The United Nations decade of Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) was launched by UN Secretary General Ban KiMoon on June 5, 2014. This decade promises to transform the global energy landscape.  There are three objectives:  First, to end extreme poverty, and build shared prosperity through universal access to electricity.  All homes will have safe, smoke free cooking and heating.  Second, by 2030 over one third of the world’s energy will be from clean, renewable sources, this will make twice as much renewable energy in the global energy mix.  Third, climate change will be confronted with clean, efficient, reliable sources of energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.  The first two years of the Decade of Sustainable Energy For All will focus on women and children.  Sustainable energy links Poverty Eradication, Economic Growth, and Healthy Environment.  It is central to this agenda that how energy is produced and used changes.

Poverty is energy related.  One in five people, or 1.3 billion people, worldwide have no access to electricity. 40% of the world’s population relies on wood, charcoal, or animal waste for cooking and heating.  This indoor air pollution is the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.  In all there are three billion people in the world today who live in energy poverty.  Many of these are marginalized ethnic groups.  Eighty percent of people with no access to energy live in rural areas.

Health depends on energy.  Lack of energy is the number one killer of women and children globally.  Hospitals, Clinics, and Health Care Facilities with no access to electricity cannot refrigerate life saving vaccines, or perform blood transfusions. Hospitals may have Doctors, instruments, equipment, and machines, but surgery cannot be performed at night without lights.  290 million women die annually from childbirth.  Maternal deaths in developing nations are usually due to energy poverty.  Babies do not wait until sunrise to be born.  Death can result when women are turned away from hospitals at night.  Babies born by kerosene lantern are often burned upon delivery.  No C-sections are performed at night.  There are four million deaths annually caused by indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with wood and charcoal.  These are mostly women and children.  Half of all pneumonia deaths in children result from indoor air pollution.

Women are affected disproportionally by energy poverty.   According to Kandeh Yumkella, CEO of SE4ALL, energy is a women’s issue.  It can mean the difference between safety and fear, freedom and servitude, and even life and death.  The Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) refers to women’s electricity rights.  Women in the developing world walk miles to collect fuel and water instead of spending their time on education or income generating activities.

Women can benefit immensely from the introduction of renewable energy.  For example, an Indian woman entrepreneur was using diesel power for her equipment in a salt mine.  When she changed to solar, she was able to save enough money to buy an air ticket from India to New York to address the SE4ALL Conference.

Education is impacted by energy because students cannot read or study at night.  Security depends on energy because people, especially women, are safer at night in areas that are illuminated.

Food and agriculture are heavily dependent on energy.  Solar pumps make irrigation possible in impoverished areas, increasing productivity.  Renewable energy makes using tractors and equipment more affordable.  Energy insures that food can be produced and conserved better, and more efficiently, positively impacting hunger and poverty.

Water can be pumped from aquifers that have previously been unreachable when energy is available.  This is especially important since the demand for water is increasing.  There has been fighting, and even deaths, over water.  It is so important that the World Bank has started a Thirsty Energy Initiative to address the situation.

Climate Change is one of the major problems caused by unsustainable energy.  Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel are a major contributor to global warming.  Oil production causes deforestation, which is responsible for more than 15% of carbon emissions.  Rational use of forestry needs to become profitable.  For example, Ecotourism in Costa Rica provides jobs.

Energy solutions can eliminate poverty.  Most of the remote areas of poverty have the strongest winds, making them good candidates for wind energy.  Wind farms in these areas can produce enough energy for local use, and also provide abundant amounts for export - creating income.  Innovative solutions require technical expertise, funding, and most importantly, a bottom up approach.  The voices of the local community are essential for success.  Mini grid and off grid solutions need to be implemented to address needs in rural areas.   

A “Solar Suitcase” was created in order to provide electricity for health care facilities in Africa.   An American Doctor and her husband, a solar inventor, created the “Solar Suitcase”.  It has enough solar capacity to provide electricity for a hospital or clinic.  It is as portable as a suitcase.  When solar suitcases are introduced into an area, the rate of maternal mortality and morbidity plummets.  Solar energy saves lives.  Clean cook stoves save lives.  The target is for 100 million households to be provided with clean cook stoves during this decade.

