#97 Dave Mozersky, President & Co-Founder of Energy Peace Partners

Dave Mozersky is the President and co-founder of Energy Peace Partners. Dave has been involved in peace building and conflict prevention work since 2001, with a specific interest in mediation and peace processes. He is the Found­ing Direc­tor of the Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development at UC Berkeley’s RAEL, and has worked with the International Crisis Group, the African Union, and Humanity United, among others.

Bigger Than Us Episode 97

This transcription has been lightly edited for readability.

Host Raj Daniels  01:23

Dave, where are you currently located?

Dave Mozersky  01:28

I’m currently in the Bay Area, San Francisco Bay Area. So there’s lots of smoke in the air around here because the fires are still active.

Host Raj Daniels  01:37

And you and your family are safe?

Dave Mozersky  01:38

We are all safe. Yes. 

Host Raj Daniels  01:40

It’s pretty bad out there, isn’t it?

Dave Mozersky  01:42

It is. I mean, it seems like the tide has turned and they have the fires trending in the right direction. And it’s not even fire season yet. Fire season is supposed to start next month. But yeah, it has not been a good week plus in the Bay Area. 

Host Raj Daniels  01:58

Well, hope You guys continue stay safe. So Dave, if you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Dave Mozersky  02:14

There’s an anecdote from shortly after I moved to Kenya in 2001. I actually joined and participated in the Kenya national chess championships, which I was born and raised in Canada and not a Kenyan, but I saw a notification for it. And I was able to participate even though I wasn’t a Kenyan national. And I joined and initially, the Kenyan participants saw my name and were worried that I was a ringer from Russia because of the last name Mozersky. And so there was a lot of interest in my first game and then I immediately proceeded to lose my first game and everyone relaxed and they realized that I was very little threat to the serious players, but it was a fun experience.

Host Raj Daniels  03:03

So if I recall the Swahili word for the white man is the mzungu, correct?

Dave Mozersky  03:07

Yeah, there was some grumbling about the mzungu who had joined the championships. But fundamentally, I’m not very good. So it put them all at ease pretty quickly. 

Host Raj Daniels  03:21

Or as they say in Swahili, right. Kahuna wasi wasi. No worries. 

Dave Mozersky  03:24

There you go. There you go. 

Host Raj Daniels  03:25

Very nice. So on that note, have you watched a Queen of Katwe? 

Dave Mozersky  03:30

I have. Yeah. It’s a great story. Yeah.

Host Raj Daniels  03:34

It is. My girls have watched it a few times. They just love it. So an interesting story about a little girl from Uganda playing chess. Yeah. I’m gonna switch gears here. Can you give an overview of Energy Peace Partners?

Dave Mozersky

Sure. So Energy Peace Partners works on the idea of promoting renewable energy as a tool for peace in what we term fragile states but these are countries that are at risk of conflict are affected by conflict, vulnerable to climate change, and with low levels of electrification and energy access. And that may seem like sort of three random indicators. But what we found is that there’s a very strong overlap between those three. So the least electrified countries in the world also tend to be those at greatest risk of conflict also tend to be those most vulnerable to climate change impacts. And so as an organization, we’ve brought together a team of people with backgrounds and expertise in conflict resolution, renewable energy development and finance, and climate security.

…the least electrified countries in the world also tend to be those at greatest risk of conflict also tend to be those most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

And we work on two tracks. One is a research track that looks at the role of energy in conflict settings, specifically focusing on the United Nations and humanitarian international humanitarian missions. Which as of today in 2020, are still primarily diesel dependent, so they still operate generally off of generators and off-grid settings. And we see those as a way to help introduce renewable energy into the settings. So we’re working with some of those organizations and agencies to help transition their own practices to renewable energy.

And the second track is a new financing mechanism we’ve developed called the Peace Renewable Energy Credit, which is a mechanism to help support new renewable energy projects in the countries we’re working in, which generally lack the economic incentives and financial flows that have supported renewable energy projects elsewhere.

