Copenhagen: Efficiency and Clean-Tech Innovation “Thinking Outside of the Box”

Amid the confusion and division in Copenhagen, a common focal point amongst governments, nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs is spurring clean technology and efficiency innovation.  In a packed U.S. Center in Copenhagen, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Indian Minister Jairam Ramesh spoke about expanding clean energy efficiency technologies in developing countries.  This conversation was overshadowed by increasing tension and distrust throughout the week.  Yet, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to global clean technology innovation – and to thinking outside of the box to reach solutions. 

Secretary Chu announced the launch of a new Renewables and Energy Deployment Initiative (“Climate REDI”), outlined by my colleague Barbara Finamore.  The initiative works to spur investment and innovation in energy efficiency and renewable energy in developing counties through international climate funds.  Secretary Chu discussed tools that could be used in both developed and developing countries to advance energy efficiency, such as web-based home energy auditing tools connected to handheld devices that provide real time energy costs and infrared viewers to ensure proper insulation.

Secretary Chu also called for game-changing solutions, like Norman Borlaug’s innovations in food productivity.  (Approaches like the Green Revolution are not without controversy and would need modification for application in modern India.)  Those of us in the live audience were also captivated by Secretary Chu’s presentation of “radical, out of the box” innovations, like futuristic compact wind turbines shaped like jet engines that allow for greater efficiency in wind capture, cause less harm to birds, and make the white long-bladed Bella Center wind turbine look like a relic. 

Minister Ramesh, a leading voice for India and the G-77, emphasized that India is committed to a different, low-carbon development path.  Minister Ramesh welcomed greater cooperation and outlined India’s national action plan, including increasing India’s solar energy generation production, which is already 8 percent.   

Earlier in COP15, Dr. Ajay Mathur of the Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency also focused on solutions.  Dr. Mathur highlighted that India’s energy intensity will continue to decline based on three drivers:

  1. High energy prices in India encourage investment in energy efficiency.
  2. Structural shifts promoting energy efficiency, such as demand side management efficiency programs, commercial building energy efficiency, and appliance efficiency standards.
  3. Increased competition in India; in order to stay competitive, business must be cost-effective in both rural and urban sectors.

During the same session with Dr. Mathur, Dian Grueneich, with the California Public Utilities Commission, predicted that India will become a global energy efficiency expert.  She stressed the factors driving energy efficiency have already led India to make tremendous strides in energy efficiency in a short timeframe.  Still, this pace must be accelerated considering that nearly half of India’s population does not currently have access to modern electricity and the latest census data, released today, estimates that India will have the world’s largest population by 2025.  Providing electricity to the homes of nearly 400 million people and maintaining a rapidly developing economy will require a tremendous amount of energy production and could result in significant greenhouse gas emissions.  Investments in efficiency and renewables would play a significant role in providing electricity and curbing emissions.

While the Climate REDI fund and the U.S. midterm financing commitment for mitigation and adaptation is clearly not enough to fully support a global energy transformation, it is a starting point.  Similarly, business groups, such as the International Chamber of Commerce, pledged in Copenhagen to expand opportunities for energy and clean-tech innovation.  The International Chamber of Commerce speakers emphasized the need to think outside of the box to create innovative public private partnerships in scaling up efficiency and clean-tech innovation and transfer.  The International Chamber of Commerce also drew a clear distinction from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, given that the International Chamber of Commerce has demonstrated global leadership in recognition of the competitive advantage in investing in efficiency and clean technology.  While this distinction is important, clean-tech businesses have yet to fully respond to UNFCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer’s question: how is industry relevant to climate change.  One way to show clean-tech groups’ commitment to fighting climate change is to create opportunities that demonstrate outside of the box thinking to ramp up broad-scale investments in efficiency and renewable projects in developing economies. 

In these final days of negotiations, we also need our leaders to think creatively to build structures for strong tech transfer institutes, public-private finance, agreeable verification methods, as well as, meaningful adaptation funds.  From the world citizens marching in the cold streets to the clean-tech entrepreneurs gathered in Copenhagen, the global community is urging our leaders to think outside of the box and find a way forward to global action to combat dangerous climate change.