“There is quite a lot of impressive work going on in trying to operationalize the nexus perspective on the continent”paul

Exclusive interview with Paul T. Yillia, consultant at Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). He returns to African Utility Week in May as nexus expert and will address the water conference on: “North-South development cooperation: Best practices across borders”. Here he shares some insight into his work and a sneak preview of his message in Cape Town this year.

1.) Please tell us about your work at SE4All?
SE4ALL (Sustainable Energy for All) is a multi-stakeholder UN initiative launched by the UN Secretary in 2011 to increase global access to modern energy services, promote energy efficiency and increase the production and use of renewable energy in the total energy mix. The SE4All Global Facilitation Team (GFT) in Vienna and New York is mobilizing governments, the private sector and civil society to make transformational changes in the world’s energy system. I joined the GFT in Vienna in October 2014 to mainstream the water-energy-food nexus perspective into SE4All’s Global Action Agenda on sustainable energy. Underlying the nexus perspective at SE4All is a holistic vision of sustainable development that places energy at the core of the global development agenda to balance different development objectives. Until recently, much of the work on the nexus was on advocacy, and mobilizing interests and commitments at the global level. We have doing that jointly with our numerous partners around the world and as a result, the nexus perspective has received widespread attention and support. We are now taking a step further with efforts aimed at operationalizing the nexus perspective. In this respect, SE4All has identified several operational working areas with its key partners through its High Impact Opportunity (HIO) on the nexus.

2.) Could you please elaborate on some of the operational working areas?
We are currently working with our partners on a framework for nexus auditing at the country level through the SE4All Country Action Programme to understand the interactions between various nexus dimensions as those countries roll out new energy policies. The objective is to inspect the performance of current policies in terms of resource use efficiency and productivity in order to facilitate the development and application of appropriate policy and technical interventions that will be required. Also, together with our partners on the nexus HIO, we want to strengthen inter-sector consultations and engagement among relevant sector and stakeholders.

3.) Why do you think inter-sector consultation is important to operationalize the nexus?
I must state that in a rapidly transforming world, nexus issues are too important to be handled by disjointed decision making which often fail to look at the whole picture. Therefore, it is important that response options to development challenges are developed through a continuous process of inter-sector dialogue. This will help decision makers anticipate, plan and manage interventions collectively and to re-think policies and strategies to deal effectively with a range of complex interactions that are interlinked and interdependent.

4.) Any other SE4All nexus operational working areas?
Also important are actions to strengthen the enabling environment to facilitate the transitions that are required. With our partners, we are supporting key institutions, policy transitions and facilitating public/private funding mechanisms and investment frameworks that are required for nexus interventions. We are also developing programmes on improving human capacity to facilitate training, education, skills development and knowledge management for better understanding and application of interventions across various nexus dimensions, especially in the areas of water, energy, health, food, ecosystems and climate change.

5.) Last year you moderated a panel dialogue at African Utility Week, what were your impressions?
Yes that is true. I facilitated and chaired a panel discussion on the water-energy-food nexus during a special session on water. I was particularly impressed with the conference atmosphere, the numerous possibilities for networking and the quality of the discussions. Among other things, we discussed the water-energy-food nexus in relation to Africa’s growth and development agenda with a global dimension attached to it. The feedback from the audience and panelists was quite positive. It was interesting to hear some of the nexus initiatives that are already being implemented in Africa. There is quite a lot of impressive work going on in trying to operationalize the nexus perspective on the continent. Some of the case studies and lessons learnt from them were quite inspiring.

6.) Can you give us an update on some of the projects in Africa that you are working on?
There are a couple of important SE4All global initiatives that are interesting and relevant for Africa. You are aware that more than half the global population without access to electricity lives in Africa. That is roughly 625 million people across sub-Saharan Africa in particular and many more rely on hazardous fuels such as wood or charcoal for cooking or heating. SE4All is working with a number of countries in Africa through its country action programmes to support national governments develop and implement integrated country actions that will strategically transform their energy systems. At the moment, more than 43 governments in Africa have joined the SE4ALL initiative and have expressed interest in advancing the three SE4All goals on energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

7.) How are you doing this?
Through the SE4All Country Action Programme, a number of those countries have initiated and completed what we are calling a rapid assessment and gap analysis (RAGA) on energy to help them determine the main challenges and opportunities in achieving the three goals.  With RAGA, opting countries are laying the groundwork to scale up action in priority areas, undertake strategic reforms where needed, and attract new investments and financial support. Now we need to mobilize support and commitment at the highest level for this to happen.

