The origin of the concept is that the owners of some of the land with the best wind, hydro, geothermal and solar resources in the world are indigenous communities in developing countries and in most cases this native people has not been included as partners when developing large-scale renewable energy projects.
The business-as-usual practice for a lot of renewable energy developers was to look for the best sites for a given project, then they tried to deal with the local government or local indigenous leader to get the land-rights or right-to-use that site to install renewable energy infrastructure. Sometimes the process used to involve special agreements with the local government or the local indigenous leader that will benefit just a few people in the local leadership. Then the renewable energy developers will get purchase agreements either from nearby public and/or private entities to secure the market for renewable energy and use these agreements plus the land-rights or right-to-use agreement to secure funding to finance the required infrastructure for the project. Once the funding was available, the project would start in the community usually with “imported” workers that already worked with the developer (from example, workers from Europe to build wind turbines or workers from the USA to build a biorefinery, etc.). The project would be built in a few months with just a few minor construction jobs going to the community. At the end of the project, a new batch or imported workers would arrive to operate the renewable energy infrastructure and energy distribution systems. Land owner’s or native people would be paid a rent in the best of cases for the use of their native land (or in some cases nothing because developers had that agreement with the local government). Then the renewable energy project would be inaugurated by the local or national authorities along with top representatives of the renewable energy developer, it would be covered by the national and international media as a token of progress and sustainability in the community. The project would start operations and things might even go smoothly for a few months until native people start feeling that international developers took advantage of them, either because renewable infrastructure prevents them from using their own land for their economic activities or because they might consider that the “rent” they are getting for the right to use their lands is really low compared to the revenues that everyone else is getting out of the project. Then communities might either resent the renewable energy project and obstruct any further development OR create a social movement that rises up against the project and tries to close it (for more information about the process, read the following article: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/world/americas/mexicos-wind-farms-brought-prosperity-but-not-for-everyone.html?_r=0 )
After analyzing the problem, we thought that the way to solve it was to actively involve the community in indigenous and rural areas in being partners in large-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, this would reduce social inequalities in the community while producing long lasting high-value added jobs and reducing risks of sustainable project cancelations due to community resistance.
Since private universities like Harvard and international investors didn’t have enough credibility in the community, we decided to create an educational program about renewable energies and energy efficiency for rural and indigenous communities led by public university professors because they are highly respected by the people that we were trying to reach. The program was a Public-Private-Partnership between the Energy Secretariat of Mexico, InTrust Global Investments (a private company that manages an indigenous fund for financing renewable energy projects in indigenous areas) and Harvard University. The program was called Applied Leadership Program in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency and it recruited 300 public university professors from all over Mexico for a 1-year education program to understand the basics of renewable energies and energy efficiency, how to design renewable energy projects using different technologies (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, etc.), about the technology innovation process and the critical path for creating and finance a startup in sustainability and health, how to communicate and integrate people in the community to the local renewable energy project, how to describe the concept of “sweat and land equity” so we could make people long-term partners in the new project and to train them to build it and maintain it for a long time, how to estimate the health and environmental benefits of renewable energies, how to estimate social benefits of energy projects, how to use these assessment tools plus economic information to prepare a strong business plan to convince companies and local governments to become “off-takers” and international investors and financial institutions to finance the renewable or energy efficiency project in the community, etc.
During this education program, we asked these rural and public university professors to reach out to their communities to share their new knowledge and skills while asking for their input on how to design a new renewable energy or energy efficiency program locally to try to sell it internationally. Each one of the participants had to design a sustainable project and “sell it” within a group of 3 or 4 participants in the education program to decide among themselves which project would be supported by this group. At the end of the program we assessed the environmental, health, social and economic beneficence for 93 strong renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. We also perfected a scheme for maximizing social and economic benefits for the community by giving land owners and local workers equity in the project so they could be partners in it and training to people in the community to build and maintain the renewable infrastructure to create local well-paid jobs for the next few decades.
The attrition rate for the program was really low and 286 professors finished the program, they all received certificates of participation issued by Harvard University, InTrust Global Investments and the Mexican Energy Secretariat.
