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Sustainable energy: Learning from the success stories

Sharing good examples is the key to change SEforALL’s Rachel Kyte tells World Energy Focus

No one's saying moving the world further towards more sustainable energy practices is going to be straightforward. Yet we can make it a lot easier simply by talking to each other, learning from the world's best examples and adapting them for use elsewhere, says Rachel Kyte, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Chief Executive Office of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). This was ahead of the UNSEforALL Forum that took place 3-5 April in New York.

"You need to marshal the evidence, benchmark progress and then tell the stories," she says. "The stories of success don't travel as fast as the stories of failureand people don't necessarily know, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, country to country, city to city, company to company, how others achieved what they did."

Making sure the success stories do get told is a major part of the work of SEforALL, whose SEforALL All Forum held in New York in early April provided an opportunity to share and learn from those stories.

The organisation was the brainchild of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Back in 2010, perplexed by the absence of sustainable energy targets from the UN's Millennium Development Goals, given their importance to the development agenda, he initiated a revised list, adopted in 2015, which are now known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"This was a man who had grown up in very humble circumstances in Korea and hadn't had access to reliable, affordable energy, let alone clean power, when he was growing up, so this was personal for him," says Kyte.

Ki-moon's advisory panel on sustainable energy came up with three key points for a sustainable energy goal; 1) that it should focus on closing the energy gap between rich and poor countries regarding power and clean cooking; 2) that there needed to be a step change in the rate at which energy efficiency was improving globally and 3) that there needed to be much more renewable energy in the mix.

These objectives are now enshrined in the seventh SDG on energy:

• By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services

• By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

• By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency

• By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

• By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries - in particular, the least developed countries, small island developing states, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support.

The targets also informed the work of the SEforALL initiative, which was spun out of the UN system in 2016, to become a separate international organisation building on the increased global cooperation on energy which contributed to the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. SEforALL focuses on universal access to modern energy services, improving energy efficiency and boosting the use of renewable energy.

The task is immense, given that more than 1 billion people still have little or no access to electricity and almost 3 billion do not have access to clean cooking, according to the World Bank. Tackling the underlying problems requires a radical overhaul of the way the world produces, distributes and consumes energy. It was decided that the SEforALL initiative should be centred on public-private partnerships to maximise chances of success.

"There needed to be a platform where those partnerships could be founded and then work together to keep pushing each other to do more," Kyte says. "Our job is to shake things up so that people are asking the right questions and understand the job that lies in front of themwhat they have to do on Monday morning."

Building confidence

That involves building the confidence of political leaders to take the steps needed to implement sustainable energy policy, and calling to account partnerships that aren't making progress.

For example, SEforALL has worked together with various African governments to create prospectuses for companies seeking to invest in sustainable energy investment opportunities, as well as developing action agendas to help countries to outline and enforce sustainable energy policy.

"We aim to provide a neutral space, where we can say what needs to be different. Our goal is to help our partners go further faster," says Kyte.

In-depth data analysis to assess progress and show what more needs to be done is vital to maintain momentum.

To that end, SEforALL works with the World Bank and other partners to produce two key reference publications, the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) and the Global Tracking Framework (GTF).

"We bring data sets together and then ask different questions of them than usually get asked," says Kyte.

RISE is a benchmarkable index covering 111 countries and using a range of indicators, showing the health of the regulatory system for energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiencyeffectively, a global energy policy scorecard.

"You can go into the website, manipulate and interrogate the data and look at why one country is performing better than another in terms of the kind of regulation they have in place, says Kyte.

The latest RISE survey, covering 2016, was released in February 2017. Among its key findings, RISE showed how the energy access gap in sub-Saharan Africa, where policy frameworks remain weak, is a matter for concern. How African nations can combine renewables, including geothermal and hydropower, with fossil fuels - notably gas - to fill this gap rapidly, without compromising sustainable energy targets, is a hot topic for the region.

But the story is not just about a lack of progress among the world's poorest countries. Kyte notes that a country such as recently war-ravaged Afghanistan has made huge strides in improving electrification and adoption of off-grid solutions. Meanwhile, even within the developed OECD countries, there are huge disparities in progress towards sustainable energy goals. Kyte says looking at how those that have made most progress, such as Denmark, have achieved it could help those who are lagging behind.

"You don't have to completely reinvent the future, you just need to be a bit more like Denmark," she says.

On energy efficiency, countries around the world were seen to be doing relatively well on creating an enabling environment for energy efficiency. But they seemed to be systematically neglecting others, including sectorally-targeted policies for large consumers, the public sector and utilities, as well as the development of financing mechanisms.

While most surveyed countries had renewable energy targets, regulations for the sector and incentives for green power generation, many fell short on network connection for renewables, as well as carbon pricing and monitoring, RISE data suggested.

Meanwhile, the latest Global Tracking Framework was released at April's SEforALL All Forum, two years on from the first GTF. The framework is complementary to RISE in that it assesses progress made in countries towards meeting their SDG energy targets.

"The 2017 GTF dataset is really fascinating. It's going to be really challenging to the international community," says Kyte, speaking in advance of the GTF launch.

"The kind of progress that will need to be made over the next 15 to 20 years requires strong and healthy institutions, good regulations, smart public policy, a steady hand on the wheel - and the conditions that allow domestic and foreign investment to come in and play its role."

  • This article appears in the latest issue of World Energy Focus, the magazine of the World Energy Council, with content produced by Petroleum Economist. For more information and to register, visit the site
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