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Photo taken from above looking down between two rows of red, yellow, blue, green and white flags. Below, two women look toward a man as they all walk forward on a white floor dappled with squares of sunshine.

NREL's Caroline Uriarte, Andrea Watson, and Dan Bilello stroll below an array of international flags. The three are a few of the laboratory's key players in global partnerships that assist developing countries with low-emission economic development. Through the partnerships, NREL provides technical assistance to help incorporate renewable energy into national power systems, which strengthens the countries' economies and reduces greenhouse gases.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

NREL Helps Countries Build Stronger Economies with Low-Emission Development

NREL is helping advance the economies of developing countries in a healthy and sustainable manner by providing assistance through partnerships with various countries and institutions across the globe.

NREL collaborates with partners around the world to build global networks that support low-emission economic development. Through various means within these networks, developing countries can partner with subject-matter experts to gain insights into, and assistance with, the incorporation of renewable energy into national power systems. Thus, the lab is helping reduce the greenhouse gases that are the principal cause of climate change—and is doing so at three levels.

The Power of Partnerships

At the highest level, the lab is deeply involved with the 21st Century Power Partnership (Power Partnership). The partnership is an initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial, a global forum to share best practices and promote policies and programs that encourage and facilitate the transition to a global clean energy economy. NREL and the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) act as the operating agent for the partnership. Through the Power Partnership, NREL collaborates with both developed and developing countries, and with international clean energy organizations and technical institutes. Dan Bilello, laboratory program manager for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs at NREL, said the partners "develop and share knowledge, strengthen and disseminate tools, bolster expert capacity, and support policy and regulatory analysis." The Power Partnership's mission is to advance integrated policy, regulatory, financial, and technical solutions for the large-scale deployment of renewable energy in combination with deep energy efficiency and smart grid solutions.

Ron Benioff, who leads many of NREL's multilateral programs, says the Power Partnership recently launched a fellowship program to allow for exchanges of government officials, technical experts, and system operators from countries and institutions across the world to learn from each other. The fellowships will initially focus on India, Mexico, and South Africa.

"We've found that most deep learning happens on a peer-to-peer basis," Benioff said. "Whether it's a regulator or a grid operator, they're often most inspired and get the most benefit from interacting with colleagues in other countries who are doing cutting-edge work."

Global Partnerships Answering Economic Development Needs

At the second level, NREL works on a country-by-country basis, focusing on specific needs, and employing the concept of Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS). LEDS promotes sustainable social and economic development while reducing long-term greenhouse gas emissions. The lab works through two LEDS partnerships: 1) Enhancing Capacity for LEDS (EC-LEDS), sponsored by USAID, and 2) the LEDS Global Partnership (LEDS-GP), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

EC-LEDS works with more than 20 partner countries to help them transition to low emission and sustainable economic development strategies. Andrea Watson, NREL's project manager for the EC-LEDS program, helps coordinate NREL's role in providing technical assistance and tool development for partner countries.

"We look at both energy efficiency and renewable energy as a way to develop the country's economy while lowering emissions," Watson said.

Jaquelin Cochran, an NREL senior energy analyst, says that within EC-LEDS and the USAID project there is a growing interest among countries in integrating renewables into the grid. EC-LEDS is helping countries map how they're going to meet their renewable energy targets. One example is Mexico: Through EC-LEDS, NREL has written a Grid Integration Road Map to help Mexico implement its ambitious goals for renewable energy.

"We are working closely with power system operators, regulators, energy planners, transmission companies, and others to look at what the impact on the grid is," she said. "In some of these countries, the power systems are modernizing and growing very rapidly. So making changes now can have a really big impact on how the power system develops."

The other partnership, LEDS GP, harnesses the collective knowledge and resources of more than 160 countries and international donor and technical organizations to strengthen climate-resilient, low-emission development efforts around the world. NREL is co-secretariat of the program, and NREL's Caroline Uriarte manages the program with Benioff. The LEDS GP delivers training, expert assistance, and technical collaboration support in three regions: 1) Africa, 2) Asia, and 3) Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nonprofits Reaping Benefits, Too

Finally, at the third level, NREL has initiated a strategic relationship with the nonprofit community, beginning with the Children's Investment Foundation Fund (CIFF). Via the Power Partnership, CIFF recently committed more than $3.8 million to pay for technical support—provided by NREL—to enable the government of Mexico to implement the Energy Reform Program in Mexico's power sector. The reform program includes integrating renewable energy and smart grid solutions. CIFF's reasoning for making such a large commitment is that the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and related criteria pollutants will have a positive effect on Mexico's children.

Sonia Medina, CIFF director for climate change, says, "For children born today, it is likely that the biggest challenge of their adult lives will be climate change. Climate change has the potential to wipe out the gains we make in nutrition, health, education and rising living standards. We are pleased to partner with NREL and help bring its expertise to Mexico and China at a critical moment in the energy reform processes. The depth and breadth of knowledge will help these countries quickly achieve cleaner and lower carbon energy systems. Mexico and China's leadership on energy reform domestically and climate change globally deserve to be widely recognized and supported."

Doug Arent, executive director of JISEA, says CIFF's large investment, "builds off of our thought leadership in power sector transformation. It allows us to expand our technical assistance and our international network of power system experts to strengthen and support Mexico's power sector."

Bilello says CIFF's commitment is indicative of a new trend where nonprofits, which are recognizing the quality of NREL's technical staff and facilities, are now reaching out to partner directly with the laboratory. CIFF has already expanded its relationship with NREL through an additional commitment of nearly $5 million for technical assistance for renewable energy analysis and planning in China.

—Written by Karen Atkison

NREL Analysis: Reimagining What's Possible for Clean Energy

Summer 2015 / Issue 8

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