Energy Solutions for Poor Nations

Pushing developing countries to slow development because of the energy crisis we’ve created is not just unfair—it’s dangerous.
  • Transcript


Question: Will human beings be able to engineer a solution to the energy crisis?

Charles Ebinger:  Well I don't think we'll engineer our way out of the energy crisis, but I think if we adopt a series of prudent policies, we may get there.  And by that, I think we need a lot greater attention paid to energy efficiency, which is still... the single best way to deal with the energy situation is not to use it if there's a way to do so.  I'm not talking about you know sitting in the dark; I'm talking about simply better technology that gives you the same bang for the buck. 

But if we focus on energy technology, if we move towards cleaner vehicles in our transportation sector and our electric utility sector, I think you know we can get there, but it's a... it's a hard slog, because while we talk about you know needing to reduce our energy consumption because of concerns about climate change, I always like to remind people that there are roughly 1.6 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity and even more who have no access to commercial energy. And we can't forget those people as we deal with our own part of the problem.

Is it fair for the First World to tell poorer countries to slow development?

Charles Ebinger:  Well it's certainly not only not fair from a human... humane point of view, but I think it's more ominous than that.  I think in the kind of world we live in and modern communications and people who have very little certainly aren't unaware of how those of us that have very much live. And I think at some point we're going to start seeing increased political violence and potential increased risk of terrorism rather than just have people wallow in their misery and kind of die unnoticed by the rest of us.

What are practical ways to help developing countries meet their growing energy needs?

Charles Ebinger: Well some of the developing countries, of course being very poor countries—I'm thinking particularly of maybe some of the central African countries—their problem is they don't have the resources to do what they need to do to adapt to climate change or to take actions to mitigate the effects of climate change.  Many of these countries are suffering from deforestation or growing incursions by the desert, what we call desertification, and increasingly many parts of their countries are uninhabitable.  We're beginning to see climate refugees move across international frontiers in response to these changes.  So I think we need to go in with renewable energy technologies that make sense given the local environment and try to provide a better modicum of life but also to dissuade them from continuing to denude the remaining forests that they have.

  Which renewable energy technologies should we use?

Charles Ebinger:  Well, in many parts of the emerging market countries, I think wind and solar offer probably the two greatest potentials.  Certainly all of North Africa has great solar resources and a lot of the desert regions have pretty consistent winds.  So you want to start with that, and then you need to use those technologies, you know, to help with wells, develop water supplies, and wind- and solar-generated electricity can alleviate those kinds of problems as well.

Recorded on April 28th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen