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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mapping Clean Energy Opportunities for the BoP

By Derek Newberry

3tierSo what does it take to supply millions of households in emerging economies with clean renewable energy? We often talk about finance, new models, willing entrepreneurs. Kenneth Westrick, CEO of energy consulting group 3Tier says it's information.

Really? Hard to believe this at a time when the development agenda is about doing, not thinking, and action over words. But in our conversation, Ken contended that what the renewable energy sector really needs right now to successfully tap BoP markets is a map. In particular, the online map that 3Tier launched on Monday - this technology will utilize the most recent available research to show in any given 5 km space anywhere in the world the viability of wind and solar energy based on how much sun or wind that area is exposed to on a regular basis.As Ken intimates, this idea didn't come about because he's some kind of map enthusiast (cartophile?). With the growth of emerging economy investment and the results-focused mentality of the development field, there are investors interested in renewable financing, governments willing to invest in energy projects, and scalable business models. After years of pushing for renewable energy projects and policies in Colombia, where he currently, lives, Ken realized that many of the pieces are currently in place to bring clean energy to the BoP - that's the good news.

The bad news is that these actors tend to think big and talk about big renovation projects - but Ken found himself asking: "How do we reach the 30% [in Colombia] who are off the grid?" Information is the key component that binds these actors together and helps them work for the BoP. As is the case with many BoP initiatives, this project works by turning conventional models on their heads. Instead of mapping renewable energy capacity on a project by project basis, as is usually the case, 3Tier is aiming to map the entire world over the next 21 months to prove to investors that renewable energy is viable in many rural areas of emerging economies. Also, as with any good BoP initiative, this map relies on the private sector acting on these market opportunities once it is proven to them that a certain area is viable for solar or wind.

Talking to Ken reminded me that as more and more stakeholders promote sustainable development through on-the-ground work, we can't forget the hugely important role information still plays in making markets work for the poor. Helping the next four billion to leapfrog "developed" countries with renewable energy is going to take more than just passionate individuals, it will take good research and solid information.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the fundamental value of dialogue and knowledge sharing cannot be overlooked in advancing smart, efficient, and sustainable growth. Again, knowledge is key in our endeavor, which is why one of the most important tools for scaling renewable energy access worldwide could be a simple map.

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