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renewable energy

Clean energy, not coal, is the solution to poverty

Rachel Kyte's picture

 Dana Smillie / World Bank

It is the development conundrum of our era. Extremely poor people cannot lift themselves out of poverty without access to reliable energy. More than a billion people live without power today, denying them opportunities as wide-ranging as running a business, providing light for their children to study, or even cooking meals with ease.

Ending poverty requires confronting climate change, which affects every nation and every person. The populations least able to adapt – those that are the most poor and vulnerable – will be hardest hit, rolling back decades of development work.

How do we achieve the dual goals of expanding energy production for those without power and drastically reducing emissions from sources such as coal that produce carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to climate change?

There is no single answer and we cannot ask poor communities to forego access to energy because the developed world has already put so much carbon pollution in the air.

An array of policies and programs backed with new technology and new thinking can — if combined with political will and financial support — help poor populations get the energy they need while accelerating a worldwide transition to zero net carbon emissions.

Energy analytics for access, efficiency and development

Anna Lerner's picture
Image from Chris Chopyak, who captured the workshop in
simple designs and strategic illustrations
What do Open and Big Data principles and advanced analytics have to do with energy access and efficiency? A lot. At a recent workshop, we explored a range of challenges and solutions alongside experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, the University of Chicago and other organizations.
 
Today, about 1.1 billion people around the world live without electricity. Cities, which now house more than half the world’s population, struggle under the weight of inefficient, expensive and often-polluting energy systems. Energy access and affordability are paramount in addressing poverty alleviation and shared prosperity goals, and cleaner energy is critical in mitigating climate change.
 
Applications of Open and Big Data principles and advanced analytics is an area of innovation that can help address many pressing energy sector challenges in the developing world, as well as provide social and financial dividends at low cost.

The World Bank Group is committed to accelerating the use of Open Data and advanced analytics to improve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity, in line with its commitment to the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. In order to increase awareness around opportunities of new data capturing and analyzing solutions in the energy sector in emerging markets, the World Bank Group and University of Chicago hosted a training session and a subsequent workshop in mid-May.

Getting to 100% renewable: dream or reality?

Oliver Knight's picture
© Abbie Trayler-Smith Panos Pictures UK Department for International Development via Creative Commons
​Attending the Future of Energy Summit last month, an annual event hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, I was struck – for the second year running – by the rapid pace of cost reductions and innovation happening across the clean energy spectrum. With the news that a recent solar photovoltaics tender in Dubai obtained bids at less than US6c/kWh, to major investments in electricity storage and electric vehicles, to increased interest in demand-side management at the grid and consumer level, the message is clear: clean energy has most likely reached a crucial tipping point that will start to suck in increasing levels of investment. Some commentators also noted the opportune timing: with capital investment in upstream oil production sharply curtailed due to falling global prices, there is potentially a lot of financial capital looking for a home.
 
But perhaps one of the more interesting messages was the one coming from progressive regulators here in the U.S. The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, noted that with renewable energy already supplying 40% of the state’s electricity a few days last year, the target for 50% renewables by 2030 is “not really a challenge”. Perhaps more interesting, he seemed very relaxed on reaching 100% renewables at some point in the future, on the back of strategic generation placement, transfers to neighboring states, and embedded storage. And note that we’re not talking about large hydropower here, which supplies between 6-12% of California’s electricity and is unlikely to increase.

Tackling climate change – for our kids

Jim Yong Kim's picture
If you have children or grandchildren, you probably have wondered what the world will be like for them in 20 or 30 years. Will it be a better place? Will climate change upend their lives? It's something I have thought about a lot since I became president of the World Bank Group in July 2012. Within the first few months in the job, I was briefed on an upcoming climate change report, and the findings shocked me. I knew then that tackling climate change would be one of my top priorities as leader of a development institution whose mission is ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity. If we don't start controlling climate change, the mission to end poverty will fail. Last week I delivered a lecture on climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to a roomful of young people who are surely thinking of climate change's impact on their lives. Climate scientists project that if we do nothing to control carbon emissions, temperatures could rise as much as 4 degrees Celsius by the 2080s. Mean temperatures during the last ice age were 4.5 degrees to 7 degrees Celsius lower than today, and the temperature had changed gradually over millennia. We're talking about that kind of temperature shift occurring in the future over a very short period of time. Life on Earth would be fundamentally different.
 

Updating the renewable energy lexicon

Oliver Knight's picture
Photo by ffennema via iStock
A just-published report by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) on the integration of variable renewable energy (VRE) into national grid systems shows once again that adding solar, wind and other forms of VRE does not represent the calamity for grid operators or the high costs that are frequently claimed, particularly in mainstream media. In fact, with proper planning, integrating relatively high levels of renewable energy generation into a large, interconnected grid is feasible at modest incremental cost.

