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Powering the World's Largest Democracies: A reflection of the U.S. - India Energy Partnership Summit

Grace Gill Qayoumi

Posted June 6, 2013

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Recently, I participated in the 4th annual Yale-TERI U.S. – India Energy Partnership Summit in Washington D.C. with the theme of U.S. – India partnership on clean energy and climate change, and action steps towards building a clean energy future that runs parallel with economic growth for the world’s two largest democracies.

The focus of the conference was the energy partnership between the two countries and ways to strengthen and advance the bilateral relationship.  Among the topics discussed were the bilateral energy sector trade, energy access, growth and energy efficiency; the latter which was emphasized as a critical driver in the partnership.  It was important focal point, as energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest and cleanest way for the U.S. and India to meet their energy needs and improve on their energy security.

In the past year, both the U.S. and India have been hit by the negative and disastrous effects of extreme weather caused by climate change, from the hottest year on record in the continental U.S. and super storm Hurricane Sandy, to the immense energy blackouts in India that left 680 million people without power.  The nexus between environment, clean energy and economies has never been stronger and energy efficiency is the key to powering both countries and their economies.

Throughout the conference, discussions focused on varying elements of energy efficiency, from corporate leadership, governmental and entrepreneurial incentives, technological breakthroughs and adoption and implementation strategies.   NRDC convened a session on “Driving Energy Efficiency: Technology Innovation and Adoption”, which included over 40 participants and experts from the business and technology community and government organizations such as the Department of Energy and State Department.  The discussion centered on strategies for advancing energy efficiency in the government, business, and bilateral relationships between the U.S. and India.

The experts agreed that the greatest opportunity for advancing energy efficiency occurs in cities and buildings.  In India, this opportunity is particularly acute; two-thirds of the buildings that will exist in 2030 are yet to be built, as opposed to the largely built environment in the U.S.  Energy efficiency is an “invisible resource” in that it yields tremendous cost and energy savings potential; for example, by ramping up investments to energy efficiency, the U.S. could cut its energy consumption by 23%, yield up to 900,000 direct jobs in the U.S. by 2020 and India could save $42 billion in lost energy costs each year.  Additionally, energy efficiency comes in various forms and opportunities: through retrofitted and newly efficient buildings, air and vehicle conditioning systems, windows, lighting and appliances.

Aside from the importance of energy and cost savings, there are several significant factors for consideration for energy efficiency measures, for any stakeholder. Throughout the discussion, we identified five key factors and they are:

  • Measuring and benchmarking
    • Measuring, verification and benchmarking are critical processes for governmental energy efficient policies to take root. Increasing compliance is a vital step in implementing policies which are more effective when energy efficiency is seen as the end goal. 
  • Social benefits
    • Beyond numbers, the social and economic benefits of energy efficiency, including increased access to energy and potential for economic growth, is an important factor to account for, particularly for the government and business community.
  • Education and training
    • At the local and consumer level for business and technology companies, considering the value of behavior and training is key.  Developing building worker skills is vital for successful operations, installation and maintenance of new building energy management systems. 
  • Financing incentives
    • Financing is extremely critical yet often poses hurdles to energy efficiency measures.  However, by including incentives to property owners, finding successful ESCO models, and shaping government policies to play a role in energy efficiency mortgages, banks and financial institutions can be incentivized to apply diverse financing mechanisms. 
  • Research and Development
    • There is a greater need for targeted and focused research and development initiatives for strengthening U.S. - India bilateral cooperation.  Many challenges to energy efficiency can be solved with newer technologies and ingenuity.  Creative solutions are essential and mutually beneficial to both countries for addressing our current and projected energy needs.

                                               (Photo credit: Bala Chandran)

The Summit was a terrific success and I was inspired by the high level perspectives and recommendations for international action on climate change and clean energy.   It is evident that U.S. – India bilateral leadership and partnership is the key to advancing energy solutions and that the need for such coordinated collaboration is immediate and pressing.  As summer approaches bringing reminders of last year’s disasters, both countries recognize the need to protect their vulnerable populations and avoid enormous economic and environmental losses.  Adopting energy efficient measures is the fastest and cheapest way towards achieving energy security, protecting lives and powering our economies.  The incredible brainpower and ideas crowdsourcing of the two countries can yield opportunities for both countries to take and implement such actions and policies to work towards a clean energy future.

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