Friday, December 23, 2011

Q&A : MyView Judge – Pil-Bae Song

You have worked in the energy field for many years. When did you notice that there became extreme interest in access/energy for all? 

Pil-Bae Song (in gray sweater) on the job
The Asian Development Bank has supported hundreds of energy projects in Asia and the Pacific over the past four decades. Over the past 20 years or so, we financed more than $25 billion in projects. Energy has fueled the region’s remarkable economic successes and helped to end poverty for millions. It was in 2009, however, that I noticed great enthusiasm within ADB for tackling energy poverty. This was when we were formulating our new energy policy, in which maximizing access to energy for all became a pillar. We recognized that many opportunities for increasing income, furthering education, improving health, and strengthening gender equality are simply out of reach for people without access to energy. Through our Energy for All Initiative, we are working to significantly empower the region’s poor through access to energy, which has been underpinned by the United Nations work for Energy for a Sustainable Future.

What are some of the best energy for all projects that ADB has done? 

In Nepal, after a devastating flood damaged transmission towers
Three in particular come to my mind, the first being Viet Nam’s rural electrification program. In 1975, only 2 or 3% of poor households had electricity. By 2009, 96% of both urban and rural households were electrified. This remarkable achievement in a relatively short time can be attributed to abundant hydropower coupled strong government commitment, public support, and multiple funding sources.

In the Philippines, we worked in close partnership with the country’s largest microfinance network to create the market for solar lanterns in the least electrified provinces.

In a remote village in Nepal, a small wind power project is providing electricity to homes, schools, and medical clinics. The beauty of this project is that it is locally managed: the community cooperative manages the system and collects the fees for its upkeep.

When people discover electricity as household customers what kind of reactions do you see?

I can’t stress enough how life can be transformed with access to reliable and modern energy. I was profoundly struck by a person I met in Kabul in 2009 who said “electricity is our life.” For the first time in more than a generation, nearly all of the capital’s four million people could enjoy the benefits of electricity thanks to an ADB-financed project. Can you imagine going without electricity for nearly three decades?

Making modern energy available, accessible, and affordable is essential for creating life-changing benefits. Women and children often benefit the most. In some places, they spend countless hours collecting fuel, fetching water, and performing manual labor. One woman I met in a village in Sri Lanka in 2003 shared with me that security lighting at night saved her village from wild elephant attacks and that she had started a small business selling rice cakes to supplement her family’s income. She also said her children could also spend more time studying.

Is the Energy for All Initiative going to help the majority of the hundreds of millions of people without access to electricity?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 1.9 billion people in the region still use traditional biomass -- such as wood, charcoal, and animal dung -- for cooking and heating. About  700 million of these people lack basic access to electricity. ADB is taking the lead in the region on expanding access to energy. We have so far invested more than $1.5 billion to provide access to electricity or modern fuels to more than 1.2 million households. But we can’t do this alone. The IEA estimates that $34 billion a year will be required globally to meet the target. This is only 3% of the total investment in energy infrastructure over the next two decades, making this target absolutely within reach -- both in terms of technology and financing.  Partnership, however, is essential. We are working with many partners to find solutions to energy poverty and scale up finance and investment for access to energy. The aim of these collective efforts is to bring access to at least 100 million people by 2015 and universal energy access by 2030.

As an energy expert, what are you looking for in a MyView entry?

I need to see how access to energy is linked to development, and how everything we take for granted -- good lighting, cooking, heating -- is related to our living standards, access to  education, job opportunities and good health. I want to be in awe of the ingenious tools and techniques that can be used to give the poor in different countries access to energy. I want to feel inspired that we will achieve our goal of energy for all.  

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