Host Raj Daniels

Could you expand on the role of energy in conflict?

Dave Mozersky

Sure. So it’s different in different contexts, obviously, but what we found is that you have a number of development indicators that are generally going to be lower in most conflict countries. So I’m sure if you looked at maternal health or are other economic indicators or health indicators you would also find worse rates in conflict-affected countries. The reason that we focused on energy, specifically in electrification is because there’s so much momentum around renewable energy elsewhere in the world. So renewable energy represents the majority of all global climate finance and has undergone really a revolution over the last decade. Around the world, there’s hundreds of billions of dollars invested in renewable energy, but very little of that money is reaching the countries that we’ve identified of which there are 27 countries that fit this sort of conflict, risk, climate vulnerability, energy, poverty.

And so what we found in those target countries is they’re often limited grid infrastructure. There are limited investment opportunities and investment flows. What does flow is generally large scale and state-based so you may have funding from the World Bank or funding opportunities? But that’s usually for larger grid-connected projects and the solutions in many countries, for example, in Africa or parts of Southeast Asia, where you may not have 100% grid extension, the solution is more likely to be smaller-scale distributed projects. And so we’re trying to bridge a gap in some way to help connect finance solutions and finance close to projects in fragile areas with vulnerable populations who are not currently benefiting from or likely to see investment in electrification efforts. And the idea behind that is that new energy access and new energy development can also help support a range of other indicators that can help support peace. So economic development, better health outcomes, better education, but also conserve as a tool for cooperation. And confidence-building and stabilization in a conflict or post-conflict setting and serve as a peace dividend.

Currently, the reliance on diesel and fossil fuels in conflict settings often supports local war economies. So supply chains around diesel, for example, often overlap with supply chains controlled by conflict actors. And so when you have UN or humanitarian operations in places like Syria or South Sudan or Somalia, what ends up happening is that often a lot of those purchases end up flowing through local supply chains by necessity. And you have this inadvertent negative impact of international humanitarian operations, for example, funneling money through their diesel purchases to power their operations back into the local economy. So we see kind of this opportunity for a win-win, to transition to renewable energy on the one hand and at the same time introduce new renewable energy projects and developments in fragile states with the associated potential benefits of that investment. Health, security, economic, and ultimately peace benefits.

Host Raj Daniels

Now, you mentioned Sudan and Somalia, you said there are 27 countries, I believe, can you mention or list a few other countries just so the audience can get an idea of the kind of countries that are involved?

Dave Mozersky

Sure. So they’re mostly the majority are in Sub Saharan Africa. So where we’ve done work so far as energy peace partners, on both the research and PREC side, we’ve been working in South Sudan, on the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we are expanding now. Doing some looking to do some work next in Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, Uganda, and we’re also looking at expanding some of the PREC work to a couple of countries in Asia, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. So the majority of those 27 countries are in Sub Saharan Africa. There are a few countries in Asia, the Middle East, and then Haiti is the only country in the Americas.

Host Raj Daniels

Thank you for sharing that. And you mentioned the Peace Renewable Energy Credit PREC. Can you kind of paint a picture for us of how that works?

Dave Mozersky

Sure. So it’s an extension of a climate finance mechanism that already exists elsewhere in the world. So a renewable energy credit or certificate is, is what it’s called in North America and much of the world in Europe. It’s called a guarantee of origin. Collectively, they’re called energy attribute certificates. These are a sister mechanism to a carbon credit, specifically for the energy sector. So one, renewable energy credit or REC represents one megawatt-hour of clean energy generated and so the panels on your roof for every clean energy preparation megawatt-hour that’s generated, there’s a certificate that’s created. And that certificate represents the claim to that megawatt-hour of clean energy.