The policy design is innovative by recognizing the fact that rural and indigenous communities are likely to trust public and rural university professors that live in the community instead of governments and investors that have a clear interest in developing a project. The concept is also innovative by sharing the best available practices in environmental and health assessment, social beneficence assessments, financial tools and community organizing with public university professors to mass produce local agents of positive change and use their knowledge in rural and indigenous communities instead of just thriving in academic environments or in cities or large metropolitan areas. The concept is innovative by creating a path to rural and indigenous communities to become partners in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, which increases enthusiasm and participation in the project and reduces the risk of social backlashes that might endanger its long-term existence and prosperity.
However, one of the biggest innovations was within the investment community and government officials because it removed the stereotypes they had about local people. Investors and politicians realized that empowered people in rural and indigenous communities were creative, hard-working and visionary if they received an opportunity. Before the project started, most investors and government officials living in large cities used to think of indigenous people as poor because they wanted to be that way, as lazy, as confrontational, as stubborn, etc. That perception drastically changed after the program and it helped to develop mutual trust that facilitates future public-private-partnerships and funding of renewable energy projects in rural and indigenous communities. Financial institutions, investors and governments participating in the program know that social unrest and people’s resistance are reduced in participating communities and that there is a structure to implement renewable energy projects in a safe and long-lasting way, so they are more likely to finance projects there.
A side-effect was when people that benefitted from the program for having a rural professor participating in it, started to tell other neighboring communities about their experiences and these new sites started to contact the Mexican Government and our university to try to create a phase-II of the project where they could be included (they were not asking for money anymore, they asked for the opportunity to participate and get connected to the global investment and academic communities on their own).
The idea can inspire similar cases in any place on Planet Earth where there is an indigenous or rural community that has land with abundant resources for the deployment of large-scale renewable energy projects. A phase II of this program was requested by neighboring rural and indigenous communities in Mexico that didn’t participate in the first program, but a similar program can easily occur in indigenous and rural communities all over Latin America, in indigenous communities in Northern Australia, in New Zealand, in the Philippines, in the South Pacific Islands, in South East Asian countries, in Indonesia, Malaysia, in Western and Rural China, in Korea, Taiwan and even in rural Japan and Indian Reservations in the United States of America and Canada.
Technically, the process can be repeated in any place where there are indigenous or rural people that don’t know how to connect with the global economy and distrust strangers that come to their communities trying to create new energy infrastructure in their lands. The essential components needed to repeat the process are:
- A government and/or financial institution and/or investor willing to work with the rural or indigenous communities. This entity should be open minded and be willing to give a chance to people in the communities without trying to impose its external values like treating people like a political clientele, thinking that rural people are poor because they are lazy or they want to stay that way, thinking that rural people are narrow minded and can’t be trusted as partners, etc.
- A group of people that is inherently trusted by rural or indigenous communities like professors in public universities that came from those communities, rural medical doctors, social workers, rural community organizers, etc. This group should be willing to participate in receiving the lessons learned and best practices (education program) and then transmit this knowledge to their own rural and indigenous communities to facilitate dialogue with potential investors and the local government to define a long-lasting collaboration that minimizes social inequities and promotes the connection of this formerly marginalized people with the rest of the global economy.
- A recognized university or research center that can provide the educational program that includes all of the lessons learned and best practices from around the world to foster the development of renewable energy programs while protecting the natural environment, human health and minimizing social inequities in the community. This university has to be well-known and trusted by all parties involved, usually this helps in recruiting and retaining people in the education program and also in proper conflict resolution among all parties involved in the project (the academic institution has to be perceived as an honest broker with no hidden agenda or political affiliation).
For example, if we were to do a similar program in Indian reservations in the USA, we would get between 150 to 300 tribal leaders, elders, prominent women, native law enforcement officers and professors from native universities from all the nation to be the students of the educational program offered by Harvard and sponsored by the Federal Government (or some State Governments with a large native population). They would finish the educational program in which people from the investment community would be co-instructors in the area of financing the project (that way our students would have valuable information of what investors are looking for to finance a project), then we would ask that each one of the participants talks to their communities and design a renewable energy or energy efficiency project that minimizes social and economic inequities. Then we would estimate health and environmental benefits of every project to add this information to the value proposition. Then, we would request support from the investment community participating in the program so we can match each project with potential investors anywhere in the nation or in other countries. In order to reduce legal and consulting fees for small projects, we would create a network of people in tribal universities that would work “pro-bono” until the renewable energy or energy efficiency project gets funded, then they would become the new company’s lawyer, engineer, etc. People in native communities in the USA are likely to reduce resistance to the project because they know where their sacred lands are, where are the best places for energy generation once they know how to design these systems, how to distribute economic benefits in the most equitable way within the community, etc. Additionally, this might reduce the pressure for the conventional energy sector to build pipelines for fossil fuels in tribal areas as Indian nations might become a preponderant actor in providing clean and affordable energy for nearby cities and towns.
