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How governments should work together with climate innovators

How governments should work together with climate innovators

How governments should work with climate innovators

Photo SunCulture/Ashden – Solar panels by the SunCulture last-mile specialists

Clean energy, available to all, is both a human rights and one the most effective tools the globe has to combat the climate crisis. Yet energy poverty remains, to use the current term for a social or cultural problem that’s difficult or impossible to solve, a stubbornly wicked issue. Nearly a billion people (13% of the world’s population) still lacks access to electricity and three billion (40% of the world) lacks access to the means to cook in a way that will not damage their health.

Since 2001, climate solutions charity AshdenThrough the annual Ashden Awards scheme we have been showcasing clean and affordable energy projects. We have found some of the world’s most innovative organisations and governments working on climate solutions and helped them gain publicity and to form vital relationships to help scale their initiatives.

The climate emergency is so large that all governments around world now know that decentralised renewable energy technologies must change at an unprecedented rate in order to meet the global goals of universal access to energy and zero carbon within the next few years.

How can central governments learn lessons from climate pioneers?

Learn from the solutions already available

First and foremost, policymakers must realize that energy poverty can be eliminated and the climate crisis can be solved. Technologies and appliances exist that can turn renewably generated electricity into services that can be harnessed for sustainable livelihoods – termed ‘productive-use appliances’ – for example, lighting, drying, pumping, refrigeration, transportation, and welding. The business and finance models are available that can help put the tools of the solar revolution in the hands for those most in need, easily.

What can governments learn from pioneers to create more of these conditions? 

The award-winning work Togolese Renewable Energy Authority (AT2ER). – an Ashden Award winner in 2020 – demonstrates that commitment by a national government to tackling energy poverty in rural settings can unlock economic progress. AT2ER has created new, high-quality jobs (40% were for women in engineering), provided first-time energy access to women and children, and helped to reduce future carbon emissions from gas and coal plants. This was possible through a combination if specific targets for household connections, integrating subsidy system (called the Cizo), for the end-consumers and working with distributed energy last mile specialists BBOX, SunCulture, and other experts in distributed energy. Togo is well on its path to providing universal energy access by 2030, with rates as low as 8% in certain areas.

In Zambia, the innovative Beyond the Grid Fund – Ashden Award winner of the Innovative Finance Award in 2019 – funded by Sweden and implemented by the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Partnership (REEEP).Clean energy has been provided to 119,000 households and businesses who otherwise would not be able to afford it. This collaboration was highly coordinated between the national government and private sector, with international support. REEEP has made it significantly less risky for businesses to enter the country’s off-grid energy market through a very carefully designed results-based framework of incentives that enable private companies to sell solar home systems and clean cooking appliances to the 70% of Zambians that are without these essential services.     

Invest in long-term policies and upskilling people

To create the conditions for financial investment in new markets that will innovate and deliver climate solutions, it is important to establish long-term, consistent policy frameworks. However, the potential of the energy acces sector will not be realized without concurrent investment in the people who will power it.         

According to the World Economic Forum the main factor preventing the energy transition in Asia, Africa and Latin America is a shortage of skilled workers. 

There are huge inequalities in accessing training and employment for low-income groups and other marginalised groups, particularly rural women. These issues must be addressed in order to create the energy workforce that is needed for the future.

These skills gaps are being filled by many amazing organizations. Strathmore UniversityKenya is producing graduates who are prepared to work in renewable energy, and they are plugging them directly into projects across East Africa. And SENDEA AcademyUganda has a group of local businesses that have come together to train people in order to empower small and medium-sized enterprises to deliver rural electrification using solar technologies. Both organizations have programs that are specifically tailored for women.

High-growth start-ups need skilled middle management and executive-level leadership to navigate the funding rounds, debt and equity raisings, and people and talent management as well as innovation processes. The African Management InstituteEnergy access has been recognized as a sector with huge potential to create jobs for young people, which is why it caters for the specialities required to manage high-growth companies in this sector.      

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There is more that is needed. The most forward-looking governments will think in terms ecosystems to nurture and sustain the sector. We can learn from the Ashden Award-winning Indian social enterprise. Bharatiya Vikas TrustThis training is necessary for financiers to understand the risk profile and other innovative energy solutions. It also helps to price technology, market, and business risks in the cost of lending. This increases access to capital at affordable rates for SMEs in this sector. The trust has trained over 15,000 financial professionals to close the gap in Indian solar financing. This includes unlocking 600,000 solar energy systems which are powering millions of rural entrepreneurs’ livelihoods.     

Energy efficiency and renewable energies can be used for job creation and decarbonisation.

A Recent UN Policy briefing paints a very clear picture of the prize for countries that adopt renewable energy as the means to power their economies – energy efficiency and renewable energy create more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. South Africa is leading the way in harnessing it. It has agreed to collaborate with the governments in France, Germany and the UK. This is a partnership that will allow for a fair transition. The first phase of financing will be US$8.5bn. This will include grants, concessional loans as well as investments and risk sharing instruments. This will accelerate the transition from coal power. This will result in a reduction of up to 1.5 gigatonnes carbon emissions over the next 20-years and hundreds of thousands of high-quality, new jobs in the clean economic.

It will be difficult to ensure that lessons from grassroots innovators are being learned and that policy is being designed to support their efforts. Over the next three year, Ashden will be focusing on promoting the skills and training required to unlock renewable energy and displace fossil fuels, as well as enabling energy access to create economic opportunities for rural development and energy access.

Writer: Giles Bristow is the director of programmes at Ashden where he leads the charity’s work with enterprises, NGOs and policymakers to accelerate the delivery of universal access to sustainable energy in the developing world. Prior to joining Ashden, he was the director of programs at Forum for the Future, where he was responsible for the organization’s systems change work in energy and food.

Ashden is a climate change charity that advocates and supports research in the field sustainable energy. It also supports the Ashden Awards winners. For organisations from low-income countries and the UK, the 2022 awards are now open. The deadline to apply is March 15.



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