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The `how-to' of renewable energy

Daniel Kammen's picture

Last month, I blogged about the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which I was a coordinating lead author. In that report we found that by 2050, roughly 80 percent of global energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources. The IPCC’s best-case prediction is contingent on a big caveat, however. It is that government policies must “play a crucial role in accelerating the deployment of Renewable Energy (RE) technologies.”

Fair enough, but which policies work best? Which can be replicated widely? Which sectors need more radical new approaches? Given the complexity of energy technologies, and markets, modes of power generation, transmission, distribution, consumption, metering and billing, and the multiplicity of policies—feed-in tariffs, subsidies, ‘feebates’, renewable portfolio standards, and so on— policy makers are often scrambling for guidance.

As author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the IPCC report, as well as a member of the Summary for Policymakers’ team, I am pleased to suggest a useful source: a recent Discussion Paper No. 22 produced by my World Bank colleague Gabriela Elizondo Azuela, along with Luiz Augusto Barroso, Design and Performance of Policy Instruments to Promote the Development of Renewable Energy: Emerging Experience in Selected Developing Countries.

Elizondo and Barroso studied grid-connected RE policy options used in six countries—Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Sir Lanka and Turkey. They find that sound governance is an essential condition for the success of policy incentives that aim to accelerate the integration of renewable energy. “For example,” Elizondo says, “legal and regulatory frameworks for grid connection and integration have to be in place before RE policy is introduced.” In the IPCC report we called this the ‘enabling environment’.

Eat your charcoal, child

Flore de Préneuf's picture

Many on this blog have written about the triple win of improved livelihoods, increased climate resilience and carbon capture. That vision of climate-smart agriculture and sustainable forest management is one of hope and necessity against a backdrop of food price volatility and climate extremes. Last week I was able to spend time studying the said “backdrop” – in the Eastern province of Kenya, where farmers who have last seen rain in March 2010 are cutting down trees to survive.

I spoke to farmers in Mboti, a community of about 100 families scattered in a world of thorny white bushes, red earth and isolated trees. Even in good times, they are brave people living on rain-fed agriculture in a region that gets much less average precipitation than Kenya's lush and populous highlands. They live on the edge – coexisting and sometimes competing with nomadic herders for salty water drawn from boreholes, one jerrycan at a time. 

But the farmers' endurance has been stretched to the limit. The heavy rains of November didn't materialize (it drizzled) and the April showers never did either. Priscilla Mwangangi, a 60 year-old widow, plowed her fields this spring hoping she could sow millet and sorghum, but instead spends her time minding a mound of charcoal which she feeds by chopping down acacia trees around her property. One big bag of charcoal sells for 400 Kenyan shillings – about $5.

80% of all energy could be from renewables by 2050...with the right policies

Daniel Kammen's picture

In just one day, the sun delivers about as much energy as has been consumed by all human beings over the past 35 years. So why haven’t we exploited more than a tiny fraction of this potential? There are many reasons: cost, storage, transmission, distribution, entrenched subsidies and technological challenges are but a few of them.

But the reasons not to take advantage of renewable energy are falling away. A report published this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that close to 80% of the world’s energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources by 2050, if backed by the right enabling public policies. I served as a Coordinating Lead Author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the report, as well as member of the Summary for Policy Maker’s team, and I can attest to how much rigorous analysis and effort comparing data and sources went into this process and document.

The same Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation found that the technical potential of renewable energy technologies “exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world.”

These encouraging findings were released Monday, May 9, after being studied carefully, examined, and then approved by member countries of the IPCC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Shutterstock Images, LLC 

Can East Asia do for Green what it’s done for Growth?

Andrew Steer's picture

East Asia has shown us how economies can grow at a pace unparalleled in human history. What made it happen? Key ingredients included high savings rates and a willingness to invest them for the long term in people and infrastructure, leaders who kept their eyes on the long-term transformation of the economy, and a lot of serious attention to how investors respond to incentives.

But aren’t these some of the same ingredients we’ll need to make growth green?

This was one of the topics we discussed this week at the first Annual Conference on East Asian Development in Singapore organized by the Bank’s East Asia Pacific region and Singapore’s Institute for Policy Studies.  This brought together senior policymakers and academics from throughout the region. Is it possible that the Region that brought us growth, could also be the leader in making that growth green?

But first, just how green has East Asia’s growth been so far? To over-simplify, the region has made pretty good progress in reducing the environmental damage per unit of output, but this hasn’t been able to keep up with the astonishing growth of the output. So, real GDP is up by near 400% since 1990, while energy use is up by 150%, sulfur dioxide emissions up by about 60%, and carbon dioxide up by nearly 200%.

