Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico

Acuña, Francisco, Guillermo Cedeño, Ramon Sanchez, Leith Sharp, John Spengler, and James Ritchie-Dunham. “Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America XVIII, no. 1 (2018): 108-09.

This recently published article describes a very vibrant initiative, bringing innovative energy ecosystems to rural Mexico.  To understand the wild success of the initiative, the Institute for Strategic Clarity was invited to use the Agreements Evidence Mapping tool to understand what happened.  In essence (see figure below), by connecting (1) the low perceived value and social impact rural universities with (2) the moderate perceived value and social impact of the rural communities, (3) the academic knowledge and global network of Harvard, with (4) financial capital, they were able to generate a high perceived value and social impact energy innovation ecosystem.

Initially the rural universities are resource poor, providing theoretical, technical education with low practical social impact because of underemployment of graduates, locally. Initially the indigenous communities are rich in social capital, and poor in the financial and intellectual capital to exploit their wealth in natural capital.  The Harvard Applied Leadership in Renewable Energies Program engaged rural universities and local indigenous communities throughout Mexico, where 286 university professors and researchers proposed innovation ecosystems for 93 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that were developed and funded (e.g., wind in Oaxaca and biodiesel in Sinaloa).

A documentary and casebook detail the whole project, and the subsequent social and economic potential impact of these projects, including 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. This program proved that shifting away from centralized-only thinking with low ROIC, for high-impact, economically-resilient, national renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Mexico, think massively local innovation ecosystems with a much higher, more resilient, and more equitable ROIC.  This model of social innovation is particularly relevant in the multitude of countries facing rapid rural-to-urban migration in part because of investment inequities.  The project leaders are meeting now with Mexico’s ministers of economy and social development to replicate this.

Acknowledgements.  This project includes dozens of rural, indigenous communities in Mexico, over 100 rural Mexican universities with 286 of their faculty, the Mexican Secretariat of Energy, global investors led by InTrust Global Investments LLC, and the Center for Health and the Global Environment in the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.



Guest post — A Vermont Case Study: Getting to 80% renewable energy by 2030

Guest post by Jennifer BermanContributing Fellow at The Institute for Strategic Clarity

[Jennifer Berman is the former Executive Director of the Maverick Lloyd Foundation and was the coordinator of EAN from 2009-2012. This case study was written in December 2012.]

In 2008, the Maverick Lloyd Foundation stepped back from ten years of philanthropic giving to explore how the foundation could be a more effective driver for change. Despite a significant investment of resources, the trustees knew that their giving strategies were not creating the impact they knew was possible—and necessary—if the state of Vermont was to address the urgent reality of climate change.

Inspired by the success of RE-AMP, a network of 144 non-profits and foundations working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in eight mid-western states, the foundation began to envision a social change process that could help catalyze large-scale coordinated action around a bold new vision for Vermont. The result of that early vision is Energy Action Network (EAN)—a powerful network of business, government and non-profit leaders who are aligned around the goal of meeting 80% of Vermont’s 2030 energy needs from renewable energy and increased efficiency.

Read the case study of the project (click here, revised 19March2017).

Comment by Jim Ritchie-Dunham.  Jenn Berman and I worked together on the EAN project through 2010 with our colleagues at GEP.  You can read more about the EAN project from an Ecosynomics perspective in the book Ecosynomics.