Renewable Energy

Renewable energy has become a cornerstone of the United Nations system strategy, as illustrated by the activities and publications by UN-Energy members in this regard. UN-Energy members provide funds, technical assistance, expertise and knowledge on all types of renewable energy systems, with different focuses according to the specific programmes supported by the respective organizations.

Some of the programmes of UN-Energy members dealing with renewable energy are presented below.


Renewable energy technology development has accelerated tremendously in recent years; technology is improving constantly, making new renewables economically more competitive. implementing those technologies requires human expertise and skilled professionals at all levels, from local communities up to the national policymakers. Capacity development and training activities are essential to empower stakeholders to actively take part in shaping the future development of renewable energy.

FAO’s work in renewable energy focuses on the potential of bioenergy to help alleviate poverty, provide food security and support rural development while mitigating climate change and adaptation. The Climate, Energy and Tenure Division of FAO serves as the focal point for organizing and facilitating a multidisciplinary and global approach to bioenergy. Capacity development forms an integral part of FAO’s services in the field of bioenergy.

The impact of biofuel production (and in particular, the risk of diverting farmland or crops for biofuels production in detriment to the food supply) is context-specific and will vary according to feedstock, technology and country characteristics. FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security programme (an investment of US$ 10 million as of March 2010) aims to support the process of informed decision-making in the complex interactions of bioenergy development and food security.

In the field of bioelectricity production—which has the highest employment-creation potential among renewable energy options—FAO, by raising awareness and capacity-building, helps ensure that small-scale farmers are adequately involved in decisions and benefits along the value chain, and that rural communities also benefit from bioenergy development initiatives.

UNEP is also active in the bioenergy sector, providing training and other institutional support to promote policy development and planning processes that are consistent with evolving global norms. For example, UNEP is helping governments map their land for bioenergy development or resource and technology needs assessments. It helps define areas that should be exempt from bioenergy development because of their high conservation value in terms of biodiversity or in terms of CO2 storage capacity, and identify areas that would be suitable for bioenergy development. Such mapping needs to be based on common definitions of terms as well as a mix of “top-down” approaches via GIS mapping and “bottom–up” approaches involving local stakeholders in the identification of high conservation value areas or degraded lands. In this activity, UNEP collaborates with FAO and other organizations (such as the Oeko Institute and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

An example of joint programming within UN-Energy is the project Capacity-building on Climate Change Mitigation for Poverty Alleviation in Western Asia (an investment of US$ 550,000). In partnership with UNECA, UNESCAP and UNESCO, ESCWA aims to build the capacity of policymakers, civil society and private sector in the field of renewable energy technologies to enhance energy security and improve access to energy services in the poor rural areas. Best practices and South-South cooperation to increase public-private partnerships are promoted through various activities such as the development of educational material, training modules and a showcase location. Training workshops at the national and regional levels, an expert group meeting and a regional technical capacitybuilding conference will be organized to strengthen stakeholder capacity in promoting renewable energy services in rural areas.

UNDP efforts in this area aim at catalyzing finance by creating the necessary market conditions and capacity for countries to move toward more sustainable energy systems and, in particular, to renewable energy. The aim is to strengthen national capacity for addressing the energy challenges of the poor through a diversified suite of delivery mechanisms, including the creation of enabling policy and institutional frameworks for renewable energy. The process is part of an overall endeavor to integrate efforts to address energy poverty into national development strategies and by facilitating multistakeholder dialogues to support informed decisions on national energy targets, policy and institutional options, including financial responses to energy poverty.

UNESCO recognizes that the supply of skilled manpower is a critical element in the transfer of technology. Due to the enormous needs for institutional and human resource development, UNESCO’s activities focus on enhancing national capacity and knowledge through the Global Renewable Energy Education and Training (GREET) programme. The organization coordinates regional expert meetings and seminars and has initiated summer schools on renewable energy in various countries.

