Energy technology innovation in South Asia implications for gender equality and social inclusion

Nov 30, 2018

Source/author : ADB

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1.1 Introduction

1. The research study examines aspects of energy transition to an environmentally sustainable lowcarbon future in developing Asia—specifically Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka—and assesses potential implications of the energy transition for gender equality and social inclusion (GESI). The study identifies various features of the energy transition based on technologies and systems deployed by the government agencies, assesses opportunities for integrating GESI considerations, and proposes methodologies for doing so.

2. The key features of this energy transition depend on the extent of use of new technologies for energy generation and consumption, such as smart grids, new energy storage, and new technologies for energy efficiency. At the center of these transformations is electricity generation.1 And significant investments in research and development will be needed to adapt these technologies to different country contexts.

3. The study commenced with a literature review of energy studies, technology, society theories, and gender and development frameworks and approaches. The research also drew heavily from the lateral learning programs organized in Australia and India by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the University of Melbourne, School of Engineering, where various aspects and stages of the research were presented. The methodology evolved during the course of the study to also include energy systems modeling.

4. While the scope of the study is GESI, the primary focus of the research is gender equity and women’s welfare and empowerment. Social inclusion issues related to remoteness, caste, and ethnicity are identified primarily in the context of the government programs in Nepal, focusing on access to technology.

1.2 Rationale

5. Why did technologies take the form they did? What assumptions were made by engineers, politicians, and businesspeople about the role that people or machines might play in the brave new worlds they sought after? How can we find multidisciplinary ways of looking at social and technical relations evenhandedly? While the study does not attempt to tackle all these questions, several aspects of the research impinge on these questions. Specifically, the study examines aspects of the energy transition to an environmentally sustainable low-carbon future in Asia and assesses that the energy transition potentially provides important opportunities for transforming gender relations.

6. Asia’s energy transition is being driven by energy demand and the commitment by developing Asia’s economies to reduce emissions to reduce the average rise in global mean surface temperature. A substantial global effort is required to meet the 2°C warming limit under the Paris Agreement, in which Asia has a critical role to play. Asia has been the largest energy-producing region in the world since 2011, but ranked second in 2014 behind the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Asia accounted for almost 30% of global production in 2014. Total final consumption (TFC) in Asia has increased five times over 4 decades. Over a period of 43 years, from 1971 to 2014, there was a seven-fold increase in energy consumption by the industrial sector, which is by far the biggest energy consuming sector in Asia, representing 42% of the region’s TFC in 2014. Coal remains the main fuel consumed in industries (55% in 2014), and is now followed by electricity (27%). The residential sector, as now the second consumer behind the industrial sector, increased consumption by 120% between 1971 and 2014. While main fuel consumed by the residential sector is still traditional biomass, the use of electricity and natural gas has significantly increased. The transport sector has multiplied its energy consumption by 12 times , but relies mainly on oil. Given Asia’s continued dependency on fossil fuels for energy consumption, the region’s low-carbon transition must start with the energy sector, which has substantial potential to reduce emissions (IEA 2016a).

7. The imperatives of inclusive development have also driven the need to integrate social considerations such as social equity, participatory planning processes, and the integration of qualitative methodologies into energy sector development, ranging from assessing the sustainability of technologies and systems modeling to planning. An emerging trend in energy studies reasons that an additional pillar based on social considerations needs to be included to that of economic and environmental considerations (Nerini et al. 2014, 2016a, 2016b). Energy specialists are also attempting to develop social indicators to assess the sustainability of energy technologies. Gender and development studies and practitioners are making an important contribution to energy studies research in this space (Section 2).

8. Developing Asia has much to gain from this energy transition. Climate change poses substantial risks to regional economies. Action on climate change can bring substantial co-benefits across several dimensions, such as reduced air pollution and traffic congestion. A healthier environment will contribute to reducing mortality and morbidity from air pollution, improving the preservation of natural assets, and potentially increasing agricultural production and food security. These benefits have potentially significant implications for reducing women’s vulnerability.

9. The energy transition implies that the way we produce and consume energy has to change. While the conventional power grid is undoubtedly an astonishing scientific and engineering achievement, transforming living standards in the last century—female and male life expectancy, maternal mortality, education—it now has to change. The world’s conventional power grids are old, unreliable, harder to control, expensive to maintain, experiencing peak-to-average problems, not well suited to market restructure, increasingly contributing to global warming, not suited to incorporation of distributed energy, experiencing contingency restoration problems, increasing the use of constant power loads and inverters, unable to scale, and socially inequitable. They are not available to everyone and have been unable to solve the challenges of energy access in Asia and the Pacific. This can be the result of insufficient power capacity or the issue of scalability, which makes the conventional power grid unsuitable in rural areas with low population density. The energy transition is a response to this and is already underway. Driven by technology innovation, the energy transition is a transformation from the old grid to a new “smarter” grid, albeit its features have not been as yet clearly defined or understood.

10. The transformation that’s taking place has important implications for GESI. The system of energy production and distribution that has existed for over a century was also gender-biased. It was (and still is, to a large extent) an industry designed and dominated by men due to persistent gender inequality in secondary and higher education, especially in science, engineering, and mathematics, as well as gender stereotypes in the labor market and gender discrimination in hiring practices, severely restricting women’s access to technical training and participation in the energy sector (ADB 2012). Therefore, the transformation of the energy sector in Asia should be of tremendous interest to gender and development advocates and practitioners, as it has potentially important implications for gender equity and women’s empowerment. It is in the context of these changes in the energy sector that the study is situated.

11. A diverse technology workforce will produce different (and by many metrics, better) technologies. If women and other marginalized groups are not involved in the early development of technology, they will, to a greater or lesser extent, remain outsiders for the life of that technology, which may be decades.

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