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Navigating Affordable, Reliable, and Sustainable Access to Electricity


On September 3, 2020, NBR hosted a virtual discussion entitled “Navigating Affordable, Reliable, and Sustainable Access to Electricity.” This was the second event in the series “Reshaping Visions for Energy Security in the Indo-Pacific.” The series is part of NBR’s program on the Asia Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy (Asia EDGE) initiative. Featured experts include the first class of Asia EDGE Fellows, two of whom participated in this event.

Agenda

WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION

Alison Szalwinski, The National Bureau of Asian Research

PANEL DISCUSSION

Moderator
Clara Gillispie, The National Bureau of Asian Research
Panelists
Mandira Adhikari, Nepal Electricity Authority; Asia EDGE Fellow
Astha Gupta, India Consultant for the IEA; Asia EDGE Fellow
Clare Richardson-Barlow, University of Leeds

Event Summary

Alison Szalwinski opened the event by summarizing the Asia Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy (Asia EDGE) initiative and NBR’s related multiyear research program. Moderator Clara Gillispie then briefly described the aim of the session to examine the technologies, policy mechanisms, or business models that can overcome challenges in providing universal electricity access and reduce poverty and introduced the three panelists.

Clare Richardson-Barlow began the discussion by outlining the challenges of electricity access in member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). She discussed the opportunities for expanding access to rural communities and the role that variable renewable energy can play in this process. ASEAN member states have included goals of accessibility and reliability into the development of their electricity grids, and international electricity trade is seen as a means to improve access and affordability. Ms. Richardson-Barlow closed by emphasizing the importance of aligning local, subnational implementation with national market goals.

Astha Gupta followed and shifted the conversation to India, where the government has successfully brought electricity to millions of its citizens. She noted the importance of ensuring not only reliable electricity but also consistent payment and revenue collection for electricity services. Ms. Gupta asserted that, as India’s power systems become more complex and dynamic, distributed electricity sources can not only help clean up electricity generation but even improve the resilience of the grid. Recent typhoons and the current global pandemic offer evidence of the role that decentralized electricity can play in India and across the region.

Mandira Adhikari concluded the panel discussion by dividing the idea of electricity access into two requirements: producing enough electricity and ensuring that people can use it. She highlighted the geographic difficulties of delivering electricity across Nepal’s mountainous landscape, along with the ubiquitous challenges of government financial support and land acquisition. Ms. Adhikari closed by emphasizing the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors, citing examples of innovative funding that combines stakeholder participation and government subsidies to achieve electrification goals.

Additional takeaways from the discussion include the following:

  • The priorities of governments in achieving individual power mixes remain a focus of regional discussions. Developed economies diversify sources to achieve sustainability, while developing economies pursue diverse sources for more economic reasons.
  • To encourage greater use of renewables, stakeholders must explore options for replacing traditional fossil fuels and expanding the total generation capacity. International trade in energy can also be leveraged to help clean up power consumption.
  • Access necessarily includes affordable and reliable electricity. Ensuring consistent and accurate billing and utilizing smart metering and other modern technology can benefit the consumer as well as the distribution companies.
  • To achieve all the above goals, it is important for governments to work with local actors and communities to help bridge the gap between sweeping national goals and on-the-ground realities.