Takeaways from SETI's 2019 Policy Interaction Workshop in Santiago, Chile
The Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI) is proud to announce a successful fourth annual conference, which occurred on May 15-17, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. The three-day conference kicked off with a policy interaction workshop, featuring various stakeholder perspectives on energy access in Latin America. Policymakers and practitioners from Latin America presented on issues relevant to their respective countries. Following these presentations, policymakers broke out into discussion groups with researchers to explore the potential for research to answer the most pressing questions faced by their organizations.
The following is a brief overview of the five presentations and discussions held during policy day.
The Transition from Coal: Considering Stakeholder Perspectives with Carolina Gómez
Carolina Gómez from the Ministry of the Environment, Chile, focused on identifying and meeting the goals of Chile's energy transition from coal-fired power plants. Gómez detailed increasing Chilean dependence on coal and the simultaneous commitment to carbon reductions by the government. Despite this commonly held goal, the discussion group identified the tensions between the different stakeholders and alternative energy options.
The government prioritizes security and stability, while environmental advocates prioritize carbon reduction. The discussion session delved into the drivers and concerns of the transition. There are social concerns of equitable energy infrastructure, and labor concerns of unemployment from unused coal-fired power plants. The four main options for alternatives include natural gas, solar expansion, coastal hydro, and increased hydro storage. All four face challenges to replacing, or partially replacing, coal generation. There are political barriers to the import of Argentinian natural gas. Solar and coastal hydro face storage issues, while expanding current hydro storage carries environmental concerns and resettlement challenges.
The discussion emphasized a need for a thorough comparative analysis among the most viable alternatives, paired with interdisciplinary analyses. It is necessary to have collaboration between engineers and grid operators for technical expertise, policymakers for political feasibility, and social scientists for analysis. By June 2019, the various Chilean working groups will publish the schedule to phase out or reconvert existing coal power plants.
The Diagnosis, Solutions, and Testing of Clean Cooking Technology with Gonzalo Guerrón
Gonzalo Guerrón from the Instituto de Investigación Geológico y Energético, focused on how to facilitate the transition to exclusive, or near exclusive, use of clean cookstove and fuels in Ecuador. Guerrón’s presentation detailed the role of his organization to investigate and promote responsible solutions to traditional energy problems. They approached this topic in three stages: 1) exploratory diagnostic work, 2) identification of potential solutions, and 3) testing solutions.
There are several barriers to transitioning to clean energy technologies. Guerrón presented a central tension of the Ecuadorian LPG subsidy that is unsustainable, and hinders alternatives. While cost is important, there are also individual preferences of the end user, access issues, and social norms that present barriers to change. Given these challenges, the group considered four options: 1) specific technologies, 2) social marketing to change opinion, 3) subsidies and, 4) warranties to ensure quality. Combinations of these four options could solve the problems facing the Ecuadorian cooking sector. A final stage of small-scale pilots paired with impact evaluations and predictive models would move the country towards potential solutions. A revised ranking of solutions, coupled with real-world test results could lend to targeted policy recommendations.
Disruptive Technologies and the Road to 100 Percent Electrification with Javier Cuervo
Javier Cuervo from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) covered the general topic of the role disruptive technologies play in ensuring last-mile energy access, and the potential contributions of research in this field. Disruptive technologies include remote sensing, block chain, rooftop solar and other unconventional technologies. Cuervo’s presentation emphasized the difficulties of ensuring 100 percent electrification by 2030 via traditional grid extension alone, and suggested that the key to universal electrification requires disruptive, off-grid, solutions.
While international developers and researchers focus on development benefits, recipient countries often desire universal electrification on ethical, equity, and political grounds. This desire is constrained by the ability of the government to provide universal electrification, especially to remote areas, in both the long and short-term. Cuervo’s presentation detailed IDB financing for alternative solutions to electrification outside of grid extension.
Disruptive technologies can be most beneficial when they work within the local context. This includes short-term stopgap measures before full grid extension, or long-term off-grid renewable energy production. The group discussed how to assess the efficacy of disruptive technologies with RCTs and other studies to quantify the success of individual technologies given context, cost-benefit tradeoffs by terrain, and the goal of the technology. This knowledge will enable more effective deployment of disruptive technologies and help countries meet their electrification goals.
Administering Off-Grid Energy: The Importance of Context with Pablo Tello
Pablo Tello from the Ministry of Energy, Chile, led a discussion on the challenges of administering off-grid energy technologies in remote communities. The challenges include lack of system maintenance knowledge, system isolation, regulatory burden, and low cost of traditional fuels. Chile has an explicit six-stage roadmap, with energy education and training being a seventh continuous stage. Tello’s presentation emphasized the difficulty of reaching less populated and highly isolated communities despite increasing electrification in Chile in the second stage.
Due to the lack of market viability in rural, more isolated, and poorer regions, there are few private companies willing to service communities or provide maintenance. This leaves a void filled by direct government provision, indirect government support via incentives for the private sector, or community-led solutions. The discussion group identified barriers to provision, common among all types of providers. The general lack of information regarding energy demand and fluctuations can make systems inefficient or over-taxed. Maintenance and troubleshooting training is crucial to the sustainability of any technology in remote regions. More research is necessary to answer questions about the specificity of local context, incentives of local actors, and the interactions between those two elements with the technology.
Alternatives to LPG Around the World with Rogério Carneiro de Miranda
Rogério Carneiro de Miranda from Ecofogão Atelier led the conversation about alternative fuels when LPG is unavailable or inaccessible as a clean source of fuel for cooking. Miranda presented the frustration of developments towards LPG while the fuel continues to increase in cost and revert many of the gains made through the transition. While there are costs to traditional biomass fuel for cooking, this method is often preferred due to comfort of the familiar, cultural preferences, and low cost. If repair for new technology is unavailable, the consumer often returns to more familiar and easier to maintain traditional methods.
Miranda’s presentation concluded that modernization is necessary but must remain sensitive to the local context. Echoing this, the discussion session identified variables that are specific to the availability of alternatives as well as subsidies, gender, and credit constraints. The products offered need to be of a standard, high quality. Further, the implementing organization needs to fully understand the context of the community, and the other potential uses of the technology. Lastly, the technology needs to be affordable, and accessible across socio-economic levels.
Context and Complementarities: The Vital Elements to Sustainable Energy Transition
All five policy day presentations emphasized the unique context of failure and success. Specific technologies, geographic location, cultural norms, and government practices can create fertile ground for sustainable electrification. Conversely, the wrong mix can lead to low uptake and regression to traditional methods. New programs should be highly invested in testing and analysis, while being open to successful campaign in similar communities. Programs should also explore complementarities with initiatives that have parallel goals, such as health, education, and social change. Furthermore, for both clean cooking and off-grid technologies, providers must also invest in maintenance and repair services to prevent degradation and abandonment of products.