Energy Transition

Power with the people: Communities must be empowered to drive energy transition

The energy transition will only progress smoothly and with a solid base if we can guarantee community support, like that of the Wayuu People of Colombia.

The energy transition will only progress smoothly and with a solid base if we can guarantee community support, like that of the Wayuu People of Colombia. Image: EDP

Miguel Stilwell d'Andrade
Chief Executive Officer, EDP
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Energy Transition

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Installed clean energy must triple to at least 11,000 GW by 2030, but this will only happen if it has a solid base with strong community support.
  • The ‘Just Energy Transition’ process engages through 3 pillars: innovation, access to energy, and community engagement.
  • Innovation is key for a fast and secure energy transition, while ensuring access to clean energy for all is required for an equitable transformation.

The word is out: it is still possible to keep global warming at 1.5°Celsius, but the path is becoming narrower, as it will now require a huge effort to build a fast track for the energy transition.

There will be an enormous burden on infrastructure, as it will continuously expand into new territories where the population has never before experienced this type of massive construction or abrupt change in landscape. Promoting shared values between the new green economy and old cultural habits has not been strictly properly addressed until now, although broadly piloted.

Businesses must endorse the new green economy’s people-positive culture, which is committed to respecting human rights.

Have you read?

To address the urgency of tackling climate change, as highlighted in the recent COP28 final agreement, installed clean energy must triple to at least 11,000 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 – but it will only grow smoothly and with a solid base if we can guarantee strong community support.

The energy transition may create millions of new jobs, but it also has many challenges. One of them is that renewable energy projects are creating fears and myths, including strong NIMBY (not in my backyard) movements. It is also up to industry to develop the right approach and transparency of communication with local populations to overcome this mindset.

For those whose territory is now targeted for investment, it must mean a new chance for a brighter future through reskilling and upskilling; it must mean being respected and heard; and it must mean that marginalized groups have equitable access to the opportunities and shared benefits of clean energy. This means strong and dedicated engagement: communities must be empowered to (really) be the driver for transition.

This is the moment

The “Just Energy Transition” process engages through three pillars: innovation; access to energy; and community engagement:

1. While transitioning towards net zero, the world needs to develop innovative technologies and business models, allowing fossil fuels to be phased out. Innovation is the key investment that will bring future sources, storage and smart grids. EDP is engaged in pioneering projects to enable the net zero future of the geographies where it operates, investing in expanding technologies, such as storage, green hydrogen, solar DG, offshore and floating solar.

2. Fighting energy poverty, promoting energy inclusion and taking energy to all places in the world, even in the most remote areas, is the definite condition for a “Just Energy Transition”. The Global North may reach net zero by 2050, but the Global South will never follow if a strong investment by governments, policymakers and businesses isn’t adopted in these territories, allowing renewable energies to reach the furthest regions of the planet. EDP endorses the Access to Energy (A2E) CSR fund, solving fossil fuel dependency and the non-existence of energy in the Global South, engaging with locally accessed partners to bring clean energy where it belongs: everywhere.

3. Leaving no one behind must be a common priority for all economies that are transitioning. Fossil fuel and coal production phase-out and expansion into new territories of renewable energy solutions can have a significant impact on local economies and cultures. It becomes even more demanding when the displacement of a population takes place in order to develop new energy sources. EDP is deeply committed to earn its social license to operate (SLO) through early engagement with local communities. A group-wide Local Stakeholder Engagement Policy is being enforced, providing all project teams with an extended toolkit of procedures to follow. Senior management and procurement are involved in the assessment phase of operations, acknowledging the need to relate early to local realities, prior to investment. The action plan is shared and a focus on preventing crisis by early identification of risks is the culture we believe must prevail.

Why is just energy transition strategic?

The energy transition requires effectiveness in action; we cannot fail.

The challenges are technological, financial and logistical – but, above all, social. Without a SLO, businesses risk losing their acceptance and seeing their business value decay. There’s a huge opportunity in clean power infrastructure development. If we do it through partnership and with a purpose, we’ll be creating significant business value just as much as a culture of shared growth for society and the planet.

All stakeholders must be part of this engagement process. Governments through regulation and permitting must be socially caring, not just through low prices but also through transition plans that focus on people. The preservation of economic growth only makes sense if we do it for the population, in a just and equitable matter. And for that, community groups must be heard, and NGOs must be part of the action plans alongside business.

Transparency is the key prerequisite for trust, communicating in advance all plans, strategies and reasons that are behind the building of an operation in a territory. It’s a cultural change for businesses, but if we don’t consider it a priority, the change won’t come – and that means NIMBYism will grow; populations become politically instrumentalized against businesses; and the energy transition won’t be sustainable or fast enough.

Project life cycles have to further grow from the local perspective into efficient operations. Only then will communities embrace success as their own, growing beyond the immediate need of business developers and creating healthier societies.

Can we make it in time?

We must, and we can. We already know the basis for successful engagement and have the case studies that demonstrate the Just Energy Transition can be much more than just an ambition – it is already happening. Here are some examples:

1. Understanding and respecting the local context

ENTAMA is a wide-reaching project in Spain that creates new jobs locally, generating resources. Reskilling, upskilling, and entrepreneurship skills are its focus, now scaling up to Latin America.

2. Engaging early, continuously, meaningfully and transparently

Solidarity Solar - Cova da Moura is a community located on the outskirts of Lisbon with a lack of basic infrastructure, including electricity. Developed with four local organizations, it ensures clean and sustainable access to electricity, promoting local development. It is scaling through Spain and Brazil.

3. Defining a clear plan focused on delivering shared value

EDP RURAL in Brazil has brought knowledge and partnerships to new areas where the rural populations have been left behind. It’s now growing to other countries where EDP develops renewables.

Image: EDP

We now need to go faster and deeper into strengthening the new ways of building within. That includes:

  • Prioritizing system value impact within the business strategy;
  • Leveraging cross-sectorial collaboration to move towards a partnership approach with communities;
  • Working with other industry leaders to develop a framework for measuring people-positive impact.

How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

Collaboration and commitment

The imperative to address climate change and achieve a Just Energy Transition is undeniable. However, the success of this transition hinges on the collaboration and commitment of various stakeholders, particularly communities.

Peers must come together to navigate the challenges, emphasizing a common purpose and a Just Energy Transition process with pillars of innovation, access to energy and community engagement.

Innovation is crucial for a fast and secure energy transition, while ensuring access to clean energy for all is a prerequisite for an equitable process of transformation.

The commitment to leaving no one behind should be a shared signature, especially considering the impact on local economies and cultures during the shift from coal production to renewable energy solutions.

People are the real power for a successful green revolution.

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