We are going to Put Lot More Resources into India: Simon Harford, GEAPP

Interview with Simon Harford, CEO, GEAPP; Ravi Venkatesan - Board Chair, GEAPP; and Ashvin Dayal, Senior Vice President (Power & Climate), The Rockefeller Foundation.

June 14, 2022. By Manu Tayal

We are merging the Smart Power India work with GEAPP as part of a bigger strategy…… We are going to put a lot more resources into India, both financial and human. Also, we will be hiring from within India and committing a lot more capital. We will therefore put the backing against this roadmap, disclosed Simon Harford, CEO, GEAPP; Ravi Venkatesan - Board Chair, GEAPP; and Ashvin Dayal, Senior Vice President (Power & Climate), The Rockefeller Foundation, in an exclusive joint interaction with Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Energetica India.

During their recent India visit, GEAPP and The Rockefeller Foundation leaders discussed in detail about their agenda, top priorities, how they can support India in achieving its net-zero targets, etc. Here’re the edited excerpts from that candid conversation:
Q. What is the main agenda behind visiting India?

Simon Harford: The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) is here to support India’s mission for a just energy transition and greater energy access. We have been working here for almost seven years on the energy access side through our subsidiary organization Smart Power India (SPI), which is now part of GEAPP. We have been working on mini-grids and off-grid solar space, including regions where grid reliability is sparse in India.

We are here to increase the level of support and commitment devoted to India, including financial commitment and resources and to try to accelerate our support to the country on energy access and energy transition agenda with its extremely impressive net-zero target. We are also here to offer our support to the Government and other local stakeholders.

Q. Earlier Smart Power India was working as the subsidiary of The Rockefeller Foundation in India. Now, what will be the organizational structure and role of Smart Power India? 

Simon Harford: Smart Power India (SPI) was established by The Rockefeller Foundation, which is one of the GEAPP’s three philanthropic backers. Now, we are merging the SPI work with GEAPP as part of a bigger strategy.

The three philanthropies that are backing and funding us are The Rockefeller Foundation, IKEA Foundation, and Bezos Earth Fund. Together, we are going to pick up the great work that SPI has been doing and expand it into more areas.

Q. At COP26, the historic GEAPP Alliance was formed with an initial $10 Bn of committed capital. Kindly shed some light on it.

Simon Harford: The GEAPP Alliance was launched at COP26 with clear goals to reduce carbon emissions, expand energy access, and create, enable, and support green jobs. This will be achieved by doing more in the Energy Access space, while also supporting countries with their energy transitions. In terms of funding, our three philanthropic anchor partners have committed $1.5 billion to GEAPP. We are a standalone separate organization, with an independent board. Over the course of 2021, Ashvin and colleagues from our 18+ organizations worked to structure the Alliance; and in India, this was informed by SPI’s work.

This is flexible risk capital to bring scale and speed to the country’s energy transition plans. We also have formal agreements for $8.5 billion of aligned investments of concessional development finance from development finance institutions and multilateral development banks.

Working together with these partners, our focus will be in emerging markets, so we'll have a significant team in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Long-term sustainable solutions such as helping to solve energy access and transition sustainably need to come from the private sector as well. We are working in partnership with the private sector to unlock their capital on top of our investments. The private sector will also bring their business, implementation, and operational solutions. Therefore, the three layers of capital here are from philanthropy, development finance and the private sector.

Q. What will be the role, importance, and impact of the Alliance here in India?

Simon Harford: The word “Alliance” in our name is important. The Alliance is here to act as a catalyst and a stimulant for collaboration toward India’s energy goals. Our impact comes from the Alliance, not just a small group of people in GEAPP. For example, in the off-grid space, we are working in partnership with a series of mini-grid developers, who each have operational models. We have also worked with Tata Power to expand our program. Part of the purpose of visiting this week is to expand our alliances in India, in all forms. Therefore, a core objective of this week has been about listening, talking, and engaging. We have been discussing how we can scale up, speed up and expand everything we are doing here. This includes talking with the government about their partnerships and where we can support them. Everything we do is about supporting India’s national agenda.

We also want to talk at the state level, to see how we can support states. Both levels are important for us. In addition, we have been talking with other parts of the private sector about how we can unlock more support and capital from them, and liaising with the financial community – such as big banks, NABARD, the private equity community, and venture capital - to explore how we can unlock more capital. Therefore, we are trying to expand the alliance’s relationships around us to drive more progress.

Q. Can we say GEAPP will work as a bridge between the Indian entities and across the world?

Simon Harford: I would use the word catalyst. All these entities in India are involved in this space in one way or the other. But the issue is, it's not just energy access in terms of having a connection, it's energy access that is reliable; and one that you can derive productive use from, including links to agriculture and MSMEs. Therefore, it is a deepening of the impact of having energy, not just the connection itself.

The energy transition agenda is very complex, with difficult challenges to solve, there is no one answer. Therefore, we are asking to stakeholders here in India, who are each trying to address these challenges – is there an issue we can help with? We can then come into the mix to try and unlock that particular issue. It could be via philanthropic capital, connections, technology, or knowledge. Or around identifying other parts of the world where we can cross-reference and work together.

Q. Can we say GEAPP is similar to the International Solar Alliance (ISA)?

Ravi Venkatesan: Conceptually, I suppose it’s an alliance. But we see ourselves very closely allied with ISA.

Simon Harford: We're very big supporters of the ISA, we think it's really a great initiative and India backs it so strongly.

Ashvin Dayal: In fact, the ISA is part of GEAPP. The difference is that the ISA is a representative alliance of member countries. It has a very particular intergovernmental mandate. I think GEAPP is highly complementary to the ISA, which is why they became a member, because what they can bring is a really strong network of relationships with their 105 members. Of course, they have expertise in the solar sector in particular. They are bringing a network of countries while we are bringing a network of institutions including philanthropic institutions and the multilateral development banks’ technical agencies, such as the ISA, SEforAll and IRENA. We are looking at how we can collectively aim for big ambitions around energy access and energy transition, and actually enable a much faster and more scaled-up effort. Even the work that has been undertaken in India so far, which we're very proud of, on mini-grid access, distributed renewables, it can be taken a lot further now under the auspices of the Alliance, not just because there's more capital, but because of this network of organizations that are committed to working together and solving the problem together.

Q. What will be your top priorities to achieve GEAPP’s goals both in India and globally?

Simon Harford: Good question. Let's start with India. Number 1 is to refresh and expand our strategy and roadmap. Therefore, this immersion week has been very valuable and helped us see the direction of how we can expand our strategy, expand our scope, and expand our imprints. Number 2 is that we now want to cement some of the amazing conversations we have had this week with Indian stakeholders into tangible next steps. Number 3 is, we are going to put a lot more resources into India, both financial and human. We will be hiring from within India and committing a lot more capital. We will therefore put the backing against this roadmap.

On the global front, alongside the prioritization of India, we are also prioritizing engagement with four other countries this year, and another eight countries where we are currently active.  We are working deeply in South Africa, which is also facing a big energy transition agenda and working deeply in Nigeria and DRC, which are facing significant energy access challenges. A lot of the knowledge that our India team has will be very helpful to the work we're doing in Nigeria and DRC. The ISA speaks a lot about ‘knowledge transfer’, which we completely agree with, so we are not completely reinventing the wheel.

Ravi Venkatesan: We also have a lot of internal goals to accomplish this, including Alliance building and internal capability building.

Ashvin Dayal: I think every market’s priorities will be slightly different because the specific problems are different. But to your question from a thematic perspective, both globally as well as in India, you can essentially look at it in three big buckets. One is looking at how distributed renewable energy solutions can be massively scaled up to improve the quality and reliability of power, whether it's grid-interactive DRE or standalone DRE, things like rooftop solar, mini-grids, but also distributed generation and storage.

The second bucket is around strengthening the market for grid-tied renewables. Now, in India, you've actually seen pretty effective commercial activity in that area. So just as a direct topic, it may not be something that requires in the near term at least, too much additional support, but we will certainly keep looking at that.

The third is the whole decarbonisation agenda. So, how do you start at a macro level, to change the energy mix of the country, and what are the innovations that can be supported and accelerated?

Some countries will be more skewed towards DRE and access, while others will be at the other end of the spectrum, and several others in the middle. If you are looking at a country like DRC, it's much more into basic access and DRE type interventions at this stage, but this may change over time.

Q. What role governments can play in ‘Call for Country Partnerships’ with GEAPP?

Simon Harford: Essentially, the call for country partnerships is an invitation to governments on whether they would like support from us. Everything we do is at the request of and alignment with the government's national agenda. We simply will not be doing anything that isn't consistent and asked for by them. Our ambition is to work hand-in-hand with countries to make a difference, and fast.

So, we effectively reached out to all countries openly asking how GEAPP can support their national agenda. The deadline was a couple of weeks ago, and we received over 18 responses from all over the world. We've been really humbled and excited by the level of desire for GEAPP to bring something unique. There's a lot of stakeholders in this space, and we've got no interest in duplicating or being another cook in the kitchen. Our goal is to be additive and bring a difference by unlocking progress. So far, we’ve had a global response with a whole host of countries onboard - in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and from Latin America. We're currently working our way through those and we will then be engaging with those governments to create a roadmap of how we progress and start to build our pipeline of country activity for later this year and next.

Ashvin Dayal: When you ask about the role of government, there are a couple of things to note. One is to demonstrate that within government, they're aligned, and there's support and leadership from as high a level as possible. Secondly is to articulate their vision, their goal, and what they want to achieve over the next 3 to 5 years in one of these areas, and lay out a bold ambition. Finally, it’s about what help and assistance would be most valuable to them. It's a starting point for a dialogue, not the endpoint, but it very importantly demonstrates that the government itself is articulating the vision, and it opens up a dialogue for partnership.

Q. Is there any eligibility criteria to be a part of GEAPP?

Ashvin Dayal: When we were looking at the call for proposals, we focused on emerging markets and developing economies. We had set a criterion of lower, and lower middle-income countries, or very large, upper-middle income countries that cannot be ignored from a global climate change and energy transition perspective. In total, there were around 81 countries that were eligible for the call for country partnerships. There was one country, Lebanon and the Middle East, that submitted a proposal that technically would not have been part of that 81 but had recently experienced a crisis with the energy system, with almost 80% of the country running on generators and diesel. Therefore, even on the eligibility criteria, we needed some filers and criteria, but they're not completely fixed.

Q. What kind of support GEAPP is looking for from India?

Simon Harford: We are not asking for anything from India – quite the opposite. If we’re going to engage, we simply ask for constructive collaboration so that we're each playing to our strengths. Most importantly, we stay focused on the goals, which are to improve access to energy for people and to support the transition.

Ravi Venkatesan: We have found from all of our conversations, they’re very welcoming and ready to join.
Support can come in the form of effective partnerships. I think there is a lot of expertise in India that could be relevant to other countries. India’s private sector has a growing capability that over time might be transferable. That could be one of the benefits of partnering with India as we’re already seeing Indian companies in the energy sector innovating and taking products and services to other markets. That could be somewhere India could be a leader on.

Q. Why is the need to source head of state commitment to embed country-led actions?

Simon Harford: We want to work at the invitation and desire of the government. We don't want to be working in a country without their request. In other words, if the government formally says, yes, we have got a plan, and we see how GEAPP can help, then we can collaborate. All we are trying to do is to assist a country with its national agenda. We are not a profit-making entity. So for us to be effective and constructive, we need to be doing that in collaboration with the government.

Q. Significance of aggregating public and private capital to finance the program.

Simon Harford: If you look at the figures for what the energy transition is believed to cost, the figure is so high it makes aggregating public and private capital very significant.

Ravi Venkatesan: The cost of energy transition is almost as much as our GDP. It's enormous, the estimate was 1.5 to 2 trillion. India’s GDP is a little more than two and a half trillion dollars.

Simon Harford: For South Africa, just for the next 10 years or so, it will cost $250 billion. Like India, the cost of a transition relative to the country's GDP, or their fiscals is huge. In terms of the available financing, domestically, it's massive. Therefore, to support countries with their energy transitions, we need to help unlock the financing required. To get to those figures, we need to unlock both concessional funding from the likes of the multilaterals and the DFIs which have significantly more funding than us. We also need to unlock funding from the private sector – capital markets, the public capital markets, or the private companies. That's the biggest source of capital on Earth. We are therefore asking if we can be helpful by unlocking both the concessional capital world and the private capital world simply because the figures are so huge.

Q. Significance of bridging a gap between the rich world and the low-income countries in terms of climate financing, capacity building, and technology transfer? Explain.

Simon Harford: Climate is a global and interconnected matter. It is in everyone’s interest to be sharing – sharing capital, sharing technology, sharing skills, and transferring knowledge. This is therefore one of the reasons why our Alliance is ‘Global’ - we are trying to help provide connected solutions because the problem is interconnected.

Ashvin Dayal: Your question is also about equity and fairness. I think we have recognized that there has been a historical challenge with financing. Since the Paris Agreement, commitments made haven’t been followed through. Yes, there’s a massive need for transfer of capital, for transfer of technology, but the reality is that for the poor countries that you are describing, the energy transition must happen alongside growth in energy consumption. For that to happen, you must have a significant amount of capital coming in to enable that growth while also mitigating the carbon footprint by 2030 or later, which is a different challenge from some advanced economies’ transition. Some technologies could be similar but the kind of framework that you must think about for the growth scenario is different. It is a very important challenge for which the world must work together on because lower-income countries are not able to manage this transition alone. Their need should be politically supported by all.

We genuinely believe that there is a world in which the energy transition can be a catalyst for economic opportunity, inclusive growth, and poverty eradication in poor countries. But only if we get the right combination of capital, technology, and partnerships.
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