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SHOULD WE LEAPFROG THE GRID?

Distributed Generation in the Developing World

Almost half of the world's population does not have reliable and/or even very much energy access at all on any given day. If New York or London or Milan can grind to a halt when the power grid fails for less than a day, think what that means for the economic development challenges in places in the world where the power grid has never reached and may not reach for a long time to come, or is not consistently available. Recent global trends and, indeed, specific events have reminded us all how fragile is humanity's complex, technology-based industrial civilization with its dependence on reliable and sustainable energy. Accordingly, in the interests of both the developing world and the developed world, and keeping in mind the long-term interest of the environment of the world overall, we at the World Technology Network convened the first annual World Energy Technologies Summit.

The conference was built around the question "Should We Leapfrog the Grid?: Distributed Generation in the Developing World." Leapfrogging is a term often used to describe what happened with telecommunications in parts of the developing world in recent years. In places where the expense to wire a poor nation with telephone landlines was either financially prohibitive or is going to take many years, the population often just jumped straight to mobile phones. The potential is high for something similar to occur regarding access to energy.

"Distributed Generation" (DG) is not an energy source but a way of describing power generation from a wide variety of energy sources (both fossil-fuel based and from renewables) that are "off the grid." DG energy can even flow excess energy back into the larger grid, but the point is that it is generated locally.

Invitees to the World Energy Technologies Summit comprised leaders in three primary areas of focus:

  • Energy companies (both start-ups and majorglobal manufacturers) and energy researchers
  • Government/policymakers in energy, environment, and economic development
  • Project finance specialists/private and venture investors/other funders (both private and public).

We looked at the nature of the challenges, the technologies that could help address the challenges, and what needs to happen next to turn those possible solutions into realities. We also sought to create relationships among the participants that will lead to concrete initiatives of further action and expect to to unfold in the coming months.