UNIDO promotes renewable energy for productive uses and industrial processes in developing countries. Aiming to enhance income generation and increase the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in rural on-/off-grid areas, UNIDO’s renewable energy programme focuses on bioenergy, small hydropower, solar energy and wind power. In the demonstration projects implemented by UNIDO, local and institutional capacity-building is always seen as an integral part. Project counterparts receive vocational training in construction work and project implementation. Their experience is invaluable for the local market development and is a prerequisite for the successful replication of the projects.

In Latin America, ECLAC’s activities include a strong capacity-building component through the provision of technical support for energy project evaluations and the development of economic regulations and national energy policies (e.g., designing and implementing sound energy policies for the sustainable production and use of biofuels). As mentioned previously in this publication, the GEF implements various programmes on renewable energy development and works with a number of UN-Energy agencies. Considering that the appropriation of the programmes by beneficiary countries and communities is key to success, all of the GEF’s programmes include strong capacitybuilding and stakeholder awareness-raising components.

The WMO World Climate programme seeks to increase WMO members’ capacity for weather prediction and assessment through the support of national and regional meteorological climate services. These services develop and provide a range of useful climate information and forecasts for renewable energy implementation, and facilitate interaction between the providers and users of the information to improve the relevance and quality of meteorological products.

Enabling environments

Significantly scaling up renewable energy technologies in developing countries requires conditions that are conducive to fostering the needed investments. Un-energy and its members help shape enabling environments by supporting the adaptation of policy and regulatory frameworks, removing barriers to renewable energy investment and use, and raising the attractiveness of such investments to the private sector and end users by means of fiscal incentives, clear standards and accessible funding schemes.

The UNEP Renewable Energy programme provides advice to developing countries on broad policy approaches to bolstering renewable sources of energy. It supports the creation of an enabling environment for small- and micro-businesses in the area of renewable energy, with the aim of removing policy and institutional barriers. UNEP works with local banks to set up end-user financing mechanisms for renewable energy technologies (RETs) and undertakes assessments of solar and wind energy sources to inform public- and private-sector decision-making. Establishing international standards and certification models for the production, conversion, use and trade of bioenergy systems will be essential as the use of biomass for energy increases. FAO is currently working to converge existing programmes and formulate internationally agreed-upon criteria for bioenergy production—with the flexibility to accommodate the diverse environmental and socioeconomic conditions of each country’s agricultural, energy and environmental sectors.

The ESCWA project Disseminating Renewable Energy for Poverty Alleviation (a US$ 200,000 investment) emphasizes the need for increased energy accessibility and renewable energy use to facilitate better living conditions in rural areas. This project includes renewable energy assessment studies to evaluate application potentials and market opportunities, developing an awareness campaign for rural areas, developing means for removing barriers facing renewable energy applications, capacity-building seminars and workshops, and demonstrating renewable energy rural electrification systems.

Developing and strengthening national energy policy frameworks is a priority for UNDP, which focuses on the enabling environment and the policies needed to support energy options for sustainable development in support of achieving the MDGs. UNDP looks at economic, social and environmental goals simultaneously. As host of the United Nations country teams, it also plays an important role in ensuring national-level coordination and coherence of activities. The GEF Strategic Programme on Promoting Market Approaches for Renewable Energy is dedicated to promoting market approaches to the supply of and demand for renewable electricity in grid-based systems. The emphasis lies on developing policies and regulatory frameworks that provide limited incremental support for strategically important investments. Projects include a combination of technical assistance for policy reform and regulation as well as initial investments to jump-start the market for specific renewable technologies.

As part of its objectives, UNFCCC aims to create and maintain the necessary conditions that allow for an early, effective and efficient implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation instruments aim to stimulate sustainable development and emission reductions globally. The CDM allows emissionreduction or removal projects in developing countries to earn certified emission-reduction credits. Joint implementation allows a country with an emissionreduction or limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol (annex B party) to earn emission-reduction units from the project of another annex B party. Both programmes foster foreign investment by industrialized countries to stimulate the renewable energy markets in target countries. To qualify projects under these instruments, a country needs to set up a regulatory framework and legal environment that will foster reliable emissions-reduction tracking and investment by private-sector firms.

