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Time to Help Power the World with renewable energy at the 2012 Earth Summit

Jake Schmidt

Posted April 24, 2012 in Solving Global Warming

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Nepal071One in five people in the world live without electricity – or around 1.3 billion people – and one billion more live only with access to unreliable electricity. Almost 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating. This lack of electricity has consequences for the well being of these citizens – many are children and women, and all are at the bottom of the economic scale.  At the Earth Summit in Rio world leaders have a chance to ensure that these citizens can gain access to electricity while not driving global warming.  Countries, companies, and organizations must commit in Rio this June to investing in access to renewable energy for these citizens.   

These citizens:

  • often miss out on health care services (ever notice that many vaccines need refrigeration),
  • are limited in their access to education (try doing your homework in the dark),
  • and are often exposed to serious indoor air pollution (from inefficient burning of biomass for cooking and heating).

The good news is that these citizens can gain access to electricity without driving global warming and other air pollution.  Renewable energy is available and regularly cost competitive with fossil fuel based sources of energy.  And off-grid renewable energy can provide electricity to places that the electricity grid doesn’t currently serve or is unfeasible.  

The private sector has already developed models to spur this type of renewable electricity access.  As our colleague pointed out:

“there are literally scores of social entrepreneurs paving the way for this cheaper, faster, and more effective approach to rural electrification (see Husk Power, Frontier Markets, Simpa Systems, SELCO-India, GreenLightPlanet, and on and on...).”

So what are we waiting for?  These social entrepreneurs are ready to go, but they need a little early investment so they can train local organizations and individuals, access larger financial investments to spur aid in the deployment of their business model, and hire staff to help spread their reach.  So at the Earth Summit this June in Rio de Janeiro countries and companies need to stop documenting the problem and step-up their investment in the solution.  These citizens don’t need to live in the dark. 

We need a real commitment and investment to help these citizens tap into renewable electricity. And here are a couple of ways that we might spur this investment:

  1. Send a clear message to world leaders and companies that you want them to Power the World.
  2. Get the International Finance Corporation – the private sector arm of the World Bank – to establish a dedicated $500 million finance window for distributed clean energy to be distributed by 2015, with half of that distributed by the end of 2013.
  3. Establish a new World Bank program dedicated to distributed clean energy that helps build the pipeline of projects and social entrepreneurs in this sector, building upon the  Lighting Asia and Lighting Africa models.
  4. Push countries, companies, and others to step up to the plate and make a real commitment to “sustainable energy for all”.

We have less than two months from the Rio Earth Summit so the clock is ticking.  But this is plenty of time for action to ensure that these citizens don’t live in the dark with real investments in renewable electricity for the women, children, and poor that don’t have access to electricity.

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* Photo of solar panel on roof in Nepal village: courtesy of Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), under creative commons license.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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