, was chairing the afternoon.
One of the Ashden winners was IBEKA, an Indonesian NGO focused on developing hydro schemes, led by Tri Mumpuni. An incredibly driven woman, and an inspiring leader, Tri Mumpuni has been instrumental in the installation of 61 hydro schemes, which are providing electricity for the first time for 54,000 people, saving 7,400 tons of CO2 in the process – pretty impressive stuff, eh? But her work has not been without challenges. Finding skilled professionals to deliver the schemes has been tough. So has promoting good land use practices to avoid detrimentally affecting the flow of rivers upstream. Not to mention how to persuade the Indonesian Government not to continue subsidizing fossil fuels and encouraging them to promote renewable energy generation through introducing feed-in tariffs. But Tri is determined and has ambitious plans to bring electricity to millions of people in off-grid isolated communities.
We are currently working with 9 partners in Asia, Africa and Central America, full of individuals who all have a passion like Tri Mumpuni to find appropriate renewable energy solutions to promote social and economic sustainable development for some of the poorest communities on the planet. The challenges are, well, challenges – ensuring sustainability of our programme activities; securing funding to expand our operations; working in favourable policy environments, to name but a few.
But the opportunities are greater. With significant and growing support from the UK, European and American Renewable Energy Industry, in addition to increasing financial support from Trusts, Foundations and individuals, we have ambitious plans to grow our operations to support some of the poorest and most marginalised off-grid communities in Asia, Africa and Central America to lift themselves out of the poverty trap, whilst enabling communities to both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
And I certainly felt positive leaving the Ashden Conference, that with committed partners and supporters, we can really make a difference.
All of the Ashden Award winners for 2012 with HRH The Prince of Wales and Sarah Bulter-Sloss from the Ashden Awards
(Tri Mumpuni is second from the right)