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Iceland, a world leader in clean energy, supports Africa’s push for geothermal power

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At the beginning of the 20th century, Iceland was one of Europe’s poorest countries, its people relying on a precarious and polluting mix of imported coal and local peat for electricity.

But over the next century, the island nation would pull off one of the great energy makeovers in history, casting off fossil fuels and embracing geothermal power. Today, nearly 100 percent of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable sources, a transformation that has helped make its 366,000 people some of the wealthiest in Europe.

For the last decade, Iceland has been working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to spark a similar energy revolution in Eastern Africa. Iceland has done everything from financing exploration projects to training future geothermal engineers.

“We are a small country, but we try to focus our efforts in certain areas and this is one of them,” said Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Iceland’s Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources. He called the country’s partnership with UNEP “fruitful”.

Harnessing geothermal energy means harnessing the heat from within the Earth, which is carried by water or steam onto the surface. There are many ways in which the hot water can be released – through geysers, hot springs, steam vents, underwater hydrothermal vents – and they are all potential sources of geothermal energy.

Iceland, a pioneer in the use of geothermal energy, is home to more than 200 volcanoes and a large number of hot springs, and therefore has an abundant source of hot, easily accessible underground water. This is converted to energy both for power generation and direct use applications.

Half a world away, East African countries are sitting atop a similar bounty. They line the Great East African Rift System, a 6,500-kilometre depression that stretches from northern Syria to central Mozambique. The rift is a hub of tectonic activity. Along much of its length, heat from the interior of the earth bursts to the surface. It’s estimated that if Eastern Africa could harness that energy, it could generate 20 gigawatts of electricity. That is significant in a region plagued by energy shortages, where – depending on the country – 25 to 89 percent of the population did not have access to energy in 2018.

Iceland is an important partner and co-financier of the UNEP African Rift Geothermal Development Facility Project. The effort, launched in 2010, is designed to spur geothermal investments in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Between 2012 and 2019, Iceland also helped seven countries in East Africa develop their expertise in geothermal energy through the Geothermal Exploration Project.

“Geothermal is hundred percent indigenous, environmentally friendly and a technology that has been under-utilized for too long in the continent,” said Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun, Energy Programme Manager at UNEP. “It is time to take this technology off the back burner in order to power livelihoods, fuel development and reduce dependence on polluting and unpredictable fossil fuels.”

Iceland is also home to the Geothermal Training Programme of the United Nations University (UNU-GTP). Established in 1978, it has graduated more than 1,300 fellows from 100 developing countries. About 39 percent of the trainees during 1979-2016 have come from 17 African countries. This indicates a significant contribution of UNU-GTP in enhancing the capacities of the region.

Along with several partners, including the UNEP, the country is also helping to establish the African Geothermal Center of Excellence. To be based in Kenya, which has been developing geothermal power since the 1970s, the centre will help train young African geothermal scientists, engineers, drillers, technicians and financiers to ensure secured and sustainable geothermal development in Africa.

In the energy sector, the partnership between Iceland and UNEP is expanding to support women through the African Women Energy Entrepreneurs Framework. The aim is to overcome the main barriers and challenges that hinder the establishment, growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the energy sector in Africa.

“Iceland has been a steadfast and important partner to UNEP in bringing geothermal expertise to East Africa,” said Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun. “We are proud of the partnership and the results we have achieved, and happy to be expanding the partnership to support women and youth in the energy sector.”

Iceland is not only an important partner to UNEP because of the technical and financial support provided to energy projects. It is also one of the Member States that has consistently paid their “fair share” to the Environment Fund of UNEP – thereby supporting all of UNEP’s work.

UN Environment

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World Economic Forum and IRENA Partner for Sustainable Energy Future

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image credit: IRENA

The President of the World Economic Forum, Børge Brende, and the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Francesco La Camera, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) alongside the 75th session of the UN General Assembly and the Sustainable Development Impact Summit.

The Forum’s Energy Transition Index has found that, without urgent stakeholder action, COVID-19 will compromise the transition to clean energy. And IRENA’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery Agenda shows that while renewables have proven their resilience throughout the crisis, targeted policy action and investment in energy transition can leverage socio-economic benefits while staying on course towards a fully decarbonised system by 2050. This MoU brings together two international organizations to collaborate and advance a sustainable energy future through the adoption of new technology, financing and ambitious policy frameworks. It aims to advance the necessary global energy transition, decarbonise hard to abate sectors, scale up the deployment of clean technologies and enhance the energy literacy of decision-makers and the public.

“Countries need to significantly raise their level of commitment towards environmental sustainability, leveraging diverse policies, technologies and financing options,” Brende said. “Formalising this ongoing partnership during the Sustainable Development Impact Summit is an important step in strengthening the mission of our organisations. It brings together the knowledge, insight and innovation expertise of IRENA with the Forum’s global network to ensure these higher commitments are realised in the near term.”

“The energy transformation is at the heart of economic recovery,” La Camera said. “Renewable energy offers a way to carbon neutrality by mid-century, aligning short-term policy and investment decisions with our medium- and long-term objectives of the Sustainable Development Agenda and 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. International cooperation is vital to support business and the public sector in their efforts to reach our climate goals. This reinforced partnership combines IRENA’s leading expertise on energy transition with the Forum’s proven record of success in driving change through public-private dialogue in pursuit of a global energy system that is fit for the future.”

“The Forum and IRENA have worked together for several years to support the energy transition,” said Roberto Bocca, Head of Shaping the Future of Energy & Materials, World Economic Forum. “This MoU strengthens the collaboration between our organisations to further accelerate and shape the trajectory of the energy transition ensuring it is sustainable, inclusive and supports the economic recovery following COVID-19.”