UN-HABITAT supports the adoption of sustainable energy solutions in towns and cities worldwide. Under the Cities in Climate Change Initiative, it promotes active climate change collaboration among local governments and encourages their involvement in global, regional and national networks. It also enhances policy dialogues so that climate change is firmly established on the agenda of local governments. Finally, it supports local governments in implementing change and fosters the implementation of awareness, education and capacity-building strategies in close collaboration with a wide range of partners.


The widespread deployment of renewable energy depends on the availability of financing. Un-energy members are at the forefront of funding innovative energy projects around the world, with the scale of investments increasing significantly over recent years.

Renewable energy is a fundamental pillar of the operations of the GEF. Over the past 18 years, the organization has demonstrated unique leadership by investing US$ 1.1 billion in renewable energy initiatives in almost 100 developing countries and economies in transition. These investments have been augmented by an additional US$ 8.3 billion in co-financing. The GEF has been at the forefront of advancing innovative market-based mechanisms and financial instruments to promote renewable energy, including financial support to energy service companies, partial-risk guarantees, and revolving and equity funds. These initiatives have helped the GEF become the largest public-sector renewable energy technology transfer mechanism in the world, with investments that have contributed to the installation of 3.0 gigawatts (GW) electric and 2.8 GW thermal renewable energy capacity, resulting in an estimated direct avoidance of 290 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Through catalytic effects and replication, indirect GHG emission reductions are estimated to be 1.2 billion tons of CO2. As the GEF implements various programmes on renewable energy development through collaboration with a number of UN-Energy agencies, including UNDP, the World Bank, FAO and UNIDO, such programmes serve as good examples for joint initiatives between UN-Energy members.

The GEF further supports the transfer of technologies to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Over the past 18 years, GEF has approved grants totaling more than US$ 1.1 billion for almost 150 projects that promote the transfer of renewable energy technologies to developing countries. Those technologies include solar energy (photovoltaics, solar homes and solar water heaters), wind turbines, geothermal, small hydro, methane and biomass for heat and electricity generation.

In partnership with the GEF, UNDP plays a key role in catalysing financing for sustainable energy programmes, particularly in renewable energy and energy efficiency. More details on UNDP’s related activities are provided under the financing section of the energy efficiency cluster.

UNEP has been working with the finance sector since the late 1990s on new approaches to financing sustainable energy in developing countries. Through its Renewable Energy and Finance Unit, UNEP has implemented a variety of financial catalysts, including seed financing, enterprise development, credit enhancements and financier advisory support services. These catalysts are aimed at helping financiers share risks, bring down transaction costs, build capacity and address various other barriers that make building sustainable energy investment portfolios a challenge. The Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative (SEFI) brings together financiers, engaging them to do jointly what they may have been reluctant to do individually and coaxing them to enter into public-private alliances in the sustainable energy finance area.

The increased emphasis on renewable energy initiatives by UN-Energy’s members is best illustrated by a steep rise in the financing provided by the World Bank. Since UN-Energy’s inception, the World Bank Group increased its renewable energy lending more than seven-fold from US$ 0.2 billion in 2004 to US$ 1.6 billion in 2009.

In 2008, the World Bank set up its Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which consists of the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF) and the Clean Technology Fund (CTF). These together reached US$ 6.3 billion in January 2010. This unique pair of financing instruments was designed to support low-carbon and climate-resilient development through scaled-up financing channeled through the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Through two Turkish development agencies—the Turkish Industrial Development Bank (TSKB) and the Turkish Development Bank (TKB)—the Turkey Private Sector Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency project (US$ 100 million of which was financed by the World Bank Clean Technology Fund, while US$ 500 million was financed through traditional World Bank lending) will offer low-cost financing to private firms in Turkey seeking to develop indigenous renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass, small hydropower plants and geothermal sources. Additionally, financing is available to both public and private institutions that want to make significant energyefficiency investments. The project will help enhance energy security, support a clean energy transition and increase private sector involvement in the development and financing of clean energy and energy-efficiency investments.

