ESMAP Celebrates 30 Years of Helping Countries Transition to a Sustainable Energy Future
The Energy Sector Management Assistance Program marks its 30th anniversary this year. In that time, ESMAP has moved from being a small program focused on giving targeted advice to oil-importing countries to one of the World Bank Group’s most established trust funded global programs, mandated with helping developing countries find solutions to a wide range of energy challenges.
ESMAP was set up in 1983 in response to the global energy price shocks of the previous decade. Masood Ahmed, one of ESMAP’s original staff members and now Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund, said the program was initially designed to turn high-quality advice produced by the World Bank in its Energy Sector Assessment Reports into concrete measures that could be implemented by oil-importing developing countries.
“A number of good ideas were coming out of the Energy Sector Assessment Reports, but to make these ideas implementable—so that international institutions, bi-laterals, multilaterals, and countries could take them and run with them—there was a gap,” Ahmed said.
Former World Bank energy expert and Country Director Harold Wackman, who was part of the team that established ESMAP, said the group’s mandate was simple: To provide concrete, hands-on advice to governments dealing with problems in the energy sector.
“In the early days ESMAP consisted of a bunch of very capable people that could come in and very quickly address a problem,” Mr. Wackman said. “Our assistance didn’t cost a country anything and was unencumbered by the conditionality of bank lending…It was a pretty good service, and I think that’s why it has carried on.”
Originally a part of the World Bank’s Industry and Energy Department, as a joint UNDP-World Bank partnership, ESMAP’s first years were spent working directly with client governments to assess energy sectors and design and implement new programs and strategies.
Over the years, ESMAP evolved into a global knowledge and technical assistance program, administered by the World Bank, which provided innovative analytical and technical studies for the Bank’s newly created Regional Departments.
Ernesto Terrado, an expert in renewable, household and rural energy, joined ESMAP in the late 1980’s because he said it offered the opportunity to do important work that was not being carried out elsewhere.
“At that time it wasn’t possible to sit in a big World Bank meeting and talk about renewable energy as an investment possibility—people would look at you as some crazy guy talking about some futuristic thing,” Mr. Terrado said.
Rohit Khanna, ESMAP’s current program manager, said that while the basic features of ESMAP’s work—providing strategic advice and technical assistance—has remained constant over the past three decades, the program also evolved in order to tackle a range of ever-changing energy challenges.
“ESMAP has grown with the complexity of the energy sector,” Khanna said. “What began as a collective response to the energy price increases of the 1970’s has become a much more diversified agenda covering everything from household energy to climate change to smart grids.”
In the mid-1980’s ESMAP was among the first organizations to prioritize household energy. A decade later it was at the forefront of helping countries develop rural energy and energy efficiency programs and enact regulatory reforms.
Istvan Dobozi, a former lead economist with ESMAP, credits the group with “keeping the energy agenda alive” over the past three decades.
“ESMAP was pushing for effective energy policies, institutions and practices long
before it became the “sexy” issue that it is today.”
As it enters its 30th year, ESMAP’s objectives have grown with the program:
• To enhance development financing by providing client countries with technical assistance for pre-investment activities necessary to resolve program design issues and offer additional options.
• To make a strategic impact by seeking to increase the institutional capacity of client countries to plan, manage, and regulate the implementation of policies and programs that deliver reliable and affordable energy services required by their citizens for poverty reduction and environmentally sustainable economic growth.
• To deepen knowledge and generate innovative solutions through research and analyses that aims to strengthen the sector's knowledge and evidence-base to deliver increased energy access, energy efficiency and sustainable energy services in developing countries.
Rohit Khanna said ESMAP’s unique position within the World Bank accounts for its influence. Over the past four fiscal years alone, ESMAP has contributed to the identification and design of US$14 billion in approved World Bank Group energy lending operations, as well as helped inform a number of national strategies, policies, laws and regulations as part of the Bank’s country policy dialogue in the energy sector.
Whether by supporting Lighting Africa to expand clean, off-grid lighting systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, helping strengthen national and regional electricity markets, or working with governments to assess their low carbon development options, ESMAP’s analytical and advisory activities continue to make a tangible difference in the lives of people around the world.
“Clients look to the World Bank for assistance in innovation, for lessons from other countries and regions, for objective, evidence-based advice; ESMAP has been a key player in responding to client demand in the energy sector,” Khanna said. “Looking back over the past three decades, one finds that so much of what the Bank has accomplished in the energy sector can be traced back to some ESMAP assessment, report or analysis that got an idea going or provided the evidence to persuade a client to do something.”
When Charles Feinstein, a household and renewable energy specialist, joined ESMAP in 1986 he found a unique environment that allowed for an “unusual freedom to experiment.”
“When ESMAP started it was a safe place in which to test out and develop new ideas, and I think it still functions that way today,” Mr. Feinstein said, adding that, looking ahead, ESMAP will need to meet the challenge of “staying ahead of the curve intellectually and keeping its focus on its cutting edge knowledge and strategy work.”