This is a lot better than it might have been – but the environment is still getting worse at a serious rate. And this says nothing about water stress, loss of biodiversity and a host of other issues. (On a positive note, particulate emissions are down by 50%, and lead in fuel has almost disappeared).

Does East Asia need to lower its growth to ensure that the environment doesn’t deteriorate further?  No, but it will require the same degree of commitment and long term focus that inspired the strong growth in the first place – but this time by internalizing environmental costs.   

The revival of cookstove research

Daniel Kammen's picture

It may come as a surprise to know that half of the global population uses biomass (wood, agricultural wastes and dung) and coal for cooking.  For Sub-Saharan Africa where electrification rates outside of South Africa are only 28%, biomass and coal are the primary cooking fuels for over three fourths of the population. Combustion of unprocessed biomass fuels, especially in open or poorly ventilated stoves, emits high concentrations of pollutant mixtures – particulates, and carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide – associated with a number of respiratory and other diseases and is the leading cause of death among infants and children worldwide.

 

Since the task of cooking is mainly done by women and girls, it is they who face daily exposure to levels of pollution which are estimated to be the equivalent of consuming two packets of cigarettes a day (Kammen, 1995; Ezzati and Kammen, 2001).

 

Smoke from domestic fires kills nearly two million people each year, and sickens millions more. This places indoor air pollution as almost as critical a health threat as poor sanitation and AIDS, and a greater threat than malaria. Without systematic changes, household biomass use will result in an estimated 8.1 million Lower Respiratory Infection (LRI) deaths among young children in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, between 2000 and 2030 (Bailis, Ezzati, Kammen, 2007).

 

All of these factors highlight the critical need to evaluate the effectiveness of cookstoves at not only reducing emission, but in impacting health.

What has carbon got to do with kids going to school?

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture

Last week, I headed to Ibi Bateke plateau in the interiors of Democratic Republic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see the country’s first project approved and registered under the Kyoto Protocol.  We set off on a long winding road taking us quickly from Kinshasa to the Ibi plateau – 150 kms away from the daily hustle of the over 9 million inhabitants of Kinshasa. Ibi is characteristically thinly forested, partly a result of the poor porous soils. Despite the vast lands, the majority of the land is uninhabited with villages dotting the landscape.

 

The community is replanting its degraded forests with trees like acacia, pines and eucalyptus that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, allowing the project to generate carbon credits which are purchased by the World Bank’s BioCarbon fund. This project is a trail blazer as some of the revenue from the sale of carbon credits is providing basic health care and schools, offering an integrated vision of development.

 

As we entered the village, we met a group of children walking home. Among them was one older kid who chaperoned the smaller ones - the youngest must have been about five. They chattered enthusiastically about their new school. The school was negotiated as one of the benefits for the participatory management of the plantation. Gautier Tschikaya a resident who was accompanying us told us that one day they were driving around on the plantation and found a whole bunch of kids squatting in an abandoned building so that they would not have to walk the 10+ km every day to get to school. At that point, they built a dormitory for those kids and we visited it - situated just below the school now. 

Your local power source may be responsible for climate change but it gets impacted by it too

Daniel Kammen's picture

Brazil relies heavily on its abundant hydropower resources to meet electricity demand, which is rising by about 5% a year. These resources have helped Brazil hook up more than 2.4 million rural homes since 2003, in addition to delivering electricity to its big cities. But hydropower is vulnerable to drought too, and the Brazilian Amazon—home to most of the country’s hydropower potential—has had two devastating droughts since 2005.

 

That’s just one example of the exposure of the energy sector to climate impacts. Up to now, most of the focus for the discussion of the energy-climate nexus has been on the impact of fossil-fuel energy use on climate change, the need to mitigate it, and the shift to renewable energy sources. This week, two World Bank colleagues of mine have just launched a new study that looks at the issue from the opposite side of the equation: climate impact on energy systems.

 

The study is entitled Climate Impacts on Energy Systems, Key Issues for Energy Sector Adaptation, by Jane Ebinger and Walter Vergara. It provides a framework for further analysis of vulnerability indicators for climate impacts on hydropower, wind, solar, wave and tidal energy. It also offers analytical tools that experts and policymakers can use to construct vulnerability and impact metrics for their energy sectors, along with a review of emerging adaptation practices.

