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The Energy Access Practitioner Network: Encouraging Dialogue between Off-Grid Sustainable Energy Practitioners

Summary

The United Nations Foundation’s Energy Access Practitioner Network offers a unique approach to helping the world achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030 – one of the three objectives of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All. The Practitioner Network was launched in 2011 and encourages networking and sharing of best practices by off-grid sustainable energy practitioners working to provide market-based solutions that enhance income generation, health, agriculture, education, small business and telecommunications solutions. Many Practitioner Network members have made formal commitments to the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, collectively pledging to reach 80 million households by 2020.

Because energy markets are highly segmented, the Practitioner Network seeks to encourage solutions that are appropriate to local contexts and conditions, as well as customer preference and capacity to pay, while at the same time supporting innovative financing mechanisms that facilitate micro-transactions to allow very poor customers to purchase solutions or pay for improved energy services. Similarly, the Network is technology-neutral, it supports approaches that emphasize quality and sustainability and it seeks to mainstream technologies that have the potential to benefit consumers and communities significantly. Practitioner Network members use a variety of business models to deliver clean energy solutions – from community-run cooperatives, to social enterprises operating in a regional context, to venture-backed micro-grid companies. The Practitioner Network facilitates new partnerships among practitioners, and between practitioners and investors, to scale up energy access delivery, recognizing the interplay between energy and improved health, education, income, environment and gender equity outcomes. In a recent sample survey, 49 members reported reaching more than 7.6 million households, over 200 health facilities, and 81 schools in 2012.

Today the Practitioner Network has rapidly grown to some 1,000 members from 150 countries, representing a balanced mix of small- and medium-sized enterprises, corporations, civil society organizations, government agencies, investors and academic institutions. Through conference calls, webinars and in-person meetings, the Practitioner Network brings these stakeholders together to develop new partnerships and discuss the current industry trends, barriers, and potential solutions. Coordinated by the UN Foundation, the Practitioner Network is recognized as a critical part of the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, providing practitioners with a voice and a seat at the table in international discussions about energy.

The Practitioner Network also hosts working groups that focus on specific thematic areas proposed and led by the members themselves. This structure illustrates the Practitioner Network’s overall philosophy – to serve as a platform for advocacy and engagement and to help members drive the content and promote successful strategies. The working groups also provide avenues for engaging key decision-makers. For example, the Standards Working Group is currently planning the dissemination of new standards from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for off-grid lighting to ensure that they are available at low cost to organizations with limited resources. These new quality and testing standards are expected to have a large impact on the solar lighting industry, and the Standards Working Group will likely play a significant role in extending their reach.

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