Adgang til energi er afgørende for at komme verdens fattigdom til livs - men det er ikke nok i sig selv

08 feb 2012

Towards an Energy Plus Approach for the Poor – interview with Martin Krause, lead author and UNDP senior technical advisor on energy and the environment

Access to energy is crucial to overcome poverty in the world. It is just not enough. A new UNDP report - Towards an Energy Plus Approach for the Poor - published by UNDP sheds light on this important agenda and presents a number of recommendations on how to ensure that energy access programs can effectively serve as a catalyst for sustainable human development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Martin Krause is one of the lead authors of the report, and team leader for UNDP’s energy and environment work in Asia-Pacific. He is visiting the Nordic countries this week and presented the report in Copenhagen today. This provided an opportunity for a short interview.

Q1: Martin, why this report and why now?

Martin: UNDP has been working on energy programmes for 18 years and we felt it was time to take stock and check what’s working and what’s not. Energy and energy access is getting more and more momentum. The release of the report has coincided with the UN Secretary-Generals ‘sustainable energy for all’ initiative, which has brought additional attention to the report. We know it’s critical to accelerate access to energy for poor people, and we also believe, we know how to do this, which is why we want to share our experience from Asia and the Pacific with others.

Q2: What are the key findings and recommendations of the report?

Martin: The report is essentially a review of 17 access-to-energy projects and programmes in the Asia and Pacific region. The outcome of the review is a number of concrete recommendations; First, we need to tailor energy programmes to the needs and demands of people, villages and communities. Tailoring means that we listen and engage in a dialogue to find out exactly what poor people’s energy needs are and whether it is electricity, cooking fuel or heating fuel. If people’s main needs are cooking or heating fuel, you will not meet these by connecting them to the grid lines. Therefore, we need to listen carefully and tailor solutions specifically to their problems. Second, technically driven projects are doomed to fail. We have seen many projects in the past that have provided households with modern energy technology but neglected to cater for the maintenance, repair or financial sustainability of the systems. Often, the provided technology broke down within a few months of operation and there was no back-up plan. So, a good energy access project does not focus exclusively on the energy solution / technology but encompasses a broader package of services such as building entrepreneurial skills for income generating activities. Third, policy, regulations and institutions are key to success. Setting the right national policies to create an enabling environment is critical. These must include national targets for energy access and renewable energy. Only then can energy access programmes be successful and generate development dividends. Four, affordability is another important element. Many energy solutions are expensive and somebody has to pay. Our experience shows that we need a blend of financing; - international and domestic public financing is as important as private financing from commercial banks, private sector investments and equity funds. But most importantly, end-users have to pay in the end to ensure long-term sustainability. Yet, we cannot expect that very poor people are able to pay their energy bill. Hence, we need to ensure that they earn additional income, so that they can pay for it and benefit. This brings us back to the connection between energy and poverty and ultimately on how to break the energy-poverty-cycle.

Q3: Haven’t we heard some of these arguments before?

What is really new in terms of the messages and what, if any, are the differences between UNDP and the Norwegian energy plus approach?Martin: What is new, among other things, is that we are strongly emphasizing the importance of markets. Providing access to energy at a global scale cannot be achieved through charitable actions alone. Sustainable development results can only be achieved if we create sustainable markets involving the private sector. This is, by the way, something we have in common with the Norwegian energy plus approach. In fact there are not that many differences between the Norwegian approach and our findings and recommendations. Norway is emphasizing the importance of monitoring and evaluation and we also believe that we need to gather empirical evidence on where we are and how much progress we are making. We are already part of the Norwegian energy plus steering group. We hope that the Norwegian program will generate the much needed cash that can then be used to co-finance energy access programs around the world. We, in UNDP, would be delighted to expand our partnership and offer our services in energy plus programs in the future.

Q4: The report shows a significant involvement of UNDP in the access to energy agenda. Where does the work of UNEP and other UN agencies come in?

Martin: UNEP has a very important role to play in advocating and researching on global environmental issues including energy. UNIDO is the agency that took the lead in the UNSGs ‘sustainable energy for all’ initiative, and there are other important players out there such as the World Bank and the regional development banks that provide the much needed capital for investment in the energy sector. UNDP has a unique and niche role to play alongside the other UN agencies. UNDP is well placed to provide technical services to partners in the design and implementation of complex renewable energy and energy access programs. UNDP is working with partners on the ground on implementing energy solutions and we are in that sense very much the nuts and bolts agency supporting real transformation on the ground.

Q5: How does UNDP plan to follow up on the recommendations of the report?

Martin: As part of the UNSGs sustainable energy for all initiative, UNDP is bringing the recommendations into the broader global discussions. Also, in the context of the coming UN conference on sustainable development (Rio+20), where energy access is gaining political momentum, we are feeding our recommendations into the negotiation process. In addition, in the design of new energy programmes, we will take into account the findings and recommendations of our report so to improve the next generations of energy access programmes that UNDP is supporting.

For access to the full report: Towards an ‘Energy Plus’ Approach for the Poor
Further information here. Contact information: Mette Fjalland, UNDP Nordic Office, mette.fjalland@undp.org / +45 5183 6228