The SCF serves as an overarching framework to support three targeted programmes with dedicated funding to pilot new approaches that have potential for scaled-up, transformational action aimed at a specific climate change challenge or sectoral response. Out of these three programmes, the Programme for Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low-Income Countries (SREP) is directly related to renewable energy. It aims to demonstrate the economic, social and environmental viability of low-carbon development pathways in the energy sector in low-income countries. SREP stimulates economic growth through the scaled-up development of renewable energy solutions and acts as a catalyst for the transformation of the renewables market by obtaining government support for market creation, private-sector implementation and productive energy use. Stakeholders include the multilateral development banks, the United Nations and its organizations, the GEF, UNFCCC (as an observer), bilateral development agencies, non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples, private-sector entities, and scientific and technical experts.

The CTF aims to finance transformational actions by providing positive incentives for the demonstration of low-carbon development technologies and the mitigation of GHG emissions though public and private-sector investments. Due to its strong energy efficiency focus it is further described in the section presenting activities by the energy efficiency cluster.

Knowledge sharing

A widespread deployment of renewable energy requires appropriate regulatory, financial and market frameworks as well as specific technical expertise. Therefore, knowledge sharing and information dissemination between stakeholders is essential. All Un-energy members actively share key findings, best practices and technical information.

An important component of WMO programmes is providing guidance, creating knowledge and building capacity related to the needs and requirements for energy-sector services. Different forms of energy production—including hydropower, biomass energy, solar and wind energy—draw on resources that depend significantly on climate conditions. WMO promotes the use of weather, climate and water information to manage risk and develop sound adaptation strategies to increased climate variability and climate change tendencies throughout the various elements of the energy sector. In partnership with UNEP and within the framework of the UNEP/WMO Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), WMO supports the development of energy-related assessments, aiming to provide up-to-date information on the renewable energy potential in different locations and on climate variability and risk–reduction opportunities in operations and long-term activities.

UNEP is working on information tools and assessments to provide a scientific foundation for decision-makers planning and building policy frameworks. The organization is collaborating with FAO to guide policymakers through the process of developing a national bioenergy strategy and assessing investment opportunities. UNEP has set up a bioenergy policy support facility that provides ad hoc support to national governments and is also working on sustainability standards under the umbrella of the Global Bioenergy Partnership and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels.

Conducted by UNEP and supported by the GEF, the Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA) provides users around the world with easy access to renewable energy resource information and data. Its goal is to help facilitate renewable energy policy and investment by making high-quality information freely available to key user groups and removing information barriers. Its resources and tools are offered through a team of international experts and their in-country partners. The project also involves various international partners such as NASA.

Since 2005, UNCTAD has given high priority to biofuels, particularly as a trade and investment opportunity for developing countries. The organization conducts economic analyses of the links between trade and climate change, provides information on the rules of the CDM, and organizes technical meetings and conferences.

UNESCO activities for the promotion of renewable energy include disseminating scientific knowledge and technology and supporting pilot initiatives and demonstration projects on the use of renewable energy for sustainable development. This support serves as a catalyst to launch projects focusing on applications that impact local development.

The FAO Bioenergy Environment Impact Assessment (BIAS) (an investment of US$ 100,000) aims to ensure the environmental soundness and sustainability of bioenergy development in developing countries. The project has produced and disseminated guidelines explaining how to develop a state-of-the-art assessment framework of the environmental impacts of the most important existing and emerging biofuel production systems around the developing world.