The most enlightened domain by this policy is the social equity one because this project is likely to repair the relationship between a rural or indigenous community and the global economy using renewable energies and energy efficiency projects, so people would not feel as if they were left behind by the world. It is very powerful to note that this policy of mass production of agents of change with knowledge of best practices in the environment, health, sustainable technologies, innovation, finance, stakeholder engagement and social equity can empower whole communities which would not feel as passive clients of a government agency or international economic forces that might determine their fates. For example, people in participating communities would be able to access capital from anywhere in the world to create long-lasting jobs, economic and environmental well-being, so even inhabitants of small villages would feel like “citizens of the world” because they are connected to it in a very tangible way.
There is an open and transparent channel of public communication for the Applied Leadership Program in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency because the 286 professors that graduated from it plus the CEO of InTrust Global Investments and lead Instructors from Harvard University formed an NGO to continue the program after its formal conclusion. This organization has continued to follow up on progress for the 93 projects derived from the program and has created a communications campaign to rural and indigenous communities, we even made a 90-minute documentary that talks about the project and its benefits, you can see our promotional page for the premiere at Harvard University and a trailer of this video in the following links:
We also have 3 working groups for the 286 professors and their communities, one for Northern Mexico, one for Central Mexico and one for Southern Mexico. All of these working groups have their webpages and discussion forums where people in each community can track the state of the project and propose changes to it in case that is necessary.
https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/888159 (page for Northern Mexico Group, requires dedicated login and password as it is for graduates of the program and members of the rural communities with renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in that area)
https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/888160 (page for Central Mexico Group, requires dedicated login and password as it is for graduates of the program and members of the rural communities with renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in that area)
https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/888161 (page for Southern Mexico Group, requires dedicated login and password as it is for graduates of the program and members of the rural communities with renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in that area)
The program also announces success stories about projects derived from it in Facebook and other social media pages: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=intrust%20global%20investments%20llc.
Additionally, there is an internal e-mail list that reaches all 286 professors that participated in the program, Mexican government officials that sponsored the program, university presidents of participating institutions, investors that participated in the program, community leaders in rural and indigenous areas and Harvard instructors, so we try to keep open channels of communication all the time.
There is a big difference between this policy and similar policies because most similar efforts are aimed at promoting energy efficiency and renewable energies in urban areas or college campuses as part of a smart cities’ initiative. In the case of the Applied Leadership Program in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency, this was aimed mainly at rural and indigenous areas in a developing country where “smart cities” is just a fashion or “urban” concept as they don’t have any tangible examples of it in their communities. Therefore, a person from a medium to large metropolitan area might understand the relationships between technology, transportation, energy and sustainability, but this concept usually would not resonate among rural or indigenous people.
For example, when talking about developing smart cities, most of the time the general population thinks about integrating urban systems in a harmonized and technological way, so the city is “smart”. The term is rarely applied to rural areas where there is very little public transportation, technology and integration between systems. For that reason, most educational programs related to smart jobs and technologies are aimed for city-dwellers or university campuses where it was thought that they would produce the highest benefits. However, this program democratizes access to information, knowledge, skills and best practices from around the world so people living in remote and/or isolated areas can get connected and benefit out of globalization because they are in areas where there is a lot of potential for generating large-scale renewable energies.
The Applied Program in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency was conceived to have approximately 100 graduates among university professors from rural and indigenous universities. Approximately 300 professors were originally enrolled because we thought that there would be a very high attrition rate, but that wasn’t the case and 286 professors finished the program, that is an achievement by itself. Our original aim was to have between 25 and 50 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and we ended with 93 projects that are still being developed. Originally, we considered that the program should conceive projects for developing at least 100 MW of wind energy, 100 MW of photovoltaic energy and 5 million liters/year of biodiesel. However, the final business and technical plans for renewable energy infrastructure are 953.3 MW of wind energy, 512 MW of installed capacity of photovoltaic energy, 1.36 MW of biomass electricity, 40 million liters of ethanol/year, 7.2 Million liters of biodiesel/year and 9 Million liters of bio-jet fuel/year. So far, infrastructure for projects for 120 MW of wind, 100 MW of solar and 4 million liters/year of biodiesel and 2 million liters/year of bio-jet fuel started to be built in 2016, the rest of the projects are still in the process of finding funders to start construction activities.
The original goal for planned energy infrastructure was surpassed by more than 100%, the goal now is to avert 3 million metric tons of CO2eq/year by the year 2024. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 3 conventional fuel-oil power plants. In order to do that, it would be necessary to build close to 60% of the designed infrastructure by participants in the program.
The methods and techniques for the program could be applied internationally because the main tool to start renewable energy projects in any rural or indigenous area is education coupled with community outreach. The key to this intervention is to find a group of people that is universally trusted by the community like university professors, tribal leaders, health or social workers that could be trained by a well-recognized university in conjunction with a group of public and/or private investors. For example, a group of fishermen in Indonesia could be trained in microalgae farming to produce biodiesel and/or bio-jet fuel by local public university professors trained in an educational program offered by Harvard University or Tsinghua University.
Standard Operating Procedures have been developed for this special educational program to establish the sequence of activities to follow to implement this intervention successfully. These procedures and lessons learned were written by personnel at the Sustainable Technologies and Health Program within the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, so this is the responsible organization for keeping the memories and standard procedures for the project up to date. For example, the standard procedure establishes that a good practice to promote outreach from public university professors to the community is to require a business or project plan that includes health, environmental and social benefits of renewable energies as a requisite for graduating from the program and receiving a certificate of participation from Harvard University.
An education intervention similar to the Mexican Applied Leadership Program in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency is very cost-effective because it transforms community knowledge, best global practices and innovative ideas from indigenous and rural people into great business plans that properly manage operational, economic, social, health and environmental risks. So, in essence the educational program is a factory for mass producing responsible business and technical plans for renewable energy and energy e efficiency projects, so it costs very little to create them and funding for full implementation is likely to come from renewable infrastructure investors and international financial institutions that will review the business and social plans for every project.
So far, 100 MW of installed capacity for solar energy have been built. Considering typical emissions for 645 gCO2/KWh in the Mexican electricity mix and emissions for 50 gCO2eq/KWh for solar electricity (due to manufacturing of solar panels), then every KWh of solar electricity averts 600 gCO2eq. Considering that 100 MW of installed capacity in Northern Mexico would produce 180 Million KWh of electricity/year then greenhouse gas emissions averted are 108,142 Metric Tons of CO2eq/year. A similar process is used for wind electricity with a different carbon intensity per KWh of wind electricity generated (close to 10 gCO2eq/KWh).
These measures are consistent with the Mexican energy policy and strategy that require a reduction of 30% in overall greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. This could be achieved with a more comprehensive and widespread program in energy efficiency in large metropolitan areas and production of renewable energies in rural and indigenous areas.
In order to ensure the continuation of projects after the end of the educational program taught by Harvard University, an NGO was formed by 286 graduates from the program and representatives of the university, InTrustGlobal Investments and other private investors.
The achievement scale is measurable for different aspects of the project. For electricity it is measured in MW of installed capacity for solar, wind and other energy sources. For biofuels it is measured in liters produced/year for ethanol, biodiesel and bio-jet fuel. All of these fossil fuel substitutions yield in greenhouse gas emissions reductions averted measured in metric tons of CO2eq/year. Another measurable scale is the number of permanent jobs created in rural or indigenous communities linked to renewable energy projects.
This measurable scale will make it a considerable success in project goals because GHG emissions averted in metric tons of CO2eq helps the country in achieving its climate change goals and jobs created in rural or indigenous communities related to renewable energy projects reduce social and economic inequities for the people.
There is data that supports each one of the 93 projects, this is available in a book that reports energy generation potential, state of the project, return of investment, site of project, recovery time. A picture of the book and a sample project is shown here, the rest of the information for all projects is available upon request.
The projects were audited by the Mexican Energy Secretariat and Harvard University, each one of these business plans has real estimations for economic and environmental benefits.
The program is likely to make significant changes in the field of energy efficiency, energy savings and sustainable energy production by bringing knowledge and best practices to rural communities that have land with some of the best renewable energy resources in the world. This is likely to create a huge ripple effect in expanding implementation of renewable energy projects in rural areas.
The project will impact multiple operational areas because the education program deals with each one of the components of a business proposition, community outreach and construction of renewable energy projects. This would have economic, social, environmental and health impacts for every project derived from the educational program.