solar panel technicians installing panels

The Time for Radical Implementation Is Now

How RMI is working on the ground to support the energy transition in the Global South

The conceptual phase of the energy transition is over. We have less than eight years left for the world to drastically halve its emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change while driving equitable and sustainable economic growth. We need to orient every possible dollar, and every possible person-hour, toward doing the real work of the energy transition. Call it a war-time effort, call it an Apollo Project. We call it radical implementation.

Delivering clean energy solutions on the ground where they are most needed requires a fundamental realignment of global finance and development, and this means striking the right balance between the historical responsibilities of the Global North and the development needs of the Global South. We must drive transformation to address the energy needs where the majority of the world population lives. For the billions of people living in the Global South, we can no longer afford to design, pilot, and test, month after month, year after year. That is why RMI’s Global South team is actively working on the ground to accelerate the energy transition in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and beyond.

Scaling Renewable Energy Projects

In the Global South, few clean energy projects are brought to the market for investment. This is largely due to the high early-stage project risk and small project sizes typical in Global South markets that prevent developers from developing projects.

We must move from pilot and demonstration projects to a portfolio-based approach of commercially viable renewable energy projects. We are doing this throughout Africa with our comprehensive program to energize the agriculture sector by creating sustainable microgrids and scaling distributed energy solutions for productive uses across Nigeria, Ethiopia, and other neighboring countries. Electrifying productive uses such as grain milling can boost productivity and economic returns for the processor and ensure steady sales for the minigrid operator. This has been critical to not only addressing the energy poverty needs on the continent, but in leveraging clean energy solutions as a key driver of economic development.

In Southeast Asia, we are successfully demonstrating how to unlock potential for innovative climate-smart solutions. RMI is fully engaged in ongoing work in Indonesia to accelerate the fossil fuel transition, with a focus on decommissioning coal and replacing it with renewable energy solutions, while supporting the development of offshore wind in The Philippines.

Catalyzing Finance

After decades focused on driving up the supply side of the climate finance equation, we are now seeing a global financial sector poised to deliver investment at scale. The availability of global capital is more than sufficient to reach the trillions needed — yet hundreds of billions of dollars in low-cost capital remain un-accessed or underutilized in the Global South.

RMI’s Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN) is helping to mobilize the critical finance needed to reduce energy poverty and dependence on fossil fuels. CFAN does this by hiring locally, training advisors, and embedding them in ministries and regional direct access entities to address these issues and enhance access to climate finance across the Pacific and Caribbean SIDS, with an eye to expanding into African LDCs in the coming year.

“Having worked extensively with the Solomon Islands government, I know from experience how hard it is for developing nations to get critical finance for climate resilience,” says Walter Malau CFAN advisor for the Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Tuvalu. “Through CFAN, I now feel ready to help these countries unlock the support they need.”

Adaptation and Resilience

Distributed renewable energy solutions, those not connected to the main grid, can provide clean reliable energy to critical facilities such as hospitals. For example, RMI’s Community Energy Resilience Initiative (CERI) recently installed solar-plus-storage microgrid systems on three critical facilities in Puerto Rico. With support from Global Energy Alliance for People & Planet and the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico, a pharmacy, a nonprofit that focuses on pre-vocational education and social services, and a store/fueling station, can now stay operational during electricity outages due to the increasingly severe hurricanes in the region.

“Ours is the only business of its kind in this area,” says Francisco Valentín, owner of Valentín Service Station. “This is where local people get fuel to get to work, and food for their families. Our presence and ability to function, especially during times of crisis, is incredibly important.”

These projects also use a new blended finance model for scaling local energy resilience that RMI intends to scale to new facilities, not only in Puerto Rico, but globally. This blended finance model makes renewable energy systems more accessible to low- and middle-income businesses and nonprofits, in combination with technical assistance and community engagement.

Advancing the Renewable Energy Workforce

One of the most overlooked challenges in the clean energy transition is jobs and workforce development in the clean energy economy. We do not have the workforce needed to build the climate-smart infrastructure of the future. We need tens of thousands more skillful, capable professionals throughout the Global South market ecosystem: policymakers, regulators, developers, utility operators, financiers, project developers, and more. Dramatic improvements in global workforce capacity must be a priority as we realign toward radical implementation.

RMI’s Energy Transition Academy (ETA) empowers energy professionals to be leaders in the Global South. The ETA’s Global Fellowship program provides these professionals with the skills and tools to permit, build, and regulate renewable energy systems, sustainable transportation initiatives, and efficient buildings. Shiquoi Isaac, a mechanical engineer with the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority and one of the inaugural fellows is planning to take what he learned from the fellowship program and implement energy efficiency and solar systems in schools, commercial buildings, and hotels on his island. “If you’re part of the ETA Fellowship, you are part of the future,” he says.

What to Do with “Natural” Gas

RMI believes that each nation, particularly in the Global South, has a sovereign right to choose its own path to economic development, and any promotion of renewable energy should be driven by national decision makers. As such, we are actively carrying out deep analysis and research and working with leaders on the ground to understand the political economy through regulatory support and investment preparation. With this profound empirical engagement, it is increasingly clear that current efforts to develop new infrastructure for “natural” gas should be reconsidered. Distributed energy resources such as solar, wind, efficiency, and battery storage, are cheaper, more inclusive, and resilient in spurring local economic growth. More in-depth country-specific energy planning is required to determine what, if any, role natural gas should play in the Global South.

Taking the Lead on Climate

We need to flip the narrative from a Global South scrambling through red tape to access a small pot of public resources, to geographies taking the lead and attracting others to join them on their climate journey. This home-grown approach is the only hope to mobilize climate finance and scale the clean, resilient projects that the Global South needs.

RMI is making a series of deep commitments to scale capacity development throughout the Global South. These commitments include accelerating capacity building, transitioning and developing workforces, empowering leaders, and enabling faster access to climate finance. Key to all we do is capacity development. In other words, we are not only focused on why or what to do, but also on how and for whom. We put people at the center of everything we do. We are committed to empowering, connecting, and elevating voices from the Global South to develop the labor and skills needed to deploy capital to align with a 1.5°C future, together.