Fletcher professor gives keynote TEC lecture

Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank Rachel Kyte (F ’02) led a discussion on the controversy surrounding renewable energy, fossil fuels and development to open the 2014 Tufts Energy Conference (TEC) on Saturday morning.

Conference Chair Katherine Nolan and Professor of International Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy William Moomaw introduced Kyte, who is also a professor of practice in sustainable development at Fletcher.

Kyte began her presentation by addressing the strategic importance of the conference and its focus on energy development in emerging markets.

“We really do need these spaces where young scholars, thinkers and leaders can come together to talk about the many different ideas that emerge when talking about energy, particularly energy in the emerging markets,” she said.

Kyte explained that she is responsible for the World Bank’s initiatives on green growth and climate change, and said that investment in these areas is especially important.

“My job is to try to show that finance is growing, [to] show that things can be done, [to] show how it can be done better and [reach farther] and to consistently fight the idea that it is either poverty or the environment – it’s not, it’s both,” she said.

Equal access to energy resources in the developing world is a major problem, Kyte said. She explained that of the 1.2 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity, 83 percent live in rural areas, a crucial area for the expansion of more efficient energy technologies.

“So while we deal with the big supply systems and energy transition, we have got to deal with the rural access,” she said.

Kyte also spoke about how electric capacity from renewable energy is continually growing. She cited the 60 percent yearly increase in solar photovoltaic installations from 2008 to 2012 as an example of this expanded production.

“Unfortunately, the consumption of energy from fossil fuels is also growing fast,” she said. “We need to scale up. We need focus in the countries where we will have the most impact.”

She cautioned, however, that increasing renewable energy and access will be costly.

“Scaling up renewable energy investment globally has a price tag,” Kyte said. “We estimate that at least $170 billion in additional investment is needed for renewable energy every year to achieve the sustainable energy goal of doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix to 36 percent by 2030.”

The $170 billion needed to increase renewable energy production is in addition to the $49 billion Kyte believes is needed to achieve universal access to electricity and the $400 billion a year estimated to be required to achieve the goals of energy efficiency. Altogether this amounts to $500 to $600 billion a year of additional financing to meet the three goals, according to Kyte.

“Is that a lot of money?” Kyte said. “Not really.”

Although Kyte admits there are many challenges to increasing expenditures on sustainable energy, including a lack of understanding of the opportunity and limited capacity to appraise risk, she believes the barriers are neither singularly or jointly insurmountable.

“The challenge is to build the bridge between the large capital pool that exists and the pipeline of energy projects that exists,” she said. “Market interest, I think, is growing.”

Kyte concluded the address on a positive note, with a call for individual action.

“There is no time left to waste, which is where I hand it over to you,” Kyte said. “Each one of you is going to have to be a leader on this issue in your personal purchasing decisions, your personal voting decisions and your personal collective decisions, whether they be in religious, political or social communities. Positive momentum to step up the challenge is happening now. We will need a lot more of us to help.”

Kyte also stressed that individual action is important because of the difficulty in counting on developing countries to carry the entire burden of sustainable energy challenges.

“There are many people still in darkness,” she said. “It must not be on their backs that you try to balance the equation between sustainable energy, a climate that sustains us and the opportunity that everybody deserves.”