The Renewable Energy industry is developing, growing and maturing fast: it is no longer the industry of a few enthusiastic pioneers, but instead is due to provide 20% of all EU energy by 2020. Success brings with it challenges related to the sector’s increased role in energy provision and security, as well as its associated size, geographical footprint and profile.
As a result stakeholders will hold the industry to account in increasingly stringent ways. Individual firms will experience this effect in their day to day business operations: consumers are more anxious about costs; regulators place greater emphasis on health and safety in complex environments; the media scrutinizes industry practices regarding sustainability; policymakers question the contribution of the industry to achieving energy access for the poor; economists assess the influence of the industry in emerging markets; and staff seek more rewarding and fulfilling opportunities.
While this may seem daunting, all mature businesses face these type of challenges and many have developed a professional approach to manage the social dimensions of running a successful business. ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) and ‘corporate citizenship’ may be jargon, but their reality is straightforward: minimizing negative impacts of doing business and maximizing value to build a stronger business, develop people and strengthen corporate reputation. CSR strategies are increasingly being used by companies to mitigate risk and enhance business opportunities in mature and emerging markets. In 2010 79% of the world’s largest companies made their CSR reports public, a 30% increase on 2005. I recently spoke on CSR issues at the EWEA Offshore 2011 conference in Amsterdam and was extremely impressed by the level of interest and commitment in the industry on how it can demonstrate an increased contribution to global development.
Renewable World is at the forefront of helping the Renewable Energy industry to consider and articulate its response to some of these social issues. The organization has been most active in delivering results and creating positive change to promote energy access for poor consumers in emerging markets. We have worked successfully with over 20 leading members of the industry to channel resources, skills and expertise to promote market based solutions which support the development of affordable clean energy services in extremely isolated communities across the globe. This is a positive message to share with our stakeholders regarding the leadership role played by the sector.
Now is the right time for the industry to continue to show increased leadership and action on energy access. Recent developments have seen the issue move steadily up the political agenda, demonstrated by the high level ministerial meeting in Oslo in October and the designation by the UN General Assembly of 2012 as the "International Year for Sustainable Energy for All". The latter will shine an international media spotlight on the idea of using renewable energy to improve energy access for the poorest consumers in the world.
Renewable World’s crucial contribution with our partner companies – the provision of affordable distributed energy – can have a transformative effect on poverty alleviation strategies enabling them to achieve greater impact; clean, affordable, reliable energy can kick-start income generating and enterprise development in areas previously characterized by of market failure, producing long term sustainable benefits.
One such example is our programme with ALIN (Arid Lands Information Network) in Kagera District, northern Tanzania. ALIN is a 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, who were recently recognised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their ground breaking work, 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.
Working at the interface of renewable energy and international development Renewable World is well placed to help the industry enhance the provision of clean, affordable energy to some of the world’s poorest people. As my presentation at the EWEA Offshore conference highlighted, 2012 provides a unique opportunity for the industry to increase its contribution to an issue that is rising up the political agenda, and has great relevance for the European public and emerging market consumers alike.