Fletcher Features

Prof. Gallagher and Panelists Discuss Spread of Renewable Energy Technologies

A group of industry professionals, professors and policy analysts discussed the spread of modern energy technology to developing countries during a Tufts Energy Conference (TEC) panel presentation.

The panel was moderated by director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy Kelly Sims Gallagher, who is also an associate professor of energy and environmental policy at The Fletcher School. Gallagher began the discussion by focusing on the difficulties emerging markets are facing in energy development.

“Do emerging markets have the ability to leapfrog from 18th and 19th-century technologies that most developed countries used in the past?” Gallagher asked. “Can they leapfrog to cleaner, more efficient alternative technologies and systems? ... There is much evidence that countries fail to make this so called ‘leapfrog’ ... for a whole host of reasons.”

Despite this pessimism, Gallagher explained that her new book, “The Globalization of Clean Energy Technology: Lessons from China,” takes a more hopeful perspective. One of the key barriers to the leapfrogging effect is the lack of an internal market for clean energy technologies in many developing countries, she said.

“If there’s no so-called ‘natural market’, in other words an incentive in the marketplace for some technology that doesn’t naturally exist ... it’s very hard to get technology moving to that market,” Gallagher said. “That, I think, is the primary barrier — it’s that simple.”

J. Dirck Stryker, the president and chief economist at Associates for International Resources and Development (AIRD) followed Gallagher with a presentation on increasing access to new fuel sources in developing countries. Stryker, who previously spent 26 years teaching at The Fletcher School, explained that, over the next few decades, it will be increasingly important to “serve the bottom of the [economic] pyramid” through new technologies and energy sources.

Stryker said much of his recent work was focused on increasing energy access in Africa. Renewable energy sources are making it easier to expand this access.

“The prices of renewable energy technologies have fallen and, in many cases, are cheaper than [getting] connected to the grid,” he said. “Electricity grids are extremely expensive to expand, and it’s much better if you have a source of renewable fuel that is independent.”

Stryker also emphasized Gallagher’s point about the importance of understanding market dynamics.

“Another factor here is to understand the local market and what is needed,” he said. “In many cases, we have things that come from the outside, and we don’t really understand what is already there ... [Energy development] requires a relatively high level of initiative on the part of entrepreneurs that will carry this forward.”

Letha Tawney, a senior associate in the World Resources Institute’s Markets and Enterprise Program, followed with an analysis of what is meant by the concept of technological “leapfrogging.”

“It’s a term you hear a lot but we’re very unspecific in what we mean,” Tawney said. “Do we mean that developing economies will skip some of our mistakes in our development path and move directly to match us? Or do we mean that in fact we’re all heading toward an unclear, unmapped low-carbon economy and they’re going to skip the [older technologies]?”

Tawney explained that the answer is difficult to determine, but said that transferring current technologies and creating new ones are both important aspects of increasing energy access in the developing world. She cautioned, however, that a disconnect exists between policy makers, technology manufacturers and energy users.

“You end up in these talking point discussions that don’t get down to the fundamentals,” she said. “That is because there are real constituencies that these people have to answer to and you have to talk to them to come up with the best practices ... Finally there [are] practitioners, people who have actually innovated.  ...What practitioners have done is not [understood] by those in the policy world. ... We have to bridge [the gap] somehow.

Eli Ben-Shoshan, director of strategic marketing at DuPont Industrial Biosciences, spoke last and examined the use of biofuels as a source of renewable energy in the developing world.

Ben-Shoshan explained that DuPont has shifted much of its focus away from producing chemicals in order to expand its development of clean energy technologies. Some of these include seed coatings and genetically modified seeds that require less energy input, less water and have higher returns to yield, according to Ben-Shoshan.

“We’re actually the largest specialty component manufacturer in solar on the planet,” he said. “We are making Kevlar films and photo voltaic cells and we make pastes that are used to connect components with in the cell. It’s all been about increasing the efficiency of solar over the years.”

Following the presentation, audience members asked the panelists about the financing of new technologies, resource development in rural areas and potential problems with biotechnologies, particularly with changing weather patterns.

“We’re spending a lot of energy on low-water hybrids,” Ben-Shoshan said in response to a question about using biomass for energy. “You can add a biological coating to a seed that causes the seed to be better at using the water and nutrients around it ... The more we improve that efficiency, the more we can deal with lower amounts of supply.”

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--Reprinted from Tufts Daily

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