Rockefeller’s next revolution: Extending clean energy to 1 billion people in Third World countries
- July 1, 2022: Vol. 9, Number 7

Rockefeller’s next revolution: Extending clean energy to 1 billion people in Third World countries

by Mike Consol

There are nearly 3 billion people on the planet who consume less than 1,000 kilowatt hours per year of energy and electricity — one-twelfth of what the average U.S. citizen consumes. But those energy misers are going to consume increasing amounts of energy over time, which naturally leads to this question: Is that energy going to be generated by more coal, or will renewable electrification and new energy technologies be able to reduce air pollution and mitigate climate change?

“We’re advocating for the latter,” said Raj Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, and former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, during a recent appearance on The Global Public Square with Fareed Zakaria.

The Rockefeller Foundation leads a group of organizations that have a big idea on this front. They aim to raise $100 billion in public and private funds to both bring renewable power to 1 billion people and avoid sending 4 billion tons of greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere.

What sits at the core of that bet? How can we deliver that much energy to that many people? Zakaria wanted to know.

“We’ve seen over the last decade, as Rockefeller’s been pioneering this work to reach lower-income communities with, say, solar mini-grids, we’ve seen the cost of power go down significantly,” Shah asserted. “Photovoltaics have gone down 90 percent. Energy storage is down more than 80 percent. We’re about to make a huge leap into lithium-ion phosphate battery storage for stationary grids and small mini- and micro-grids.”

It’s now less expensive to provide power using renewables than it can be provided through either diesel generators or coal via traditional power grids, have done a poor job reaching into those underserved communities, according to Shah. By comparison, mini- and micro-grid systems are rife with technology. In addition to photovoltaics and battery storage, they use remote artificial intelligence-based energy management systems.

“We have smart meters that allow a very poor household to pay for only what they consume and do so via their phone, and do it very efficiently so that these systems are economically productive,” explained Shah.

To that end, The Rockefeller Foundation consortium has partnered with Tata Power, which is now rolling out 10,000 of these systems in India, and is expected to get cost down to less than 15 cents per kilowatt hour, at which point it beats every alternative source of energy and will help 25 million people move out of poverty on a development path toward green energy, said Shah.

The Rockefeller Foundation initiative is a grand ambition, though if successful it would not be the first time the foundation revolutionized a critical industry. The foundation is famous for igniting the Green Revolution around the world, enormously boosting agricultural productivity and allowing countries around the world to feed themselves.

Asked by Zakaria if the plan to extend clean and affordable energy to Third World communities is on scale with the Green Revolution, Shah replied: “This is absolutely on that scale, and this is perhaps a bigger challenge. Today, in order for us to defeat climate change, we have to approach this problem in a way that includes everybody.”


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter (@mikeconsol) and LinkedIn ( to read his latest postings.

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