The benefits of conventional and renewable energy remain mostly inaccessible to the urban poor; as such, there is a need to explore affordable ways of increasing the dissemination of renewable energy technologies in slum areas. In this area, UN-HABITAT emphasizes the roles and responsibilities of the private sector and utilities by enhancing information exchange, organizing media/advocacy campaigns and encouraging collaborative arrangements between actors.

Research, technology development and demonstration

research and technology development and demonstration are essential to the transition to sustainable energy. Un-energy members are strongly involved these activities, with the objective of unfolding the full potential of renewable energy.

UNIDO is coordinating a number of International Energy Technology Centres (a total investment of approximately US$ 45 million) that aim to stimulate applications of sustainable energy technologies. These centres include the International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technology (Turkey), the International Centre for the Promotion and Transfer of Solar Energy (China) and three International Centres for Small Hydropower (China, India and Nigeria). The centres focus on developing and strengthening the scientific and technological capabilities in the developing world and economies in transition, and will help close the gap between research and development organizations, innovative enterprises and the marketplace. UNIDO’s technology centres further implement demonstration projects that help raise awareness of local renewable energy potentials in a number of developing countries. As a result, the economic, financial, technical and environmental sustainability of renewable energy technologies are brought to the attention of stakeholders from governments, the financial sector and the private sector, etc.

UNIDO’s Sustainable Energy in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) programme promotes and supports the transition from fossil-fuel-based energy consumption and supply patterns to sustainable development based on RETs and energy efficiency. Its components include demonstrating the economic and technological viability of RETs and energy-efficiency technologies, capacity-building in key institutions, and promoting South-South cooperation between entrepreneurs, managers, researchers and planners from SIDS and other developing countries.

UNEP’s Biofuels Assessment on Technical Opportunities and Research Needs for Latin America (BioTop) project aims to create and support specific research and technology development (RTD) cooperation between Latin America and Europe. A key focus of the project is the identification and assessment of improved first- and second-generation biofuel conversion technologies in Latin America. Sustainability, standardization and trade aspects of future large-scale biofuel production are also investigated, and scenarios, roadmaps and recommendations are developed. In this regard, exchanges between stakeholders active in RTD of biofuel conversion technologies are promoted and BioTop activities are effectively linked with existing networks. The goal of the BioTop project is increased awareness of opportunities for collaboration in the area of biofuels and the identification of suitable areas for biofuels RTD cooperation.

Technology demonstration is a major component of ECLAC’s activities in support of promoting renewable energy. The Liquid Biofuels for Transportation in Latin America and the Caribbean programme aims to provide a mixture of up to 10 per cent ethanol and biodiesel (E10 and B10) for transportation in the region. Technology dissemination is a key element of the programme, as is supporting national governments in the formulation of policies and strategies.

FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security programme includes research and development activities for the design of a solid analytical framework addressing the linkages between bioenergy and food security. The programme, which is based on work done at the international level and in three developing countries, will come up with a set of internationally agreedupon best practice policy measures to promote these links. The programme will also create indicators and criteria for monitoring the impacts of bioenergy and food security linkages.

The World Bank and the GEF are the main financing sources for renewable energy technology demonstration and uptake in developing countries. Related activities are implemented in close collaboration with other UN-Energy organizations. The GEF has promoted the demonstration, deployment, diffusion and transfer of renewable energy technologies, and was among the first to support market transformation for RETs and practices. The support of the GEF has helped developing countries develop and apply effective RET promotion policies.

In 2010, WMO set up an Expert Team on Climate Risk and Sector-Specific Climate Indices that will develop methods and tools to generate such indices, including time series based on historical data and methodologies to define simple and complex climate risks. This team will also promote the use of climate indices as means to showcase climatic variabilities and trends of particular interest to specific socioeconomic sectors, and to help define the sensitivity of various sectors to climate. It will also develop training materials on these techniques. In particular, this team will work with sector-based agencies and experts to facilitate the use of climate information in decision-support systems for climate risk management and adaptation strategies. The team will work with WMO and its members as well as with experts from relevant organizations within the United Nations System and at regional and national levels.