Why sustainable energy for the developing world

Malcolm McCulloch's picture

I have often been asked why I spend effort in researching the use of sustainable energy in the developing world.  Surely their environmental footprint is much smaller than that produced by the developed world. True but the developed world has a difficult challenge - its developed! There is already an existing infrastructure that provides for most our needs, albeit largely based on fossil fuel. There is a lot of inertia and incumbent interests to not want to change. Its not just the big energy companies that have a vested interest - we as end users have also invested in the old system.

The developing world has the opportunity to leapfrog the old technology and put in modern, sustainable energy systems. This is what happened in the telecoms sector and later the mobile banking sector - MPESA. What is really interesting is that the technology developed for Kenya is now being rolled out in the UK!

A key positive, and challenging, attribute of the developing world is that there is significant price elasticity for end-use energy consumption. This implies that the energy systems created in the developing world have to be economically efficient and that capital deployed must match need. This requires a more circumspect deployment of energy infrastructure that has traditionally been employed. This requires innovation - the heart of all research.

So why do I spend effort in researching the use of sustainable energy in the developing world? It can lead to increase in service provision and improved quality of life. There are few incumbents. It needs to be financially efficient, scalable and replicable. If that goal is reached, then why would we not use in in the developed world?

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