U.N. Sustainable Energy Chairman Yumkella discusses technology deployment plan

With U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon choosing energy access as one of his top priorities for his second term, how will the United Nations successfully meet the aggressive targets? During today's OnPoint, Kandeh Yumkella, co-chairman of the United Nations' Sustainable Energy for All initiative and director-general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, discusses Sustainable Energy for All's action plan for deploying new technologies around the world.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Kandeh Yumkella, co-chair of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative and director general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Dr. Yumkella, thanks for coming on the show.

Kandeh Yumkella: Thank you for inviting me.

Monica Trauzzi: The UN Secretary-General has chosen energy access to be one of his top priorities for his second term. Why is this such a critical issue for him and for the UN to tackle?

Kandeh Yumkella: Well, it is an important decision he's taken, because we realize, after assessing our efforts to promote and implement programs to achieve the millennium development goals, we realize now that without access to energy none of those goals will be achieved. Second, we realize that 64 to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from energy-related activities, power generation, transport, our heating and cooling of housing, industry and so on. So, you have two of the most critical challenges we face today, climate change, reducing poverty, both of them linked somewhere by energy systems. And so the secretary general is making a clear commitment that, look, we need to promote access to energy for the poorest of the poor that do not have it, but at the same time we need an energy revolution if we are going to deal with climate change as well.

Monica Trauzzi: How ambitious are these goals though? I mean we're talking about bringing access to areas that maybe are not even familiar with some of the technologies that you're talking about.

Kandeh Yumkella: This is bold and ambitious and that's the intention. We're talking about universal access to energy by 2030, so in the next 20 years. We're talking about the possibility of doubling the rates of energy efficiency improvement every year by 2030 and also doubling the share of renewables, but we see them as a package. The reason why we remain confident is that for a number of the technologies that we need to promote access they are known, for the 1.4 billion that have no access to electricity. What is missing? Public policy and also financing. So we are confident that with the right set of political commitments, good business models, bringing in the private sector onboard, that we can achieve these. Also, as you know, many people say that energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit. Also, if you are efficient in energy use, production and use, maybe you don't need to build all these power plants. You see the synergy of these goals that we are establishing now. So we are convinced that these are ambitious, but achievable goals and we think the moment is right. There is a lot happening around the world in energy systems now that we know many countries are working on some of the solutions that we need to deploy.

Monica Trauzzi: Are there particular technologies that you'll be focused on deploying?

Kandeh Yumkella: At the moment, our principle is that all technologies are on the table, all technologies on the table. It's up to the countries to choose their energy mix. We don't believe that you should dictate to any country which technology is more favorable than the other. It's a matter of diversifying the risks, the matrix, including as much renewables as possible. And we seem to be also emphasizing renewables for two reasons. One, with renewable energy solutions that we've seen around the world you can have what we call decentralized distributive energy systems. You don't have to wait for the grid extension. Communities can have one megawatt. You can use rooftops to generate energy. I mean I give you an example, in 2010, 2010 alone, the Germans installed nine gigawatts of power just from rooftops. With incentives, people had their solar panels on the roofs. And so this is possible. This was just in one year. With good public policy, good incentives for the citizens, nine gigawatts on rooftops.

Monica Trauzzi: Which countries do you start with?

Kandeh Yumkella: Well, we are now looking at-if you look at lack of access to energy, 1.4 billion people, 400 million are in India, 400 to 450 million. In the Africa region we are looking at between 580 million to almost 600 million. Now, if you touch Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nigeria, there are countries there that if we have consolidated effort you can really hit that number. You can connect the first 700 million people. But at the same time, we're looking at poorer countries. So it's a mix. Now, on efficiency we see this as a big transformative opportunity and from the United States to Europe to Japan to China to India, there is a lot of work going on and some are calling it energy conservation, some are working on smart grids to link these diverse sources of renewable energy. Today, as we speak, Jeremy Rifkin is launching his new book, The Third Industrial Revolution, built on new energy systems. He's talking about the energy Internet and he's coming out with five pillars which are already being applied in Europe and in some states in the United States. So we see an opportunity here where, yes, you can target the energy poor, but you can also use this 20-year period as a transformative opportunity to change the energy architecture of the world.

Monica Trauzzi: You touched on the link of all of this to climate change. How does the work that you're doing play into what the UNFCCC is doing and their goals?

Kandeh Yumkella: Yeah, the UNFCCC is an important part of getting a global agreement on a number of climate change related issues. What we have done basically is pick one of these elements, energy. You know that in the formal negotiations of climate change, they are not discussing energy in particular. Now, what we have done is we realize, as I said, without tackling this energy issue you cannot really solve greenhouse gas emissions, so we've picked this one and we call it a building block. As you negotiate to get a level playing field and get global-all countries, 193 of them to agree, we don't have to wait until that agreement is done. We better begin to work on energy systems, share knowledge, share best practices, what is working in other countries as they change their energy matrix. If you have a global agreement, all of this can be scaled up quickly.

Monica Trauzzi: All right.

Kandeh Yumkella: So they complement each other.

Monica Trauzzi: We will end it right there Dr. Yumkella. Thank you for coming on the show, very interesting.

Kandeh Yumkella: Thank you very much.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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