This is important because with the cost of renewable energy continuing to fall, VRE is looking increasingly attractive. Just consider the recent results from South Africa’s renewable energy auctions.

Why then does the discourse around renewable energy continue to view it as a pesky annoyance at best, and a costly gamble at worst? Terms such as “intermittent” and “backup” are often used to pour cold water on the contribution that renewable energy might provide or to question the reliability of solar or wind generation. In addition to the damage they inflict on efforts to promote clean energy, they hint at a very conventional view of electricity systems that is rapidly becoming outdated.

Taking these two particular terms in turn, let us explore them in more detail.

Lighting rural Bangladesh with rooftop solar & carbon credits

Xiaoyu Chang's picture
Installing a solar panel in Bangladesh. Xiaoyu Chang/World Bank



In the village of Aharkandhi in northeastern Bangladesh, life has changed since homeowners began installing solar panels on their roofs. At night, families gather at the local grocery store to watch TV, which boosts business. Children study longer than before.
 
This is due in part to a World Bank-financed electrification project to promote off-grid electricity in rural communities. This year, the project became the first renewable energy program in Bangladesh to be issued carbon credits for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the world's first Programme of Activities for solar home systems under the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to generate carbon credits.
 
With access to electricity, people are finding new ways to increase their income, and the word is spreading quickly across villages.

Delivering at scale, empowering transformation

Mafalda Duarte's picture

Solar power in Morocco. Dana Smillie/World Bank

In 2014, Tajikistan applied climate analysis to maximize investments in an aging hydropower system upon which half a million people depend. Morocco continued the phased development of a 500 MW concentrated solar power complex — the first of its kind in Morocco and one of the largest in the world, promising to bring electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans. Indigenous peoples’ groups in Brazil presented and received approval for a $6.5 million plan to advance their participation in sustainable forest management.

These are just a few of the many progressive steps that 63 developing and middle income countries are taking to shift to low carbon, climate-resilient economies with support from the Climate Investment Funds (CIF).

With more than $8 billion in resources expected to attract at least an additional $57 billion from other sources, the CIF is accelerating, scaling up, and influencing the design of a wide range of climate-related investments in participating countries. While this may be only a small portion of the resources needed annually to curb global warming, the CIF is showing that even a limited amount of public funding, if well placed, can deliver investments at scale to empower transformation.

Corridors for Shared Prosperity: A Case for Replication

Pallavi Shrivastava's picture

For those trying to address challenges in global poverty, inclusive businesses offer solutions to some of the world’s most intractable social problems. Business models that create value for the low-income communities are becoming viable - these have been tested, fine-tuned and perfected by some of the finest brains. Once perfected, it makes sense to contextualize and spread these innovations or the knowledge to markets across the globe. To be able to do this, replication is an important tool.

Oil exporters must shift capital stock to renewables

Håvard Halland's picture
Oil pumps, in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin / World Bank

As the Financial Times pointed out recently, oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Shell would, under measures considered for the global climate pact to be sealed in Paris next year, cease to exist in their current forms in 35 years. The proposal of phasing out global carbon dioxide emissions as early as 2050 was not resolved in the UN climate talks in Lima last December.

However, the adoption of even a watered-down version in Paris or in later rounds of climate negotiations would mean that the amount of oil and gas produced by these companies, and the quantity of coal mined by enterprises such as Rio Tinto, would need to be greatly reduced by mid-century. Such long-term concerns might over the next years trump current worries about an oil price slump that could be on the wane as soon as marginal projects and producers are shaken out from the bottom of the market.

Behind the numbers: China-U.S. climate announcement's implications for China’s development pathway

Xueman Wang's picture
Solar cell manufacturing in China


The past five weeks have given us what may be defining moments on the road to a Paris agreement that will lay a foundation for a future climate regime.

  • On October 23, European Union leaders committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 and increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use by at least 27 percent by 2030.
  • On November 12, during the APEC Summit in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama jointly announced their post-2020 climate mitigation targets: China intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with best efforts to peak as early as possible, and increase its non-fossil fuel share of all energy to 20 percent by 2030; and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • On November 20, at the donor conference in Berlin, led by the U.S., Germany, and others, donors pledged about US$9.3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

China’s announcement in particular is considered by many to be a game changer. China, the world’s biggest emitter with its emissions accounting for more than 27 percent of the global emissions, is setting an example for other major developing countries to put forward quantifiable emission targets. The announcement will hopefully also brush away the “China excuse,” used by some developed countries that have avoided commitments on the grounds that China was not part of action under the Kyoto targets.


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