On my recent trip to Southeastern Europe and Eurasia, I had the opportunity to witness exciting developments in clean energy across the Atlantic. Amid geopolitical issues and the crisis du jour, Europe and Eurasia have demonstrated a renewed focus on oil and gas consumption and extraction. However, in this age of climate change, we are witnessing great strides in renewable energy and energy efficiency within the region. Recognizing the evolution in clean energy technology and investment amid a changing energy landscape, diversification of energy sources and regional interconnection have become ever more critical as energy issues are fundamental to national and economic security. Regional cooperation is integral to developing a connected and more efficient energy market, allowing for greater integration of renewable energy and expansion of power markets, creating economies of scale that can attract private investment, lower capital costs, reduce electricity costs for consumers, and make businesses more competitive and transparent, while creating jobs.
Eurasia has garnered international attention for its hydrocarbon wealth, all those oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing Eurasia that make up a circulatory system of life for the region. However, I was thrilled to visit Azerbaijan last month and witness the incredible progress in alternative energy development and deployment from a diverse mix of sources. In 2011, renewable energy supplied 10 percent of the nation’s electricity demand. Though hydroelectricity remains the main source of power today, Azerbaijan has significant wind, solar, and biomass potential. Solar energy will comprise 40 percent of Azerbaijan’s energy matrix by 2020. This renewable energy renaissance is driven by foreign investment from the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the Finnish government, and the Government of Norway.
Just outside Baku, Azerbaijan’s bustling, culturally vibrant capital, there is an enormous landfill that once created localized pollution. I witnessed how this waste is being converted to clean energy, providing a clean source of fuel, reducing waste, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, as well as employing local refugees and jobless citizens, all thanks to a grant from the World Bank.
During my trip, I was able to visit the large Balakhani waste-to-energy plant and see firsthand this innovative solution to a common problem as part of a diplomatic mission to Azerbaijan. The five-year project at the Balakhani landfill encompasses the creation of the waste-to-energy plant, as well as institutional support, capacity-building, and the rehabilitation and closure of Balakhani and its neighboring landfills. The Government of Azerbaijan is also providing outreach, training, and education on waste management to government workers, the private sector, and even schoolchildren, increasing public awareness across societal sectors on the importance of ecologically sound waste management.
The progress is also due in large part to the government’s commitment to renewable energy, and its efforts to create a legal and regulatory framework that attracts foreign investment and development of renewables. President Ilham Aliyev’s leadership and commitment to a sustainable energy system and the efforts of the State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources are good examples for neighboring countries to follow.
Also during my tour of the region, I visited Croatia and spoke at the Brown Forum where energy was a key topic for Southeastern Europe. Interestingly enough, Zagreb’s share of renewable energy in the consumption mix was 16.8 percent in 2012, well on the way toward its goal of 20 percent by 2020. For example, wind power in Croatia has been growing and now they have over 200 wind turbines. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have also followed commensurately.
While Asia and non-OECD nations are driving supply and demand for fossil fuels, Southeastern Europe, the gateway between Europe and Asia, stands out in its efforts to break away from the norm and create a sustainable future.
Set against the backdrop of recent events in Ukraine, energy security and diversity in Southeastern Europe are more important than ever. The United States remains committed to helping the Ukrainian people build the stable, democratic, and prosperous country they so richly deserve, and mobilizing our resources across sectors in support of that goal.
Recent achievements in renewable energy by countries like Azerbaijan and Croatia contribute to Southeastern Europe and Eurasia’s transition to a more secure and sustainable energy future, and serve as a great model for regional cooperation. This is key for economic growth.
On a personal note, I was saddened to hear of the devastating floods in the Balkans. I am particularly heartbroken, having just returned from the region. I offer my condolences to those affected, and affirm that the United States stands ready to assist. USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance has deployed humanitarian experts to the region to assist with response efforts. In addition, USAID and the Department of Defense are providing equipment and supplies, and the United States stands ready to provide further assistance as additional needs are identified.