Multilateral development banks (MDBs) like the World Bank are increasingly under pressure to invest more in renewable energy projects in emerging markets. The lack of financing for such projects is a problem at the small, distributed scale as we discussed in Episode #189, and it’s also a problem for utility-scale projects as we discuss in this episode.
In this conversation, Brad Handler, a Program Manager and Researcher at the Sustainable Finance Lab of the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines who tracks various such projects and initiatives, walks us through some recent Energy Transition Mechanisms (or ETMs) and Just Energy Transition (or JET) refinancing projects that aim to close coal plants in the developing world long before the end of their expected lifespans, and replace their generation with renewable power. A former Wall Street Equity Research Analyst with 20 years of experience covering the oil sector, Brad has a deep understanding of how finance in the traditional energy sector works, giving him an excellent perspective on how energy transition financing could work. He does a wonderful job of explaining the oftentimes opaque and complex world of sustainable finance so that it’s comprehensible.
Closing coal plants remains the number-one priority globally for reducing carbon emissions. So although these are still very early days for refinancing projects, it’s worthwhile to examine how and where development banks are finally taking some real steps to accelerate the energy transition in emerging economies, derisking the sector and motivating much more conventional private sector capital to participate.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost all of the growth in global clean energy spending is happening in advanced economies and China, while the two-thirds of the global population that live in emerging market and developing economies are receiving less than one-fifth of the total. The reason? The high cost of capital.
But why is the cost of capital so much higher in emerging economies than in advanced economies? Why is it still so much harder and more expensive to finance clean energy projects than it is to finance fossil fuel projects in those countries? And what can be done about it?
In this episode, we speak with a solar project developer working in Costa Rica to try to answer these questions. Building on our previous discussion from Episode #21, we try to explain why so little progress has been made, especially by the multilateral development banks (like the World Bank), in reducing the cost of financing for renewable energy projects in emerging economies. We review the different roles that various financial institutions play in financing the energy transition, and we ask what needs to change to unlock the flow of capital into energy transition solutions (especially distributed solar). We also put the risk and reward of investing in those projects in a fresh context, and call upon banks of all kinds to start acting in more creative and ambitious ways to take bolder action and get capital deployed where it is most needed, and where it can do the most good.
Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank are publicly committed to ending energy poverty and enabling energy access to the developing world. But their conventional processes and approaches to risk management make it difficult for them to invest in the decentralized renewable energy solutions that have the best chance of lifting people out of energy poverty. So what can be done about it? To find out, we talk with a pioneer in the energy investment and energy access space and ask her some pointed questions about how development bank funding works, and how it needs to be changed.