Ute Collier


Ute Collier is Practical Action's Global Energy Representative @Ute_Collier

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Posts by Ute

  • The challenge of scaling-up energy access in least developed countries

    May 31st, 2019

    As shown in the latest UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) tracking report published last week, we are making some progress towards the goal of universal energy access by 2030. The number of people without access to electricity is now down to 840 million (compared to 1.2 billion in 2010). However, progress has been patchy, with sub-Saharan Africa mostly left behind. Furthermore, there are still around 3 billion people without access to clean cooking. Unless progress speeds up, we are therefore set to miss the 2030 goal.
    Most people with an energy access deficit live in what the UN terms ‘least developed countries (LDCs)’ and a conference organised by the UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) took place in Beijing this week to discuss how energy access can be scaled up in these countries. China may seem a strange place for such a conference considering the fast pace of development in the country over recent decades. However, its Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organisation co-organised the conference and has big plans for bringing electricity to all through renewables.

    Practical Action worked with its partner Hivos to host a session on inclusive energy finance to reach the last mile, ensuring no one is left behind. A particular problem for LDC’s is the provision of energy access to rural and remote areas, where people are also generally extremely poor. Off-grid solutions provide plenty of scope but access to finance remains difficult, especially for mini-grids and clean cooking solutions. In our session, we had contributions from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Clean Cooking Alliance and the Dutch government, elaborating on funding and business opportunities. We also heard that much of this funding fails to reach those who need it most. Niru Shrestha, a woman energy entrepreneur, talked about the challenges she has faced to raise funding for her improved cookstoves business in Nepal; while James Cavula, a journalist from Malawi, talked about the struggle many people in Malawi have to access even the most basic energy services.
    Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to scaling up energy access in least developed countries. The conference concluded that there clearly is a need for increased multilateral funding for LDCs, as well as assistance to LDC governments for energy investment planning, project preparation and regulatory reform. This message will be taken to the forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit.
    Practical Action’s energy work mostly focuses on LDCs and we will continue to play our role, working with governments, industry, communities and other stakeholders to provide sustainable energy solutions.

     Myself and Niru Shrestha from Nepal

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  • Does access to electricity change poor people’s lives?

    February 15th, 2019

    Globally, just under one billion people have no access to electricity. This means no effective lighting to study at night, no refrigeration to keep medicines, and limited opportunities to run businesses. The United Nations have set a goal to provide affordable, reliable and modern energy for all by 2030. This is a very challenging goal which at Practical Action we try and support through our energy access work.

    However, a recent article in the Economist claimed that providing access to electricity is not as transformational as previously thought. Does this mean we are wasting our time? Definitely not!

    In our Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO) series of publications, we have highlighted the complex and multi-dimensional nature  of energy access. Providing electricity for household uses is of course no panacea for poverty reduction. We need to think about community needs (e.g. health centres, schools, street lighting) and productive uses to boost demand (e.g. agriculture). And while there is a lot of focus on electricity, other energy needs are as, if not more, important. This applies especially to clean cooking, with more than 3 billion people still dependent on dirty fuels for cooking, resulting in huge negative health impacts, especially on women and children.

    In our latest PPEO, we provide case studies demonstrating how inclusive energy access has been delivered at scale in a number of countries. We recognise that there remain serious challenges but we disagree with the Economist’s suggestion that cash-strapped countries should now effectively de-prioritise energy access. This is totally at odds with a recent call for a huge injection of extra cash for energy access from SE4All which found an annual investment short-fall of USD30 billion for electricity and USD4 billion for cooking.

    Energy access is and remains an enabler of development, especially when combined with other targeted policies and measures. That’s why we will continue to work with communities to achieve access to energy for all through a range of sustainable energy solutions.

    GOGLA, Crossboundary and John Keane of SolarAid have also provided responses to the Economist article, showing the positive effects of energy access.

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  • Taking stock – 10 years of the climate investment funds

    February 1st, 2019

    With 3 billion people still lacking access to clean cooking and almost one billion people without electricity, huge amounts of funding are needed to close the energy access gap. The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) are one of the avenues for funding this big challenge.

    Practical Action has a seat as an observer on the Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries Programme (SREP) Committee of CIF and I just spent a week in Morocco attending a Committee meeting, as well as the CIF@10 anniversary conference. CIF was established in 2008 to help developing countries invest in low-carbon and climate-resilient development. It has had some impressive achievements – $8bn contributions received (with the UK as the largest donor country), US$1.2bn allocated to climate resilience, 11 MtCO2 saved per year and 185,000 people provided with improved access to energy.

    We got the opportunity to see what CIF has done on the ground with a to the visit the impressive Noor solar power complex. Noor (Arabic for light) has a capacity of more than 500 MW of concentrated solar power (CSP), a technology that has only been used in a few other countries. Rather than directly transforming solar rays into electricity as in the more common solar photovoltaic panels, CSP plants heat a heat transfer fluid to then run a turbine to generate electricity. CSP can also be combined with thermal energy storage, using for example molten salt. This allows Noor to produce electricity for up to 7 hours during the night when the sun does not shine. With Noor, Morocco has become one of the leading renewables countries in Africa. Without CIF funding for Noor, this would not have happened.

    Parabolic troughs at Noor solar power station

    Of course, CIF is not without its problems. Specifically, SREP has been slow off the ground, with just 4 out of a targeted 21 projects on energy access operational at present. Its total available funding of US$ 750 million is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed for energy access. Furthermore, there is some uncertainty about the future of the CIF, with some donor countries insisting that the Green Climate Fund (GCF) should be the only climate financing mechanism. However, as the GCF lacks resources and is still not working effectively, this seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We cannot afford to let politics get in the way of effective climate action.

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