Renewable energy is critical for the two million people around the world who have no access to electricity, according to a recent Village Power conference in Washington.
WASHINGTON, DC – “Access to modern and clean energy, in conjunction with other essential services, can help the poor transform their lives,” said James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. He encouraged delegates to focus on key issues so that means can be found to help the rural poor “lift themselves out of poverty and out of drudgery, and to empower them to attain a secure future.” Progress in reducing the number of people without access to modern energy has been slow, and the cost of extending conventional power grids can be high compared to the declining cost of decentralized supply options such as micro-turbines, mini-hydro and wind energy. The number of people in South Asia and Africa who are not connected to the grid, is growing faster than the ability of utilities to make new connections, the conference was told. Energy is vital for development, but providing abundant quantities of energy is not sufficient, according to Brady Anderson, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Energy production must also be efficient and safe for human health and the environment. One of the objectives of Village Power 2000 was to form partnerships among key stakeholder groups to develop workable ways to advance rural transformation by improving access to clean energy services for income generation, community health and education needs, and for home use. Delegates included development organizations, funding institutions, non-government organizations and research experts. The conference was sponsored by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United Nations Development Programme, World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, USAID, Winrock International, and the World Bank. Keynote speeches included World Bank Chief Economist Nick Stern and Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, co-chairman of the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force and chairman of the Royal Dutch Shell Group. Dan Reicher, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, highlighted the commitment of the U.S. Department of Energy to alternative technologies, including solar and wind energy, geothermal and hydropower, biomass, fuel cells, micro-turbines and reciprocating engines. A highlight of the conference was the inauguration of a “Solar Village” model that powers a health clinic, school, micro-enterprise and home by a wind turbine, solar photovoltaic panels, a micro hydro unit, biomass cookers and battery charging station. The exhibit illustrated ways in which renewable energy can help to alleviate poverty by helping to raise family income and improve the quality of life.