So as you have corporates and governments with, with goals, sustainability goals to be 30%, or 50%, or 100%, renewable, one of the ways that they meet that goal is by buying up the claims to renewable energy through buying and selling and trading these certificates or RECs. So you have a billion-plus dollar market in North America and Europe, primarily. Buying and selling and trading RECs, and it has evolved to be an important economic stimulant that is supporting new renewable energy growth and new renewable energy expansion. And it’s really been driven largely actually by corporate demand corporate sustainability demand. What we found is that the architecture for issuing and trading RECs although it’s starting to expand internationally so far, it’s really been expanding in Asia and Latin America. And there’s very, very limited activity in Africa, and almost not in our target countries.

So until late last year, there were only three countries in Africa that have been authorized to issue what are called IRECs, or international RECs. And that’s the bare necessity in terms of the architecture to engage in this system. You can have a solar project that exists but unless it’s part of the international architecture, you can’t create a wreck from that solar project. And extending that architecture and issuing a REC allows projects in our target countries an additional way to monetize renewable energy. And that’s important because we’re working in settings that generally lack the economic incentives and structures that have driven renewable energy investment elsewhere. So you don’t have a tax credit scheme. You don’t have access to low-interest debt, you don’t have a plethora of investors looking to support renewable energy investments. So having an additional mechanism in this form, in this case, the Peace Renewable Energy Credit, is a way to help make projects economically viable that up until now has struggled to achieve that.

And so the Peace Renewable Energy Credit is a traditional REC. We’ve extended this architecture so far to Congo, and hopefully, to South Sudan next. We EPP serve as the issuer. And the PREC is a traditional IREC a traditional international REC with additional criteria that we’ve developed, that makes it a Peace Renewable Energy Credit, so it has to be in one of our target countries. It has to be a new renewable energy project. And for some of the projects that have a social impact component, we work on two different tracks, but there has to be a mechanism for engagement and consultation with the local communities.

We successfully piloted our first PREC project in eastern Congo earlier this year from a 1.3-megawatt solar project built by the Congolese company Nuru in the city of Goma. There, we facilitated the sale of the first-ever PREC first thousand PRECs to a corporate buyer, and that supported the local community impact project, which was the purchase and installation of streetlights in a nearby neighborhood.

Host Raj Daniels

Congratulations on that deal. Is EPP a marketplace, facilitator, what is the business model?

Dave Mozersky

We operate as a nonprofit and our technical role is as the issuer of PRECs. So we operate under this international umbrella international REC standard as the country issuer for DRC and next for South Sudan, hopefully, and we are hoping to expand beyond that.

But at this early stage, we really are a matchmaker, we are trying to generate awareness and raise demand. On the corporate side for PRECs among corporate buyers of RECs, we are trying to raise awareness of the idea of renewable energy as a feasible alternative in international aid flows. For example, going to these target countries, traditionally, renewable energy is not part of the toolkit for how donor governments engage in conflict risk settings. And we are trying to build out the supply as well. So we’re trying to identify and work with local or regional renewable energy developers to introduce the PREC and help use the PREC to help build and support their pipeline of projects. And also engaged with them to then think about, okay, how, how can we think about this project in a way that also helps maximize local benefit helps maximize the peacebuilding benefit, both in terms of how the project is conceived and also how additional revenue from the sale of PRECs could help maximize local impact? So an example of the streetlights in Congo is one.

One of the projects in South Sudan that we’re working on the sale of PRECs would support the electrification of a local hospital. So that type of approach and then the other model is really to try to pre-sell PRECs to help get projects financed that are not yet financed. How do you certify, or how does the project qualify for certification?

There’s a technical criteria that’s been established by the International REC Standard. So this larger international architecture already exists around renewable energy certificates. So our role is the issuer.

There’s a technical part of this, which just to confirm that the project is where it says it is and is generating the amount of energy that they say that they’re generating. And we verify that as well as the social impact part of the Peace Renewable Energy Credit. And some of that is through our conversation with the developers, our visit to our on-site verification and visit to the project location, and then distance or remote monitoring of the project and follow up from there.

Host Raj Daniels

So pre COVID, how often do you or your team members get to be in that part of the world, checking the projects?