The past decade has seen rapid transformations as countries move towards clean energy generation, supply and consumption. Coal-fired power plants have been retired, as reliance on natural gas and emissions-free renewable energy sources increases. Incremental gains have been made from carbon-pricing initiatives.

The current state of the sector is described in the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index 2020. It benchmarks the energy systems of 115 economies, highlighting the leading players in the race to net-zero emissions, as well as those with work to do. This year’s report flagged that COVID-19 could threaten the rate at which economies adopt more sustainable power. Sweden tops the overall ranking for the third consecutive year as the country most ready to transition to clean energy, followed by Switzerland and Finland. There has been little change in the top 10 since the last report, which demonstrates the energy stability of these developed nations, although the gap with the lowest-ranked countries is closing. The United Kingdom and France are the only two G20 economies in the top 10.

The Forum’s annual Sustainable Development Impact Summit brings together almost 2,000 leaders from around the world to scale up solutions that address the economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. Heads of State, CEOs, and leaders from civil society engage in dialogue to initiate, accelerate and scale-up entrepreneurial solutions that advance sustainable development goals. The summit takes place virtually from 21-24 September.

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The Netherlands is well prepared to reduce CO2 emissions

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The Netherlands is taking a well-balanced approach to its plans for a rapid transition to a carbon-neutral economy that will support strong growth and energy security, according to a new energy policy review by the International Energy Agency.

To drive this ambitious shift, the Netherlands has focused its energy and climate policy on cutting greenhouse emissions, with targets to reduce emissions by 49% by 2030 and by 95% by 2050 from 1990 levels. In June 2019, it adopted a national Climate Agreement that was developed through a process involving diverse groups from across Dutch society that worked together to define policies and measures aimed at achieving these targets.

“The Netherlands’ Climate Agreement shows broad social and political commitment to its energy transition and serves as an excellent example of how collaborative policy-making can lay the framework for ambitious targets,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “The IEA looks forward to supporting the government as it implements its plans.”

The Netherlands faces notable challenges, the IEA policy review highlights, since its economy remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels and has a concentration of energy- and emission-intensive industries. The IEA report welcomes the steps the government is taking to address these challenges. These include the introduction of carbon pricing for industrial emissions and a competitive subsidy programme that supports a wide variety of emission reduction technologies. It also applauds the government’s leadership in supporting electric vehicles through incentives to purchase them and significant investments in charging infrastructure.

“I congratulate the Netherlands for developing a broad policy framework with robust measures to drive emission reductions in all sectors,” Dr Birol said. “The balance of ambitious targets and competitive support measures will help drive a cost-effective energy transition.”

The IEA report highlights new energy security challenges the Netherlands is facing. In line with its climate targets and in response to safety concerns over earthquakes caused by natural gas production, the government plans to end production from the Groningen gas field by mid-2022. Gas from Groningen covers a large share of the Netherlands’ heating and industrial energy demand and is a key source of regional gas supply.

The government is taking firm measures to reduce natural gas demand, both domestically and in cooperation with neighbouring countries. At the same time, it is taking a leading role in developing a market for low-carbon hydrogen to partly replace natural gas and drive emission reductions in hard-to-decarbonise sectors like industry and heavy transportation. This is complemented by support for carbon capture and storage, which is also aimed at lowering industrial emissions.

“The Netherlands has a clear vision for reducing its dependence on natural gas while protecting energy security,” Dr Birol said. “In addition, its commendable leadership on low-carbon hydrogen will help drive cost reductions that are needed for this important technology to play a key role in accelerating clean energy transitions around the world.”

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World Bank Project to Boost Household Access to Affordable Energy

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Today, the World Bank Board of Directors approved $150 million in financing to improve access to modern energy for households, enterprises, and public institutions in Rwanda and to enhance the efficiency of electricity services. $75 million will be provided as grant funding, and $75 will be provided as a loan.  

Building on the achievement of previous World Bank support to the energy sector, the Rwanda Energy Access and Quality Improvement Project (EAQIP) will advance Rwanda’s progress towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, while also contributing to the country’s aim of reducing reliance on cooking fuel by 50%.

“The proposed project is well-timed to build on the World Bank’s decade-long support to the Government’s energy sector agenda. It will contribute directly to Rwanda’s push toward universal energy access by 2024 and universal access to clean cooking by 2030”, said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “We are honored to be a long-term partner in this journey.”

Rwanda EAQIP aims to improve electricity access by providing funding for the country’s ongoing program of expanding grid connections for residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector consumers, as well as by providing grants to reduce the costs of off-grid solar home systems. The project will also enhance the availability and efficiency of low-cost renewable energy by restoring capacity at the Ntaruka Hydro-Power Project, reducing voltage fluctuations on transmission lines, and supporting the national smart meter program.

The project includes the World Bank’s largest clean cooking operation in Africa, and the first project co-financed by the recently launched Clean Cooking Fund (CCF), hosted by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). The CCF will provide $20 million for clean cooking, with $10 million provided as a grant and $10million extended as a loan. The project targets 2.15 million people, leveraging an additional US$30 million in public and private sector investments. By incentivizing the private sector and improving the enabling environment, the project aims to develop a sustainable market for affordable clean cooking solutions in Rwanda. 

The project is part of the Rwanda Universal Energy Access Program (RUEAP), which coordinates the efforts of development partners supporting the energy sector to contribute to the achievement of the targets set out in the National Strategy for Transformation (2017-24).

“The World Bank is proud to have led the RUEAP on behalf of the development partners, including the French Development Agency (co-financing the EAQIP). The World Bank looks forward to supporting the implementation of the ongoing program and expects to report positive outcomes in the lives of Rwandans” said Norah Kipwola, World Bank Senior Energy Specialist and the project Task Team Leader.

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