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Overcoming the COVID-19 Hurdles: the Resilience of the Decentralized Renewable Energy Sector

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David Lecoque Alliance for Rural Electrification

David Lecoque of Alliance for Rural Electrification tells us about clean energy access.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

David Lecoque: We are all doing fine – thanks for asking. Once COVID-19 started to become recognized as a potential global pandemic, the Belgian government put many precautionary measures in place. We had to work from home, which didn’t cause too much of a hindrance since we can basically work anywhere in the world. It did require some adjustments and adaptations with all the ARE activities moving digitally. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Alliance for Rural Electrification.

David Lecoque: I am the CEO of the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE) – the biggest global business association for the rural electrification sector, delivering on clean energy access across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 

Together with our strong team, I drive ARE’s strategy and expansion, provide business facilitation services to ARE’s 170+ member companies and stakeholders, advise governments and development partners on decentralized renewable energy topics, as well as build partnerships to create the enabling environment needed to achieve SDG7 and broader sustainability.

Prior to ARE, I practiced and qualified as an energy and environment lawyer at top-tier international law firms Liedekerke and CMS. I focused on both advisory and litigation around power market design, tariffs, renewable energy support schemes, permitting, energy-related taxation, IPP contracting, waste, and pollution.

I am from Belgium. I hold an LL.M in European Law from the College of Europe and a Master of Laws from the Free University of Brussels. I also graduated from the IBI International Trade Executive Programme, am a certified PRINCE2 Practitioner project management expert, and am currently enrolled in the energy and climate finance program. I speak English, French, Dutch, German and am starting to learn Mandarin.

How does Alliance for Rural Electrification innovate? 

David Lecoque: I’m fortunate to have a passionate team, and I practice a flat hierarchy at ARE, which means that everyone is a team player and an important part of the puzzle – whether you’re a manager, officer, or an intern. We are a small but growing team. I believe good management is key to a successful team. 

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

David Lecoque: The global travel restrictions struck our association rather hard in the beginning. We run services for our members – which were luckily not affected. However, we also organize events globally, and we had to postpone our largest forum of the year in Lusaka, Zambia – the ARE Energy Access Investment Forum in March 2020. I think the coronavirus pandemic was a precursor for us to profoundly review, improve and innovate on our way of working, to overcome the challenges, and come out stronger and more resilient. 

One of our first reactions to the pandemic was to create a Call to Action to support decentralized renewable energy (DRE), gathering colossal support from across the sector and the world. Indeed, the current crisis triggered by coronavirus has put in peril both DRE projects that currently power essential services to millions of people, as well as the future of the sector, endangering the achievement of not just SDG7 but all of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. That is why the DRE sector cannot be allowed to fail.

With this Call to Action, ARE and its public, civil society, and private sector Partners strive to provide an answer by putting forward actionable recommendations for governments, funders, and philanthropies to act decisively, to do their part, and to make sure that this historic opportunity is grasped. We are thrilled to see the uptake of the recommendations and the concrete initiatives that many ARE partners have put forth to concretely deal with the health crisis serious impacts.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

David Lecoque: Of course. There was a point where I wasn’t sure our association would survive the crisis. We had members running into financial difficulties, events getting canceled – sometimes it felt like the bad news kept streaming in. Being an optimist helps, but overall, what led to our survival was my team’s fighting spirit to continue doing what they do best – support the DRE sector in delivering clean energy access and making sure their voices are heard.  

How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Alliance for Rural Electrification in the future?

David Lecoque: One step at a time. I mentioned my team’s fighting spirit was key to getting us over the COVID-19 hurdles. And I think the results speak for themselves. We are acquiring more projects, more partners, and expanding the team despite all the difficulties. 

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

David Lecoque: There are a few other DRE associations out there. All of them either specialize in a region (e.g., Africa) or on certain technology types (e.g., mini-grids or stand-alone solar systems). ARE stands out as the inclusive, big-tent business association. Rather than focus on a very specific sub-segment of the market, we federate and represent the whole DRE value chain all the way since 2006. 

ARE brings together all the renewable technologies and all types of stakeholders from start-ups to blue-chip corporates, including tech suppliers, project developers, and financiers, working across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 

Our broad family of over 180 ARE Members means it’s a beehive of activity, business partnerships, and innovation, and allows ARE to credibly position itself as the ‘SDG7 delivery service’, provided the right conditions are met.

Your final thoughts?

David Lecoque: Corona has been a wake-up call everywhere that we cannot be complacent and expect things will turn out fine if we just do our day-to-day work. If the world is to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and particularly universal access to clean energy, every government, (development) financier, company, and NGO must turbocharge its efforts and go all-in to bring quality, affordable and clean power to those who are still today without it. Access to energy powers lives and economic development, and ARE stands ready to work with anyone who is keen to help deliver it.

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