Those of us who have been working on climate change over the years have witnessed a number of encouraging announcements as a run-up to the Paris COP, where the global community is gathering to agree on collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020. The two largest emitters have announced action, with China agreeing for the first time to peak its GHG emissions by 2030 (using a number of tools such as emissions trading), and the United States agreeing to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The World Bank’s State and Trends Report on Carbon Pricing announced that about 40 countries and 23 cities, states, or regions have put a price on carbon emissions—explicitly internalizing costs of damage to the environment. This means that about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are covered by some type of carbon pricing scheme. And countries continue to submit pledges to reduce GHG emissions—through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions—in advance of the Paris COP.
In the energy world, there is equal excitement about recent developments. Renewable energy prices have significantly fallen over the years, in particular for wind and solar. The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced earlier this month that renewable energy will be the largest source of new power generation capacity globally—700 GW in the next 5 years. The IEA does not expect that the fall of oil prices to affect the growth in renewable energy, and expects the power sector to continue to lead the way in the global energy transformation. The IEA also estimates that the share of power generation from modern renewables (including hydropower) will increase from 22 % in 2013 to 26% in 2020.
Last month, I met an obstetrician in India and in the course of conversation, asked her how many babies she had delivered.
“After ten thousand babies, I stopped counting,” she said.
Naturally, I was curious to know if anything scared her when she’s delivering a child. Her answer: “I pray that there is electricity for sterilized water and other equipment during the process.”
The obstetrician is also the project director for part of a World Bank health project in Nagaland—a remote Northeastern state in India. She is an ardent advocate for the expansion and promotion of solar energy in the primary health care sector because she, like many of her colleagues, believes that more solar energy in the health sector can spur a revolution by boosting the standard and reliability of health delivery services in the country.
When I joined the World Bank four months ago as a renewable energy specialist, I had always considered solar in the context of electricity for homes and businesses. But working with other sectors and exploring solar interventions in increasing crop productivity, safe drinking water and child delivery in health centers has shown me the massive potential solar energy has to help other areas of development as well. There is a clear business case for why solar is fast becoming a mainstream technology for providing power even in non-energy sectors like agriculture and water.
Until recently, the biggest hurdle in adopting solar power was the high upfront cost (more than $3 per watt before 2010) and lack of project financing for solar projects.
But much of that has changed. In the last four years, solar module prices have fallen more than 70% (less than $1 a watt), and per unit cost of solar power (kwh) has fallen from 30 cents per unit in 2010 to less than 8 cents per unit not only in India but also in Brazil, Chile, UAE and other countries.
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.
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.
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- information and communications technologies
- information and communication technology
- Big Data Exploration
- Big Data
- open data
- renewable energy
- green energy
- clean tech
- Clean technology
- Clean energy
- access to energy
- Energy Efficient
- Energy Efficiency
- Information and Communication Technologies
- The World Region
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.
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.
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.
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.