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“Energy Sustainability” is high on the agenda for the G-20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, next week. In practice, this means the governments of the world’s leading economies will pledge to continue the laudable goals of phasing out inefficient subsides and boosting energy efficiency. But the meatier agenda is two wonkier research items. According to the Turkish presidency priorities communiqué (PDF), the G-20 will “study the reasons behind the high cost of renewable energy investment and examine the deployment of public and private resources to fulfill the need for energy investment.”
The G-20 can have a big impact on both of these areas, if it’s able to use new findings to inject more urgency into the search for creative solutions to the enormous energy needs of the poor. In particular, I hope the G-20 will use the forum to pursue three things:
A big push on public funding for energy R&D. As Bill Gates recently said in his argument to triple US funding for basic research in energy, “we need an energy miracle.”
A call for creative pull mechanisms on energy. A G-7 Summit in 2005 was pivotal in gaining support for the first-ever Advance Market Commitment for vaccines, which led to the launch of the pneumococcal AMC. Similarly, the 2010 G-20 Summit in Toronto called for an agricultural pull mechanism to respond to the food crisis. Two years later the AgResults initiative was launched that attracted $100 million in results-based financing. Why not use the Antalya summit for a similar experiment for energy?
More clarity on large-scale energy investment versus small-scale access. Much of the energy access agenda has been defined in such a minimal way that it’s become overly focused on deploying sexy low-energy systems to the very poor. When you live with zero electricity, a rooftop solar kit is a wonderful addition. But people want energy systems that can deliver more than a few kilowatt-hours to run LED lights. More to the point, every developing-country government aspires to have a modern economy, which will require many times more energy than whatever household systems can provide. (In the United States, just 22 percent of energy is used at the household level). The members of the G-20 — including countries like China and India that are expanding off-grid renewables and building many more large-scale fossil fuel plants — understand this intimately.