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An Evening Dedicated to the Value of Energy Access

+acumen chapters – self-organized, volunteer-led groups in cities and schools around the world – are actively supporting Acumen Fund’s mission to create a world beyond poverty through education, fundraising and service.  To start a +acumen chapter in your city, contact Jo-Ann Tan at jtan@acumenfund.org. You can learn more about +acumen chapters on our website.

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Alarm clock – metro card – toaster.

What do all of these things have in common?

They are all answers given by attendees of DC+acumen’s energy salon when asked the question, “What is something you used today that required energy?”

On Tuesday, January 31 the DC+acumen community came together for a lively, thought-provoking discussion on the role and value of energy in our lives, and the challenges (and opportunities!) to address energy poverty.

The examples attendees gave highlighted the ever-present role of energy in our lives. Energy lights our classrooms, cooks our food, and fuels subways that bring us to work. And, in an increasingly interwoven and global world, connects us to one another.

However, for the over 1.6 billion people in the world that lack access to energy, energy poverty is very real. DC+acumen hosted the Energy Salon to better understand what this number really means and find solutions to address energy inequality.

As a group, we discussed what is energy, what it is used for,  and the promise and limitations of renewable energy. We explored what it means to be energy poor and how Acumen Fund’s energy portfolio invests in solutions that provide access to energy at the household and community level.

We then debated three themes in small groups:

  1. Global climate change negotiations: Should there be legally binding limits on carbon emissions? If so, should it be based on total emissions, or per capita emissions? While China is the world’s largest emitter, developed countries like the U.S. have the highest emission per-capita. How do policies shape energy use?
  2. Development policy and fossil fuels: Many donor nations, like the U.S., limit development projects that use fossil fuels and instead support projects that use renewable energy sources. Is this fair considering donor nations, like the U.S., continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels, and renewable energy sources are often more expensive and not always reliable? How can we invest in clean and sustainable energy that is mindful of geographic and social contexts?
  3. Hypothetical projects: The small groups debated the pros and cons of two hypothetical investment opportunities. The exercise highlighted the complexity of these types of decisions – and how energy is intrinsically connected to so many factors, including health, economic development, productivity, education and food production.

Our intrepid salon leader, Mohammed, and discussion facilitators, Glenn and Joel, guided our discussions and challenged us to think differently about our individual and collective responsibilities to conserve energy and increase access. What is our role and responsibility as individuals and consumers? As business owners and investors? As constituents and citizens?

The Energy Salon offered just a small peek into a very complex subject that is often highly politicized. (Being from DC, we know a bit about that!). I left with more questions than answers, and an increased awareness of the value of energy and how it is a building block for living a healthy and productive life.  Most importantly, I left knowing that this issue will become even more complicated and controversial as traditional energy resources dwindle and demand skyrockets.

There are now approximately seven billion people in the world. Seven billion people that need and deserve access to energy to fuel their lives.  Tackling this monumental challenge will require new ways of thinking about energy conservation and access, new investments in energy technology, and policies that govern the energy economy.

While our Energy Salon was a small step towards tacking these problems, it was an important and inspirational reminder that we are all invested in building a world beyond poverty that is sustainable and equitable.

Katica Kiss is a Government Relations Specialist at Independent Sector, and a member of the DC+acumen chapter.

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