Interview: Vivien Foster on the UNSE4ALL global tracking report

Posted on 6 June 2013

The Global Tracking Framework report is set to help monitor progress towards the objectives of the UNSE4ALL initiative. The World Bank’s Vivien Foster, who oversaw the compilation of the report, tells us about the key findings and how the WEC’s continued support helps achieve the objectives.

What’s the significance of Global Tracking Framework report?

INTW_Vivien Foster bandwIn the last 20 years we’ve developed the capability of measuring the different aspects of global development. We know about how many people live below the poverty line, how many people have access to water and sanitation, and we understand maternal and child mortality statistics. But up to now we haven’t had the capability to report to the world on how we do on energy – for example something as basic as energy access statistics over the last 20 years. And that’s remarkable when you think of the significance of the energy sector to the global economy.

So, motivated by the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative and its three objectives of access, efficiency, and renewables, we felt that there was a need to construct a platform for, first of all, being able to define what these goals are, what they actually mean in technical terms; and, secondly, to report on where we are and how feasible it is to achieve the goals.

The report says that 1.2 billion people still live without access to electricity, and some US$600billion of investment will need to be added per year to achieve the goals of SE4ALL. How realistic is it to achieve the goals?

The goals are definitely challenging, but they’re not completely out of the question. However we’ll have to do things very differently.

We’ll have to pursue energy access in a different way. We need to have stronger political commitment and sustained financing. We need 10–15 years of sustained financing to really turn the corner on electrification, given parallel population growth.

On energy efficiency, we know that the technologies exist to get us to the goal we need. Even if we can just apply today’s technologies, we can achieve the objective. Not only that, these measures will pay for themselves. So while we have to invest upfront, we will get a return on our investment.

So I think it’s really about governments taking a really strong line about pricing energy appropriately so the private sector sees greater benefit in investing in energy efficiency. It is also about setting stringent targets and standards, and enforcing the best practices of efficiency – on appliances, machinery, and buildings. So I don’t think it’s out of the question at all.

The renewables target looks to be the most challenging. The reason is that, as of today, a lot of the renewable energy in the world is traditional energy – it’s wood and charcoal. The newer forms of renewables are actually quite small in terms of their weight in the global energy mix. So they will have to continue to grow at a double-digit rate for the next 20 years as they have during the last 20 years. The question is whether we can sustain that level of growth. As of today, there has been a lot of fiscal support for renewable energy, but many countries are finding it harder to sustain this.

The good news, though, is that the goals interact. So the better we do on energy efficiency, the easier it will be to meet the renewables target.

But where will the money come from?

World Bank,Namibia 2007.In terms of access, the numbers are relatively small. We are spending around $9 billion per year on access as of today, and we need to spend between $50–80 billion depending on which estimates you take. So while it’s a big scale-up in relative terms, the price tag is not so high in absolute terms, and particularly not compared to the much higher costs of meeting the two other objectives on energy efficiency and renewable energy About 80% of the investment needs are in clean energy rather than in energy access.

You said that governments must take a strong line to enable the needed investment. As you know the WEC has been facilitating dialogue between governments and industry, for example via our trilemma work. What value do you see the WEC adds to SE4ALL?

We’ve been very delighted to have the World Energy Council as a partner in the production of this report. It’s brought a lot of value to the table. We’ve benefited greatly from having the WEC in the consortium. And I think the dialogue between the public and private sector is exactly where the action needs to be for SE4ALL.

SE4ALL has been, from its conception, very much a public–private type of initiative, with strong participation from large energy companies, and many of the solutions will clearly need to come from that fruitful interaction between the private and public sector. The financial scale-up that we just described will need to come, to a large extent, from private resources. But at the same time the government will need to create the environment to provide confidence for those private resources to come in. So that is exactly the dialogue space that the World Energy Council occupies. So I see that as a critical platform to take the agenda forward on a country level and understanding what the key policy reforms are needed to open the floodgates to investment.

At the World Energy Congress in October we will be hosting discussion on SE4ALL. What do you think can be achieved there?

Well, hopefully, a big increase in awareness of SE4ALL and the role that the WEC network can play. But hopefully, also some identification on the concrete areas where the WEC membership may be particularly well placed to lead on action. Because SE4ALL is not just about country action, but also industry action – so it is helpful for countries to think globally about initiatives to improve efficiency in a certain industrial sector or in the utility sector itself, which is a key driver.

One of the findings of the report is that there have been only modest improvements in the energy efficiency of the utility sector at the global level, in terms of the thermal efficiency of power generation and the level of transmission and distribution losses. So I think if we can raise awareness and also to get towards identifying concrete programmes of action that the WEC membership can take forward, then that’d be very exciting.


Vivien Foster has been leading the multi-agency efforts that have culminated in the UN Sustainable Energy for All Global Tracking Framework report. She is Sector Manager for Sustainable Energy at the World Bank.

The UNSE4ALL will be amongst the topics to be discussed at the 2013 World Energy Congress, to take place in South Korea this October.