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BW Businessworld

One In Six People Have No Access To Electricity: Nigel Topping, CEO, We Mean Business Coalition

Securing energy needs is essential for boosting economic growth, alleviating poverty and combating the impacts of climate change

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“It’s a huge topic, from a moral topic, to political scale, where does the transition in the energy economy for mean geopolitics,” said Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business Coalition at the ‘3rd Business and Climate Summit 2017’.

“Energy is at the heart of the civilization. It dictates the distribution of resources”, he said, adding that “it’s also a security issue, it dictates many of the conflicts of the world today.”

Securing energy needs is essential for boosting economic growth, alleviating poverty and combating the impacts of climate change. Nearly 1.2 billion people across the globe – 16 per cent of the entire population – do not have access to electricity, and powering this un-served population is expected to create a huge demand in the near future.

Clean energy options, both grid-connected and decentralized renewable energy interventions, will be important in achieving the dual goal of energy access and energy security.

The session focused on collaborative approaches on technology transfer, R&D, transformative financing solutions and business models, and the role of global platforms and alliances to bring about scale and cost effectiveness in clean energy applications, “through the lens of technology transfer, from a financial point of view, of how we finance the transition, from a business model,” as Topping said.

“We have come a long way with some of the seismic changes in energy which we are going to see in the next few years,” said Topping, adding that “I developed the first battery in Manchester, home to the Industrial Revolution, which was fuelled by fossil fuels.”

He emphasized the need for the session to focus on “Energy as power politically and energy as power economically”, as “one in six people have no access to electricity”.

Topping added that “The transition to clean energy will imply loss of jobs and need for reskilling”. Nitin Prasad, Chairman of Shell (India) said “We believe very clearly at Shell that there is going to be energy transition, there are going to be seismic shifts” and that “the next 100 years of energy are going to be very different from the last 100 years”.

He added that “By 2030 to 2040, the energy would have to grow by 2.5 to 3 times to meet demand” and that “In India the transition will be to a large part, consumer driven demand growth”.

He also added that “The transition is defined by rural to urban, shift away from biomass, energy security is defined by the integration in global markets.”

Referring to the new age of energy, he said “It may not be the geopolitics of oil or coal which matters anymore but maybe the geopolitics of lithium with this energy transition”. Upendra Tripathy, Interim Director General of the International Solar Alliance said that “9 countries have ratified the treaty in the ISA. By 9th December this year, 15 countries would have ratified the treaty”.

He added that “ISA has essentially come up to address issues at the field level. In our first program, we echo the sentiments of PM Modi, who said that if we are going to do something about energy access, think about farmers. We have provided 1.5 million solar pumps to solar farmers. It is about energy access to the most marginalized members of society.”

He also added that “The prices will come down 30-40 per cent as scaling increases, just like LED.”

“In the 21st century, with 1.2 billion people not having energy access, we can’t tell them to wait till 2030. We have the technology and will power”, said Tripathy. “We have asked banks to earmark 15 per cent of their earnings for solar projects”, he said, adding that “Our role is to being in finance and to bring in projects. And to put together ideas, institutions and actors so our projects are realized. This is the action oriented program of ISA”.

Kjetil Lund, Head of Public Affairs & Climate Policy, Statkraft said, “I am optimistic about our ability to combat climate change”.

He added that “The list of participants who attend these conferences is a reason to capture my optimism. It used to be public sector officials, but now it’s the private sector, business sector and commercial sector who attend these conferences.”

Lund also added that in terms of renewable energy, “The vicious circle has been turned to a virtuous circle” and that “We increasingly see possibilities for a low-carbon future”.

Stressing on the lower cost of renewable energy, he said, “When renewable energy is the most attractive commercial option for you, it is massive. Why would you not choose that?” Speaking about Norway’s plans on decarbonizing the economy, he said, “The ambitious plans Norway has for decarbonizing the transport sector and introducing electric cars is commendable” and that “climate change is a moral issue”, echoing the words of Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Focusing on the commercial viability of clean energy, he said, “Once electric vehicles are the best options for you as a company or individual, in your self-interest, why on earth would you buy a fossil-fuel car? If maintenance costs are lower, fuel costs are lower for electric cars, why on earth would you want to buy a diesel car?”