Taking a cue from the innovation incubators being launched by tech giants like IBM and Veolia, the United States is teaming up with the Inter-American Development Bank to create a regional incubator that can help clean energy projects across the Americas thrive by providing hands-on financial and technological support.
U.S Energy Secretary Steven Chu and IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno announced the project this morning at the Energy and Climate Ministerial of the Americas, part of the Climate and Energy Partnership of the Americas launched a year ago by President Obama.
The IDB, under increasing pressure from Latin America and the Caribbean to provide more funding for renewable energy development, also pledged to double its spending on renewable energy and climate project financing from about $1.5 billion this year to $3 billion a year by 2012.
That’s about a quarter of the $12 billion that the bank expects to invest in lending and development grants this year, up from 5 percent in recent years, Moreno said.
The development bank already draws on experts to share their policy and technical advice on sustainable growth through research papers and seminars, but the announcement today goes farther by creating an Energy Partnership of the Americas Innovation Center at the IDB.
"Through the center, we will be able to efficiently deploy technical staff across the region to assist governments, the private sector and NGOs address opportunities for renewable energies and help take projects from the innovative stage to the operational stage," Moreno said.
"We will be better able to conduct energy efficiency audits, carry out pre-feasibility studies of renewable micro-hydros, and provide dedicated potential technologies for solar applications in residential areas. The possibilities are enormous."
Moreno and Chu signed a memorandum of understanding that sets a framework for cooperation between the IDB and U.S. Department of Energy to support the center and the development of clean, sustainable energy projects in the 48 IDB member countries spread across the Americas and the Caribbean. The U.S. is the IDB’s largest shareholder at 30 percent, but the Latin American and Caribbean countries together control over 50 percent.
More Clean Energy, Less Energy Poverty
Chu sees a need to both accelerate clean energy development and at the same time reduce energy poverty. Those goals don’t have to run at cross-purposes, he explained.
To make his point, he overlaid NASA’s earth lights image, the composite of satellite photos above showing where the lights are on at night throughout the world, with a population map showing where the most people live.
“What we want is to put those lights where the people are to give them energy, but that energy has to be delivered in a very clean way,” Chu said. “I think it’s possible to achieve climate goals and increase prosperity all over the world.”
For example, island states tend to generate a lot of their electricity through imported oil, but some of the Caribbeans island states have started developing their wind and solar resources. To be economical, Chu said, wouldn’t be niece if they could connect to each other? That would make energy more accessible and investments more profitable.
One solution being considered is a system of underwater high-voltage cables linking some of the closer island states, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later talked about other new initiatives in the Americas, including promoting the use of shale gas across the hemisphere and training Peace Corps volunteers to help communities develop renewable energy and energy efficiency.
She also named three top U.S. scientists who would be serving as energy advisors to Caribbean and Latin American countries in their roles as Climate and Energy Partnerships of the Americas fellows: energy professor Dan Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley; sustainable development professor Ruth DeFries of Columbia University; and engineering professor Gerry Galloway of the University of Maryland, who focuses on water resources.
The Climate and Energy Partnership of the Americas was set up as an open forum for countries with shared interests and values to create partnerships with one another, as well as with development banks like IDB, businesses and non-governmental groups.
Some of its focus is on unifying standards so, for example, Mexico and the United States can share energy across their border. Another task force is working on seismic design recommendations for earthquake zones. The partnership and the IDB are also working with Haiti to rebuild its infrastructure in the most energy efficient, sustainable ways.
“Through these partnerships, we hope that we can learn from each others and share our best practices,” Chu said.
IDB’s New Clean Energy Focus
The IDB’s expanded spending on clean and sustainable energy will take a similar tack, starting with lending to regions that are most dependent on fossil fuels.
“In Haiti, for example, we will be proposing to the government a completely new infrastructure based on wind, solar and hydro. And this initiative would transform Haiti’s current energy matrix, meeting most of the country’s energy needs with renewable sources and helping it better cope with future natural disasters,” Moreno said.
“This would also reduce expenditures on imported fuel and make Haiti a global reference point for renewable energy in low-income settings.”
The bank is also focused on regional energy integration, such as financing Central America’s international power grid connections that should increase reliability and lower costs. And it aims to become the leading source of funding and expertise for energy efficiency in the region, both through the new incubator and through other projects.
“Our research indicates that Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole could reduce electricity consumption by 10% over the next decade by investing in widely available technologies,” Moreno said. “This demand reduction would save as much as $36 billion in new energy capacity that the region will otherwise have to build.
"I call on all of you help us unleash an unprecedented era of creative collaboration to take on our Hemisphere’s toughest energy challenges."
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