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Looking Forward: The 21st Century Power Partnership

Thursday, May 9, 2013

By Morgan Bazilian, Mackay Miller, and Matthew Wittenstein, Clean Energy Ministerial, 21st Century Power Partnership

  Photo by David Iliff, license: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The century-old framework for planning, building, regulating, and operating electric power systems is at a critical juncture. Power system managers must reliability and cost-effectively meet demand while also working towards sustainability, resilience, environmental, and socio-political goals. While large-scale integration of renewables is making power generation more variable, power demand is becoming easier to respond to through new demand-response technologies. Many working on both the supply and demand sides see the value in fostering comprehensive energy efficiency and challenging the traditional utility revenue model of steady growth in demand.

Successful power systems of the 21st century will maximize reliable, efficient, and cost-effective access to energy services that minimize health and climate impacts. This means taking advantage of energy efficiency, integrating higher shares of renewable energy, leveraging smart grid technologies, and taking a system-wide view that emphasizes optimization. This is a tall task and making it work on a global scale will require nations and regions to share lessons about the best ways to create enabling policies, regulations, and markets that promote social benefit and encourage capital investment.

In the developed world, the challenge is to transform the existing and aging capital-intensive systems that are largely meeting current needs, but that are not prepared to integrate large-scale variable renewable energy and demand response technologies. In the developing world, where there are fewer assets in place, the key issues are institutional and infrastructure capacity, access to capital, effective stakeholder involvement, and balancing competing electricity priorities.

Transitioning to 21st century power systems will require technical excellence, targeted innovation, and smart regulations, supported by sustained financial and political investment and ambitious public-private sector collaboration. A number of challenges are limiting the pace and scale of this transition, including legal, market, and institutional barriers; a lack of coordination between the public and private sectors; reliance on tools developed for 20th century grids; and the need for customized solutions.

In April 2012, a new Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) initiative was launched to help address these challenges, the 21st Century Power Partnership (the Partnership). The Partnership leverages knowledge and expertise developed through various existing CEM initiatives to provide direct, sustained support for policy makers in partner countries. The Partnership’s work will encourage a vision of power system transformation that includes large-scale deployment of energy efficiency and variable renewable energy through smart policies and programs that leverage smart grid solutions and clean energy technologies, and  improve system operations and long-term planning practices.

The Partnership has four specific goals:

  1. Develop and share knowledge and research on key topics related to the transformation of the electric power sector.
  2. Strengthen and disseminate relevant technical, legal, financial, and regulatory tools.
  3. Bolster the capacity of experts and institutions needed to advance related policies, programs, and practices.
  4. Apply the knowledge, tools, and capacity developed to refine and augment regional, national, and sub-national policies and regulations.

The Partnership is actively recruiting a network of experts to develop and enhance a cross-cutting set of tools to support integrated power sector transformation. These tools will be used to inform and support a series of regional, national, and sub-national peer-to-peer engagements.

At policy and regulatory levels, the Partnership will support effective operations and planning by working directly with systems operators and planners. The initiative has already begun its first peer-to-peer engagement with India’s Planning Commission.

The fundamental transformation of the world’s power systems requires rethinking policies, business models, and grid operations. It also requires greater sharing of experiences with policy design and governance mechanisms, and the committed engagement of the finance and investment community.

International public-private partnerships like the Partnership help to accelerate critical knowledge sharing and adaptation of best practices. The initiative is always looking for new partners; contact us at to join.

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