Renewable energy can help meet Asia's energy challenge: But why are we stuck?

The energy needs of Asia-Pacific countries continue to grow exponentially. From barely 1/3 in 2010, the region’s share of world energy consumption would be 51-56 percent by 2035. In addition, the rising cost of electricity exerts further pressure on the vulnerable economies of the region. For example, Philippine electricity prices remain one of the highest in the world: second in Asia; and 4th in the world! Therefore, we face an enormous challenge of meeting current and future energy demand in a clean, safe, affordable and sustainable manner. The good news is that by the end of 2011, renewable energy supplied an estimated 19 percent of global final energy consumption. Moderate scenarios project shares in the 30-45 percent range by 2030. With global C02 emissions on a record rise, replacing traditional energy sources with renewables is invaluable to sustaining the planet’s health. Currently, at least 138 countries have already set renewable energy targets. Meeting these targets could result in an increased share of RE at an annual rate of 1.2-1.5 percent. In reality, however, increasing the rate of renewable energy deployment at the national level has proven to be a challenge. Simply setting RE targets does not mean that these targets will be achieved. The recently launched report “Meeting Renewable Energy Targets: Global Lessons from the Road to implementation”, suggests that, while targets do demonstrate a certain level of national commitment, the act of simply setting targets or even implementing policies has proven to be insufficient. The report, written by WWF International in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, explains that a suite of good policies and practices must be considered in order to ensure that renewables can thrive and that targets put forward can be met. Findings from the report were shared at this year’s Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF 2013) to help decision makers, regulators, investors, and civil society who want to develop their own national RE strategies identify which factors are required for successfully achieving RE targets. Lessons learned and shared were pulled from seven original case studies of countries that have put in place aggressive national RE targets, including: China: 20 percent renewable energy by 2015 Germany: 80 percent by 2050 India: 17 percent by 2017 Morocco: 42 percent by 2020 Philippines: 40 percent by 2020 South Africa: 13 percent by 2020 Spain: 38 percent by 2020 Experience in these countries reveals that three dimensions are necessary in successful RE target achievement: good governance, smart policy design, and long term know-how requirements. Without these dimensions, renewable energy target achievements are threatened to be delayed by opposition, lack of coordination, inappropriate policy mechanisms, or insufficient human know-how to carry through renewable energy project development. While it’s important to choose which policies to initiate in the energy sector, equally as important are the regulatory and institutional structures that back them.
Commissioner Naderev Saño and Presidential Adviser on Global Warming and Climate Change Bebet Gozun hold two of the infographics used by the Climate Change Commission to raise the profile of ecological footprint in the Philippines. Renewable energy is a major issue during the launch of the footprint report last November 20, 2012. (Kairos dela Cruz/iCSC) Commissioner Naderev Saño and Presidential Adviser on Global Warming and Climate Change Bebet Gozun hold two of the infographics used by the Climate Change Commission to raise the profile of ecological footprint in the Philippines. Renewable energy is a major issue during the launch of the footprint report last November 20, 2012. (Kairos dela Cruz/iCSC)

Since every country faces different environmental, social, political and economic challenges, there can be no one-size-fits-all renewable energy policy. However, learning about one country’s challenges and successes with renewable energy can be immensely helpful in crafting policies for another. Using case studies, the report provides four recommendations that all policy makers can use to create better, more sustainable electricity plans: 1) Clearly defined policy objectives that have wide public support and flexible yet stable promotion mechanisms. Similar to the Philippines, Germany’s policy makers made sure to create a feed-in tariff system that was flexible and responsive to market changes, while supporting the mechanism with a stable legal framework. 2) Independent specialized agency dedicated to renewable energy with a clear mandate; Institutions that foster good governance. Decision-making that reflects transparency, accountability, coordination, cooperation and multi-stakeholder participation; Despite initial skepticism, India’s competitive bidding system proved to be successful in attracting bidders capable of executing solar projects effectively and on time. This is because the country’s Solar Mission was deliberately transparent in its bidder screening process. 3) Enabling industry structures with adequate infrastructure and technology in the short, medium and long terms. Meeting infrastructure requirements is critical to the success of a sustainable renewable energy policy. Rather than starting from scratch, China drew upon its existing sizable manufacturing sector to establish a stable foundation of technical and industrial capacity for renewable energy. 4) Understanding and planning for institutional and human capacity needed (skills, training, education, capacity building) to manage renewable energy systems in the short, medium and long terms Morocco’s National Energy Strategy puts a demonstrable emphasis on increasing human know-how: in urban areas, through the establishment of university degrees and programs dedicated to renewable energy; and in rural areas, through initiatives that provide technical assistance and information access to local-level actors. by: Maria Athena Ronquillo and Sarah Martin ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Maria Athena Ronquillo Ballesteros leads the International Financial Flows and the Environment project, working to improve the environmental and social decision-making and performance of public financial Institutions. She is a technical and policy advisor to the Philippine negotiating team at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations since 1997 and assisted Philippine agencies on climate and energy issues at the ASEAN, APEC and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. She is also iCSC's Board Chairperson.  Sarah Martin is a Research Analyst with the Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI). The World Resources Institute and the Prayas Energy Group (India) serve as the global secretariat of EGI, which works with civil society organizations and policy makers in developing countries to promote transparency, accountability, and public participation in the electricity sector.