The world is undergoing a shift from a fossil fuel economy to a sustainable energy economy by developing energy from renewable sources: solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal.  These are clean, affordable, and reliable.  In fact, there has been a 70 – 80% reduction in the cost of solar.  Currently energy demand is rising, mostly in Asia, making renewable energy most desirable.

Solar energy use was advocated by Thomas Edison, who said, “The greatest source of energy is the sun”.  Solar can provide safe, clean heating and cooking, light hospitals, and clinics in developing countries, and provide a clean, efficient and renewable alternative to fossil fuel.

Wind is abundant in poverty areas. Vestas computers can predict wind blows for decades to come.  100 million people living in poverty are in 7 meter per second wind area.  It is the optimal solution for low cost electricity in remote areas. 

Biomass can be found everywhere, but unlike solar or wind energy, it needs to be produced.  It is an important source of renewable energy.  The challenge is to produce it from trash, sugar, ethanol, and crop waste.  It is renewable carbon, unlike fossil fuel. 

Community involvement is essential for success in establishing renewable energy.  There have been several energy fiascos.  Oaxaca, Mexico has the best wind potential in America.  The region is densely covered with wind.  The local indigenous people there were excluded from the decision making process to create and develop massive wind farms in the area.  The local people did not want wind farms because of their concern that it would disturb the shrimp, which are very sensitive to noise and light.  The livelihood of local people depends on harvesting shrimp.  There were demonstrations, and the army was called in.  People were injured and killed as a result.  In Kenya, land was taken from tribes and leased by the Government for 99 years without community consultation.  Wind towers installed next to houses causes major social concerns.  The community must be the driving force in sustainable energy solutions.

The Apollo Energy Program is named after the Apollo Space Program which was responsible for putting a man on the moon.  The rationale is that if it is possible for a man to go to the moon, then it should be possible to store renewable energy.  World leaders in technical innovation and ingenuity are being recruited to work on this project.  The biggest challenge facing renewable energy is storage.  Successfully delivering the Apollo Energy Program will promote global prosperity since sustainable energy is the core of development.

Successes in sustainable energy abound.  The President of Iceland spoke at the SE4ALL Conference about preserving Mother Earth in all her glorious beauty.  Iceland has moved away from fossil fuel.  100% of their electricity is from renewable sources.  They use solar, wind, and geothermal.  Iceland made this change in one generation – house by house, street by street, village by village, until the entire economy reached a clean energy transformation.  China has added more energy from renewable sources than conventional or nuclear.  Mongolians have solar panels in their tents.  New Zeeland is 75% renewable.  Norway produces oil, but uses hydropower.  Denmark’s economy grew by 80% in the past decade, but energy consumption has remained constant.

KLM is the oldest airline in the world, and the most innovative.  KLM uses 100% sustainable aviation fuel.  Their biofuel comes from feedstock and goes to airplanes.  Since aviation will double in the next 20 years, there is a real need to reduce its carbon footprint.  The Tessler electric car goes 400 kilometers on one charge of electricity.  Tessler is better capitalized than General Motors.

Political involvement is essential.  Fossil fuel subsidies must be eliminated to create a level playing field for renewable energy.  Renewable energy creates jobs, eliminates poverty, and creates investment opportunities.  Economic growth is possible without climate change.  This is an opportunity for business to be a force for good.  We need to create an enabling environment that can trigger private investment in renewable energy.  There is currently a lack of investment in wind and renewable because companies perceive that the risks are too high in the developing world.  Investors will not invest in 7 meter per second areas.  Pension funds, insurance companies, and others need to be given a sense of confidence and trust.  Creation of renewable energy can be accelerated by driving down the cost of financing.    There needs to be collaboration between the private sector, industry, Governments, the financial industry, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Academics, and civil society.  We need to inspire each other!    

The world economy has doubled since 1998. It will double again by 2030.  Let’s do it right this time with a low carbon footprint, and renewable sustainable, energy for everyone on the planet.