Press Conference on UN-Energy and Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership

2 June 2011

Press Conference on UN-Energy and Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership

2 June 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on UN-Energy and Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership

A United Nations-backed sustainable electricity partnership made a strong case today for the transformative role that small-scale, off-grid projects could play in bringing clean, reliable energy and electricity to billions of the world’s “energy poor” people living in remote communities and tied to burning coal or heavy oil.

“Close to 3 billion people do not have reliable access to electricity, and this restricts the space for human development,” said Tariq Banuri, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, at a Headquarters press conference featuring participants in the one-day Global Summit to Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships to Accelerate Global Electricity Technology Development.  “The world needs a global programme to deal with this issue.”

He said the meeting, a prelude to the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, 2012, sought to launch partnerships that would support and promote the global deployment of low- and zero-emitting electricity technologies and initiatives, chiefly at local and regional levels for worldwide adaptation.  It was hosted jointly by UN-Energy and the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (formerly the e8).  The Partnership, created in the wake of the historic 1992 Rio de Janeiro United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the “Earth Summit”), comprised leading electricity companies.

Mr. Banuri said UN-Energy was part of the United Nations inter-agency follow-up regime, created, alongside UN-Water and UN-Oceans, after the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.  “UN-Energy focuses on three main themes:  energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy,” he continued.  “Today what we are talking about is essentially bringing all of them together.”  Energy was not only the heart of development and economic growth, he continued, it was also the heart of human development.  “If you do not have energy you cannot get clean water to people; and if you can’t get clean water, you cannot save infants and children from death,” he pointed out.

Accompanying Mr. Banuri were Michael Morris, Chair of e8 and American Electric Power; Jürgen Grossmann, Chief Executive Officer of RWE, a German electric power and natural gas public utility company; James Rogers, Chair, President and Chief Executive Officer of Duke Energy; and Thierry Vandal, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hydro-Québec.

Mr. Morris said the projects promoted by the Partnership were “small in nature but huge in impact”.  They were designed and built to make electricity more readily available to underserved populations, or to introduce clean forms of energy on the way towards the elimination of traditional polluting sources.  The Partnership would provide a broader understanding of the challenges of bringing energy to underserved areas, he noted.

Echoing Mr. Banuri, he said the inability of some communities to provide food and clean water was an “absolutely debilitating challenge”.  The Partnership’s mission, therefore, was to continue to find those small places where big steps could be taken.  Indeed, the application of even small-scale electricity and renewable energy projects was extremely significant, he said, stressing that projects either under consideration or in operation were not an attempt to provide the “24/7 though grossly priced” energy access to which people in affluent countries were accustomed.

Responding to a question on that point, he explained that the Partnership was concerned “not with megawatt-size projects, but kilowatt-size operations” that made a huge difference on a small scale.  Further, the Partnership did not want to leave behind a project that no one liked, that no one understood how to run, or that was not sustainable through local market structures.

Carrying the point further, Mr. Vandal said the Partnership’s members understood technology and infrastructure, and their focus had also been on “putting the right technology to play on a very robust and very strong approach to developing infrastructure”.  The aim had also been to ensure that the projects made economic sense to the communities in which they were carried out, were environmentally responsible, and involved local or indigenous communities.

Mr. Grossmann said access to electricity was essential to bolstering education in developing countries, particularly since it was the pathway to the Internet.  The former e8 was not the World Bank — in fact, it was constantly struggling to try and raise both awareness and funds — but rather a great conglomeration of competence, experience and motivated people, he stressed.  “We’ve done quite a lot over the years, but haven’t talked much about it.”  However, the Partnership was now stepping onto the international stage to bring its small-scale public-private successes to a wider audience.

Mr. Rogers highlighted just that type of “small-step” initiative, approved during the meeting’s session this morning, in which all the companies represented at the press conference were participating.  It involved putting together a team that would construct two off-grid energy projects in Patagonia.  When completed, they would provide clean, sustainable energy for two villages that today relied on intermittent, costly and “dirty” diesel fuel.

One project featured wind energy and the other was a “micro-hydro”, or small-scale hydroelectric installation, he continued.  While allowing a steadier flow of electricity to the two villages, they were also a platform for partnership with the region’s tribes, provincial governments and local energy providers, he said.  “Working together, we’re going to fundamentally change access to electricity [and provide] access to sustainable electricity,” he added.  “It’s so clear that there is a link between access to electricity and prosperity.”

Asked whether the Partnership had carried out any projects in the United States, Mr. Morris said that although it rarely worked in that country, it had carried out programmes in Kansas and California.  In California, specifically, the Partnership had worked to replace energy facilities based on sources that were no longer acceptable in that state with solar energy.  Mr. Rogers added that while the United States had been able to provide universal access by the twentieth century, its mission for the new century would be equally challenging:  to retire and replace or modernize its energy facilities; modernize its energy grids; and bolster access to clean energy.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.