Power to change the world – Communique – Waterloo Global Science Initiative

Full report – Power to change the world – Communique Waterloo Global Science Initiative

We are living in a moment of great economic and social opportunity. Emerging technological, social and  business innovations mean that it is now possible for more than 2 billion people to gain access to the energy  resources that will radically transform their well-being through improvements in education, business, agriculture, healthcare and other spheres.

Although there are opportunities in opening access to many forms of energy, it is access to electricity that will  bring the most substantive change to the largest number of people. The application of increasingly low-cost,  modular renewable energy technologies to this emerging market also offers an opportunity to mitigate the  effects of climate change and enable energy-poor communities to become hubs of transformative leadership in  the global shift towards decarbonization.

Realizing action on universal electricity access is desirable on moral grounds, but it is also poised to create  unprecedented business and economic opportunities. However, if we are to create the right conditions for  over two billion people to transform their lives and opportunities through the power of electricity, we will need  to understand, refine and develop current ideas, and create new partnerships that can catalyze breakthrough  innovations and forge novel, creative alliances. This has been the aim of WGSI’s OpenAccess Energy  Summit.

At the Summit, an international, multigenerational team of researchers, practitioners, representatives of energy-poor communities, lawyers, government advisors and financiers assembled to identify high-leverage actions  that could bring about universal electricity access.

As a result of our discussions, we recommend implementing  a number of strategies. Taken together they will create an enabling environment that allows the life-changing  benefits of energy access to be realized and in turn, the economies of nations and integrity of our natural  environment to be safeguarded. We lay out these strategies here and follow them with the steps we are already taking.  We hope you will want to join us.

Strategies

 1. Create a supportive financial environment

We urgently need national frameworks to create financial models and partnerships that allow risks taken by entrepreneurs and innovators operating in the electricity access space to be shared by a  wider set of bodies, such as governments, banks, community  co-operatives, end-users and philanthropic organizations. Project  practitioners should have access to training and mentorship so they  can develop innovative business models and present a strong case to  prospective investors. On the institutional side, we can create  forums that will engender familiarity with and trust in energy access  approaches and technologies, aiding an equitable evaluation of  investment opportunities. There are opportunities to innovate in  this space by, for example, agreeing on basic principles for financial  models; developing training modules for transaction advisors  interested in this space; and bundling similar transactions so as to  increase attractiveness by reducing risks and transaction costs.

  1. Allow a diversity of business models the opportunity to flourish

The diversity of market segments within the energy access space  dictates that the provision of truly universal energy access will  involve creating an environment where we let “a thousand flowers  bloom” and experiment with myriad unique business models. This  can happen if we create conditions, in terms of time horizons,  spread of financial risk, stability of the regulatory environment and  availability of capital investment, where new business models have a  chance to evolve and adapt. Collaboration and co-creation with  end-users during the development of energy access implementation  models will push new service providers to provide maximal value  rather than simply push end products in order to create quick  profits.

  1. Establish energy equity

Currently, a fractured policy and regulatory environment for energy  access privileges grid based electricity. However, off-grid electrification solutions will play a necessary role in bringing energy to the  places where it is needed most. A billion people have no access to  electricity, and the International Energy Agency projects that almost  half of these needs will need to be met by off-grid technology – an  enormous market opportunity. Despite this, there is lack of political  will and incentive to implement energy access programmes in  energy-poor communities. We suggest that national governments  and energy regulators adopt a set of guidelines and principles that  allow them to ensure equity of access within a market based system  and establish a coherent regulatory environment that ‘levels the  energy planning field’ to allow innovative off-grid energy access  solutions to reach their full potential. Implementation is envisioned  through the development of a watchdog body (see below).

  1. Ensure energy accountability

We recommend the creation of a body of experts, practitioners,  and decision-makers to facilitate the formulation of approaches and  actions that ensure investments in energy infrastructure are more  responsive to the needs of energy poor communities. Despite a  multitude of commitments to and action on universalizing access to  modern energy services, there is an alarming lack of commitment  by key actors such as decision-makers and planners to ensuring this  access is equitable and just. This group could form under the  umbrella of an existing organization.

  1. Network energy-poor communities

Energy-poor communities have expressed a strong desire to  establish connections with each other that will allow them to take  active ownership of their energy future. A network linking energy  poor communities locally, nationally and globally can connect  community leaders, enhancing their access to ideas, programmes,  researchers and technologies. Through the collaboration of a  growing number of communities in the network, they can leverage  greater financial, regulatory and technology resources. The result is  a leadership role for these communities where they can develop  their energy resources in a way that aligns with their cultural values,  for which there appears to be a clear and urgent desire, especially in  indigenous communities.

  1. Create energy solutions with optimal value and impact

Energy access programmes can provide services of life-changing  value to the end-user. However, energy-poor communities have  often been provided with ‘solutions’ that do not reflect their  individual and collective needs in a way that generates sustained  buy-in and drives further demand. We envision an approach to  energy access that places end-user value at the heart of global  efforts, and as a first principle in the minds of all stakeholders. We  recommend the uptake and expansion of three solutions. One  involves bringing together community development practitioners  across the energy access landscape. Advocacy organizations such as  Power For All can compile and share case studies of best practices  for product and community needs assessments that are driven by  the principle of optimizing for end-user value. A second solution  involves the expansion and re-casting of previous energy access  awareness-raising campaigns to allow energy-poor communities to  determine in a more collaborative fashion what energy services and  products would be of the most value to the communities in  question. The third solution is a radical overhaul of technology  research, as discussed immediately below.

  1. Embed energy research in energy-poor communities

Even now, technologies that enable low-cost electricity access in  remote communities are maturing quickly. However, technology  research institutions will be better equipped to deliver on the value  principle if they radically scale opportunities for academic and  practical exchange that allow for extended periods of cooperation  on product/system development in consultation, co-creation and  collaboration with end-user communities, while respecting the  autonomy of these communities. This will result in the creation of  energy access solutions that are appropriate in terms of functionality, longevity and robustness, ease of use, regulatory compliance,  maintenance requirements and cost – making them attractive to  investors, entrepreneurs and financiers.

  1. Make energy education available and appropriate

There should be a common framing of energy education principles  for students, decision-makers and the general public wherever they  are in the world and whatever their energy access situation. This will  allow energy-poor communities to raise their own leaders, owners,  engineers, entrepreneurs and informed users of energy access  solutions. Energy incubators and entrepreneurial ecosystems must  be established in close proximity to energy-poor areas that they  intend to transform. Well-structured education and skill-building  resources will create demand for, and supply of, self-generated,  self-sustaining, community or citizen-owned modern energy  services.

Conclusions

As a result of the WGSI Summit team’s work, we have already instigated a number of actions. For example, a working group of engineers  associated with the team is working towards the creation of open-source, modular “plug-and-play” micro-grid solution technologies; financiers  are developing new frameworks for investment, processes for developing business models and training for entrepreneurs; members of  energy-poor communities are establishing connections that will enable them to share resources and action pathways; a cluster group is  establishing the requirements for innovation ecosystems to thrive; a working group is drafting and collecting signatures towards a letter of  intent to be sent to the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All group, a measure to ensure we will working in alignment with all interested  groups. And this is only the beginning. Over the next few months we will consolidate our progress by creating a Blueprint document that digs deep  into this territory, and by commencing a phase of impact activities that will create lasting and effective partnerships with like-minded organizations, facilitate exemplary practice and establish new opportunities for energy-poor communities. As we forge ahead with this project, we look  forward to collaborations with the many stakeholders who will help turn this opportunity into a transformation

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