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Main Issue

Renewable energy technologies — which range from wind and solar to hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal and biomass — generate many environmental and economic benefits. By definition, they do not use fossil fuels, which means they generate low or zero greenhouse gas emissions and less pollution. Investments in renewable technologies bring the added benefit of stimulating employment and economic growth, which move the world closer to a low-carbon economy. 

Dependable and affordable energy supplies are crucial to economic growth in both developed and developing countries — to power homes, connect communities, provide safe water and promote economic and human development. 

Yet some 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity. About 3 billion people rely on traditional fuels like coal and wood for cooking, and often have poor ventilation in their homes. Nearly 2 million people die each year from pneumonia and chronic lung disease from using these fuels. Switching to renewable energy sources will reduce indoor air pollution, improving health and quality of life for millions around the world. It will also strengthen energy security, which will boost economic growth and help reduce poverty.

What We Do

The GEF is a catalyst to promoting renewable energy on many fronts — from removing barriers and building capacity to direct financing of investments in renewable energy technologies. 

Removing barriers: Developing countries face many policy, regulatory, and technical hurdles to adopt renewable energy technologies. The GEF was among the first to help developing and transition countries remove these barriers, and transform their energy markets, such as through renewable feed-in tariffs, and independent power producers.

Innovative finance: The GEF has also been at the forefront of working with the private sector to advance the transformation to renewable energy. We have supported the use of innovative financial tools and mechanisms like energy service companies, partial-risk guarantees, and revolving and equity funds. 

Capacity building: The GEF helps recipient countries build technical and institutional capacity by organizing workshops and by training government officials, local engineers and other technical staff.

National policy: Most projects have helped develop the national policies needed to support the renewable energy market. These include funds for national strategies, roadmaps and action plans.

Demonstration projects: Countries need to test new technologies and prepare the marketplace before fully embracing renewable energy. We have pioneered the demonstration and deployment of innovative pre-commercial renewable energy technologies, such as concentrating solar power. This process helps convince stakeholders that renewable energy is a viable approach, and pave the way toward commercialization. 

Public acceptance: The GEF helps countries develop standards, testing and certification of renewable energy technologies. We also support activities that help build community trust in renewable energy technologies, such as distribution of promotional material and production of audiovisual tools. 

Since its inception, the GEF has invested more than US$1.1 billion in 249 stand-alone renewable energy projects, as well as US$277 million in 54 mixed projects with renewable energy components, in 160 developing and transition countries. These investments have attracted additional investment of $14 billion and resulted in emissions reductions of more than 580 million tCO2e. 

Results

GEF support has been instrumental in putting renewable energy on the agenda of most developing and transition countries — from the People’s Republic of China to India, from Argentina to Brazil, from Mexico to South Africa, from Morocco to Turkey, from the Russian Federation to Romania. 

The GEF has promoted the demonstration, deployment, diffusion and transfer of renewable energy technologies at every level of society. In households and villages, for instance, the GEF is a leader in financing and disseminating solar home systems, solar lanterns and renewable power for water and irrigation pumps in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We also help utilities increase their capacity to operate and integrate renewable power generation into existing facilities and grids.

The GEF in Action: Solar Energy in India

In India, where many people live in remote areas off the power grid, the GEF strengthened the capacity of the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) to develop off-grid solar energy. Among the results: a five-fold income increase among farmers using photovoltaic (PV) pumps; a 50 percent increase in net income among some traders using solar instead of kerosene lighting; income increases of 15 to 30 percent in some rural households because of increased home industry output; and longer study hours, under better lighting conditions, for children.

Looking Ahead

Promoting innovation and technology transfer for sustainable energy breakthroughs is a fundamental objective of the GEF-7 Climate Change Focal Area Strategy. The strategy builds on the GEF's unique role in the global environmental finance architecture to lay the foundation for enhanced climate action by harnessing synergies across the different focal areas in line with an integrated approach to generate multiple global environmental benefits; and building on the GEF's long-standing track record of driving innovation and funding demonstration and pilot activities that are too early in the market adoption chain to be within the reach of other providers of environmental finance. The GEF-7 Climate Change Focal Area Strategy aims to support developing countries to make transformational shifts towards low emission and climate-resilient development pathways.

Grid modernization and integration of energy storage are critically needed to facilitate the rapid growth of renewable energy in a cost-effective manner. In numerous developing countries, the rapid growth of renewable energy, and rapid changes due to climate change, are severely impacting the ability of the utility grid to provide reliable low-carbon electricity. Just as importantly, de-centralized generation is challenging traditional utility models, creating opportunities and challenges for rapid growth of low-carbon energy. Energy storage technology has emerged as a new disruptor, changing market dynamics with rapidly improving technology capacity and declining costs, but the technology is not yet reaching many countries. The GEF will support countries that have identified power sector transformation through mini-grids, energy storage, and new business models.