A bond for climate solutions

Laura Tlaiye's picture

Why would a group of large investors care about climate change when their primary concern is ensuring adequate returns for their investment portfolio to meet their future financial obligations? This group includes pension funds, insurance companies or foundations. Pension funds alone are estimated to hold over US$25 trillion globally

 

As Alan Miller indicated in his recent blog, a report published by Mercer (a well-known investment advisor) estimates that uncertainty around climate policy could contribute as much as 10% to overall portfolio risk for investors to manage over the next 20 years. So, investors are beginning to pay attention. Choosing to support investments that help address climate change or increase climate-resilience also helps reduce the exposure of portfolios to this risk. 

 

Green bonds issued by the World Bank is one such instrument. Funding raised through green bonds is earmarked for eligible low-carbon and adaptation projects financed by IBRD in its member countries. For example, the money could be used for funding an eco-farming project in China, or improving the solid waste management in Amman, Jordan. On the mitigation side, eligible projects could include solar and wind farms. On the adaptation side, it could be protection against flooding or droughts.

 

Earlier, this month, a 'Green Bond Summit' gathered about 110 representatives of the investment community. The event was hosted by State Street Global Advisers -- an asset manager with over $2 trillion under management in different asset classes. The goal was to discuss how green bonds could attract greater participation from large investors to scale-up financing of climate solutions through the capital markets. The World Bank, a pioneer of the green bond, and other issuers such as ADB, EIB, and IFC deliberated with the participants on prospects for common green bond standards, the financial characteristics investors expect, and the policy issues that underlie the demand for climate investments.  

 

Benefits to the poor from clean and efficient energy use

Daniel Kammen's picture

The December 2011 Climate Conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, presents a tremendously important opportunity to advance both the globally critical goal of climate protection, and to do so synergistically with a local agenda of sustainable development and poverty alleviation. 

 

The COP 16 meeting in Cancun last year, while in many ways an important step forward, particularly on the role of energy efficiency, did not result in decisions on the global accord, and much remains to be done. One remedy for this situation may be to achieve local successes that demonstrate how climate protection and clean and efficient uses of energy can directly benefit the poor.

 

The fact that the COP will take place in Africa, which has the highest unmet need -- and demand for reliable and affordable energy access – brings to a head the need to find new tools and paths that can meet both goals. As the plans for the Durban Conference evolve, there must be a premium on action that implements this strategy.

 

A new multi-donor program which is part of the Climate Investment Funds and is managed by World Bank Group and Regional Development Banks, may be an ideal component of that plan:  the new Scaling up Renewable Energy in Low-Income Countries (SREP) program, provides an exciting avenue to meet both goals. Six pilot countries, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya, the Maldives, Mali and Nepal, were selected for initial blocks of funding to bring clean energy technologies rapidly to meet the unmet demand for energy. Discussions are underway to bring in funding to double this pilot group.

 

Last month in South Africa, I had the opportunity to see just how a program like the SREP could build on both local innovative capacity, and the political attention that COP17 can bring to climate and development needs. The World Bank office in Pretoria hosted a meeting of African Ambassadors to South Africa, where I had the opportunity to discuss with them (see picture above) both market changes taking place in the region, and technology options to rapidly bring clean energy to the poor. 

Come to this Malaysian province to see an alternative path on energy

Daniel Kammen's picture

 

   Photo courtesy Willem V.
   Strien/Flickr under Creative
   Commons License

It is all too easy to see environmental protection and economic development simply as competing philosophies, and nothing more. A range of studies attest to the fact that this is a false dichotomy. In my earlier blog, I described the alternative vision that became a reality in a small Nicaraguan coastal community that chose to invest in a diverse set of clean energy alternatives.  Even with cases like this one described in the literature, there remains in some circles a sense that these must be concocted.

 

The headlines often reinforce this simple dichotomy of environment versus economic growth, where the choice presented is “preserve a forest and forego the lumber”, “save a river and deny a community hydropower”, or “find the financing for more expensive solar power or accept ill-health and global warming from coal.” I have been convinced that another path or paths exist, ever since reading a remarkable paper on the `valuation’ of a tropical rain forest (Peters, Gentry and Mendelsohn, `Valuation of an Amazonian Rainforest', Nature). This short paper got me thinking about how we ignore the longer-term economic wins of sustainability for short-term profit.

 

I recently had the wonderful fortune to get involved in a case that reinforced the fact that options always exist, if we work together to find them.

 

Early in 2010, a consortium of citizens from Sabah, Malaysia came to my laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, convinced that unexplored options must exist to provide the energy needed for this Malaysian Province without placing a 300 MW coal fired power plant on the edge of the ‘coral triangle’ off the coast of North Borneo. This plant was planned at a site only 20 kilometers from the last remaining reserve for the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino of Borneo (of which there may be only 30 individuals or so remaining). This plan would have required the weekly import of coal from South Borneo (Kalimantan). Just a few years ago, the coal plant seemed inevitable.

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