U.S. unveils plan to rev up clean technology in poor nations
Nations pledge funds to make renewable energy more accessible

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 14, 2009

COPENHAGEN -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu will announce on Monday an international plan to deploy clean technology in developing countries, a $350 million, five-year effort that will include everything from putting solar lanterns in poor households to promoting advanced energy-efficient appliances worldwide, administration officials said.

The Climate Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative is an attempt by the United States and other industrialized nations to help curb energy consumption in countries that will help determine if global greenhouse emissions keep rising or level off.

"No matter what pledges are made here in Copenhagen, global emissions cannot be cut without widespread deployment of clean energy technologies," said Paul W. Bledsoe, a spokesman with the D.C.-based National Commission on Energy Policy.

The initiative -- which includes $85 million from the United States and donations from industrialized nations such as Italy and Australia -- aims to make energy-saving technology that already exists cheap enough to penetrate markets in India, parts of Africa and elsewhere. It is distinct from the major financing package the United States is expected to unveil this week as part of a broader climate deal.

Michael A. Levi, an energy and environment fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the launch was unlikely to affect the ongoing negotiations here, "but it will have a big impact on climate change and actual energy use."

In Copenhagen, street protests pushing for a more ambitious climate agreement continued as a few dozen ministers met behind closed doors with Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister chairing the U.N.-sponsored climate conference. Danish police imposed strict controls on the second day of demonstrations, detaining at least 200 activists. Meanwhile, Christian leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa led an ecumenical service focused on global warming.

The question of how much rich nations are willing to pay poor ones to secure emission cuts continued to dominate the talks on Sunday. Negotiators working on a provision that aims to curb deforestation, which accounts for roughly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, were forced to take out language calling for cutting deforestation in half by 2050 because of uncertainty surrounding financing.

But groups dedicated to preserving tropical forests, such as Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, said the language was still in flux and might be restored.

Chu, the fourth member of President Obama's Cabinet to arrive here, will address attendees at the climate talks on Monday. The plan to deploy clean technology -- which comes out of the ongoing meeting of the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitters known as the Major Economies Forum -- aims to lower the costs of solar home systems and lanterns; enforce quality control for these products; and coordinate international standards, labels and incentives for high-efficiency appliances.

It will also include $50 million for a renewable-energy program under the World Bank, which will advise poor countries on national renewable-energy strategies and help fund some of the capital costs for renewable ventures.

Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, welcomed the initiative as "moving us in the right direction," but emphasized that the program would have to deliver on its promises.

"It can't just be words," she said. "The words have to translate into action."

A number of nonprofits, including the D.C.-based Solar Electric Light Fund and India's Barefoot College, have already funded solar-power projects in impoverished communities that have allowed these to leapfrog over conventional electricity sources.

But the systems, including solar lanterns that can replace polluting kerosene wick lamps, are still too expensive for many in the developing world to afford, and their quality varies. An administration official familiar with the new initiative said it could cut the cost of these devices by as much as half.

Emerging economies such as China and India have ambitious renewable-energy targets as part of their national climate strategies, and the wind and solar industry representatives are more visible at the climate negotiations this year than ever before. On Monday, solar associations from 16 nations and the European Union are releasing a report titled "Seizing the Solar Solution," projecting the combined production of European and U.S. solar industry alone can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 1 billion metric tons by 2020.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company