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U.N. Secretary-General: Renewables Can End Energy Poverty

United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made renewable energy and its ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity a central theme during his visit to Colorado on Wednesday.

With the Rockies as his backdrop, Ban toured the National Renewable Energy Laborary in Golden, where he inspected the flexible thin-film modules produced by Colorado-based Ascent Solar. The facility, he said, represents innovative approaches that for relatively little cost can connect remote areas to the global network of information and ideas.

If energy is the lifeblood of the world economy, Ban argues that renewable energy represents an infusion of humanity.

According to the World Bank, more than 1.4 billion people worldwide — mostly in places like rural Asia and much of Africa — do not have access to electricity. About 3 billion use wood, charcoal, coal, and dung for cooking and heating. Reaching universal access to modern energy services by 2030 will require new capital investment of up to $40 billion annually in new investments.

Ban categorized three areas of energy in which significant inroads need to be made. The first is access to our modern services. Another is to double the world’s energy efficiency. Finally, the share of renewable energy in relation to the overall energy mix needs to double. This, he said, will shine a light on parts of the world that have lagged behind modern development. With it will come better health, better food, more stable governments and a higher level of education.

To illustrate his point, he spoke of a view from above. “Imagine the world at night as seen from space. I am sure many of you have seen this picture, but every time I see it I am reminded of one of the most important issues of our day — energy poverty. The United States is brightly lit. Africa is dark. So is much of the rest of the developing world. Cities show on the map, but the rural poor live — quite literally — in the dark.”

The possibilities for gains in renewable energy spans industries to include geothermal, biomass and hydro power as well as solar and wind.

“Earlier this year I visited a geothermal power station in Kenya,” said Ban. “I saw how both the government and the private sector are investing in renewables from wind power to small-scale hydro. I have also seen how China is leaping forward to become a world leader in clean energy.”

Then, he made an impassioned plea for a movement that fuses politics, business and grassroots advocacy. He cited a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that the technical potential of renewable energy technologies vastly exceeds current global energy demand. According to the report, more than 97 percent of this potential has yet to be tapped.

“What we need most is strong, sustained political leadership to drive this clean energy revolution forward at the speed and scale necessary. We need to ensure that the right policy incentives and policies are in place to let the market do what it does best: innovate down the cost curve, and satisfy demand.”

You can read his energy roundtable speech here.

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