One of the most exciting presentations I attended at the World Future Energy Summit and Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week* as a whole was a panel discussion about Wind for Prosperity, an initiative launched in November by Vestas, Masdar, the Carbon War Room, Sundog Pictures, DI Frontier Market Energy & Carbon Fund, and Econet Wireless.
A quick summary of the program is that it is aimed at bringing wind power to people in developing countries who don’t have electricity or who have expensive, dirty fuels providing their electricity. All the while, the companies involved are looking to make a good return on investment — it was emphasized repeatedly that this is a business move, not a charity move. But there are important intricacies there that I will come back to further down in this article.
To be clear, the initiative partners open joint Wind for Prosperity companies in countries where they see a lot of potential — potential being based on 1) high-wind resource estimates that Vestas has identified using its advanced wind evaluation technologies and 2) information about lack of electricity or high electricity costs that come from burning dirty energy in order to generate that electricity.
The program uses cheap, recycled, kW-scale wind turbines in order to provide electricity in the developing communities that the initiative decides to go into. The Vestas representative on the panel — CMO and Senior Vice President of Vestas, Morten Albækin — in response to a question by a fellow energy blogger, estimated that one or two of these rather small wind turbines would likely be provided to each community (on average).
As I noted above, it was emphasized very clearly in the presentations and panel discussion that this initiative is a genuine business initiative, not just a PR campaign. But I was curious about what kind of targets Vestas might have when it comes to % of revenue or other related metrics. Morten was actually very upfront in his response to me. He noted that the specific Wind for Prosperity projects would be an insignificant % of Vestas’ projects and revenue. However, he then said something that really explained how this was a true strategic move business-wise. Morten noted that these smaller projects would be an entry point into emerging or frontier markets. That is where the genuine business potential exists. The relationships developed through this will allow Vestas to beat GE, Siemens, and other big wind power players into what will eventually become big wind markets.
Nonetheless, it was still emphasized a few times that Wind for Prosperity projects have to fit into the same financially viable model as larger projects.
Below are some videos I recorded of the panel discussion, followed by some pictures I snapped and a summary paragraph.
In this first video, former President of Costa Rica, former World Economic Forum CEO (the first one), and current Carbon War Room CEO José María Figueres Olsen discusses the multi-pronged benefits of Wind for Prosperity:
In this second video, Tim Hurst, Chief Communications Officer for the International Renewable Energy Agency (and former contributor to CleanTechnica), discusses the benefits of Wind for Prosperity from some other angles, particularly focusing on the benefits of community-scale renewable energy projects:
In the third video, Evan Scandling, Head of Communications for Sunlabob, discusses some of the challenges of trying to bring electricity to remote communities in the developing world, and then also praises Wind for Prosperity for its aims, approach, and leadership:
This last video starts with Morten discussing the financial benefits available to partner communities (apologies: the video starts a tad late). José then follows up by focusing on the benefits that will come to the communities that receive the wind power:
This is certainly an interesting initiative, and I’m happy we had the chance to dig into it in more detail than we did when the initiative was unveiled in November. It does help bring electricity to people without electricity or who are using dirty, expensive, health-damaging fossil fuels for electricity generation — 50 million such people is the target. It also provides revenue to Vestas and other initiative partners. In other words, it helps the environment, it helps individuals financially, it helps individuals to improve their quality of life a great deal, and it brings revenue to Vestas. Win-win-win-win.
*Full disclosure: Masdar covered my trip to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, where this panel discussion took place.