8.) That is a pretty hard thing to do, right?
Yes, you are right. It is hard but we are making progress. Just recently, during the 2015 World Economic, SE4All launched the African Energy Leaders Group (AELG) Forum in Davos. The AELG is bringing together political and economic leaders at the highest level to drive the reforms and investment needed to end energy poverty and fuel economic growth in Africa. SE4All will work with the AELG and similar initiatives to ensure that the energy sector becomes the driving force for economic transformation for long-term development, fostering energy sector reforms, encourage innovative public-private partnerships, promote renewable energy, support technological innovation and seeking ways to boost economic gains through the value chain.

9.) Any exciting projects that you are planning for this year?
I would like to mention one given its importance for the continent and its relevance for using resources more efficiently. SE4All works with several partners around the world on energy efficiency improvements through an accelerators platform on several thematic areas, which include buildings, district heating, transport, lighting and appliances. The Global Energy efficiency Accelerator Platform was established to drive action and commitments by national and sub-national leaders at the country, city, state, region, or sector level. Work is ongoing on an accelerator platform on the nexus and we are starting with energy efficiency improvements for drinking-water supply and wastewater utilities.

10.) How is that important for Africa?
Well, I am sure you are aware that access to drinking water and sanitation facilities remains a major challenge for many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We also know that even in those areas like cities with relatively much more improved services, a lot of challenges still remain for water and wastewater utilities, especially in improving the efficiency of their operations, reducing costs and increasing access. Also drinking water and wastewater utilities are typically energy intensive. In some municipalities, they are the largest energy consumers of municipal governments, accounting for some 30-40 percent of the total energy consumed. Energy costs can reach 60% of total operating costs of utilities and this is expected to increase significantly in the next 15 years due to population growth, improvements in access to safe drinking water and stiffer regulations on water quality standards. Improvements in energy efficiency is an opportunity for utilities to reduce their carbon footprints, improve their environmental stewardship, reduce their operating costs, increase revenue and possibly improve and expanding services.

11.) That sounds interesting
Yes it is and let me add that a key deliverable for the nexus accelerator on water and wastewater as it is for other accelerators will be an integrated policy and investment roadmaps prepared with committed public and private partners. The road maps will guide project implementation supported by global network of experts, institutions and businesses. Cities in Africa and drinking-water and wastewater utilities can join the platform and benefit from the pool of resources and opportunities that are available through the platform.

12.) You are returning to African Utility Week this year to address the water conference track on north-south cooperation in water management. Can you give us a preview of what your message will be?
I will try to be very specific and my focus during that conference track will be principally on the sustainability of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) services. It is one of the most challenging issues facing the WASH sector in Africa. More than 30% of WASH projects especially in sub-Saharan Africa fail in just after 2-5 years, partly because technology transfer from transferring countries to receiving countries is not properly implemented. When things go wrong, WASH services can be made unsustainable following an unsuccessful technology transfer, with huge losses in resources, both in terms of financial investments and time considerations. I will give an overview of technology transfer in the WASH sector, with a special focus on the most common mistakes made in transferring WASH technology.

13.) Any new insights into the main challenges the continent faces?
Africa is growing fast with a lot of promising opportunities. With annual growth rates averaging around 5.2% in recent years, the continent is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. However, improvements in living standards for many of the continent’s population, especially access to basic services is not reflecting the progress we are seeing with economic growth. Africa is still the continent with most people in the so-called bottom billion in need of adequate nutrition, electricity, clean energy for cooking, drinking-water and sanitation and so on. Population growth rates remain very high for many countries and urbanization is progressing very fast, with an estimated 60% of the population expected to be living in cities in the next 15-20 years. All of this remains a burden on natural resources, especially land, water, energy and forests, as the demand for natural resources continues to increase rapidly. Analysis of these challenges and seeking solutions through a nexus framework provides an opportunity to manage the continent’s resources more efficiently and more sustainably.

14.) Anything you would like to add?
I wish to thank the organizers of the African Utility Week and their numerous partners for providing a suitable platform and meeting point for top decision makers, sector practitioners, development agencies and the business community in the continent and beyond, to discuss energy issues as it relates to several nexus dimensions. It is very important to bring all these players together under one roof in a conducive atmosphere to discuss the continent’s most pressing challenges and seek opportunities to respond to those challenges in a beautiful city like Cape Town, right at the very tip of the continent. I am looking forward.