Dave Mozersky 

We visited this first project in Congo in early March actually. So just before the COVID travel lockdowns hit, we were in Kenya and then Congo in late February and early March. And it was amazing to see that first PREC project in person. It’s really interesting. A very impressive project that that new route has built state of the art equipment. It’s providing electrification, to a neighborhood that has never before been electrified, the N’dosho neighborhood of Goma, which is a neighborhood of about 100,000 people in a larger city of about 2 million.

And so they’re building out a mini grid connected to their project providing signing up customers providing electrification for the first time. But the neighborhood is insecure and has difficulty really at night when the sun goes down. Insecurity increases, businesses have to close so the community was the one that said to Neru our priority is the installation of nighttime lighting and streetlights so they were able to identify streetlights as that as the top priority. And that’s what this initial sale of PRECs will support.

Host Raj Daniels

It’s amazing how little things like street lights that we take for granted can have such a great effect. I’ve heard even in the US here a few years, depending on the part of the country, you were in, city you were in just putting up street lights had a dramatic decrease in crime in that area. So really interesting.

Dave Mozersky

Yeah, that’s right. It’s had its had, I think a noticeable impact in this neighborhood already in terms of reduced insecurity, enabling nighttime markets to stay open longer. So it seems something that you take for granted when you’re sitting in the US, for example, but it can have a disproportionate impact when it’s installed for the first time.

Host Raj Daniels

Have you seen any projects come across your desk for the electrification of schools? 

Dave Mozersky  19:43

Not yet, PREC projects, but I know that there are a lot of projects in the generally smaller projects focusing on electrification, schools, electrification of local health clinics, so we have not yet had one that’s been submitted as a PREC application or a PREC project, but I think it’s probably just a matter of time until we do. I look forward to seeing that. 

Host Raj Daniels  20:10

David, I’m going to switch gears here and get to the crux of our conversation, which is the why behind what you do. What motivated you to start EPP, what keeps you going?

Dave Mozersky  20:22

So my background is in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. And I’ve worked in East Africa in the Horn of Africa for a long time. And I think the underlying assumption that that has kept me going is that there are solutions to even the most intractable problems, and sometimes they’re political solutions, sometimes they’re technical solutions, but there are solutions that can be found. And the mechanisms are not always there to sort of properly align the incentives to facilitate those solutions, but it’s something that is certainly worth the effort to try to keep pursuing.

I think the underlying assumption that has kept me going is that there are solutions to even the most intractable problems, and sometimes they’re political solutions, sometimes they’re technical solutions, but there are solutions that can be found.

My background is really more on the policy side, research, and analysis side. I’ve been involved in some mediation and mediation efforts and peace processes in the region. And with EPP, I think we’ve come at this with the aim of trying to better align some of the technical solutions with the political goals around peacemaking. And so trying to better link up the climate finance flows, renewable energy flows, which, there’s hundreds of billions of dollars a year, but they’re just not directed towards or reaching the countries where it could have the greatest impact and where there’s the greatest need. So, the process of establishing this IREC PREC issuance mechanism, for example, creates a bridge between renewable energy markets elsewhere and projects in South Sudan or Congo. And I think it makes for very interesting and challenging and satisfying work.

And it’s something that it hasn’t been a linear journey. But my own journey is sort of expanded from a traditional conflict resolution path to start to look more at the impacts of climate change. And then that led to a focus on climate. So the idea of climate solutions to support peace and a focus on renewable energy, and partnered with some excellent organizations and excellent people on the way to help expand my understanding and found ways where we could bring our collective expertise together to bridge the gaps between different communities and constituencies that we’re working on different parts of this.

Host Raj Daniels  22:56

So it’s obvious you’re a fan off or looking for ways to solve problems through peaceful methods. Your company is called Energy Peace Partners. Why? What’s the driving force behind the peace? 

Dave Mozersky  23:13

I think the hope and concept is that new renewable energy investment and new renewable energy development can unlock a host of positive benefits and in conflict-affected or conflict risk settings, particularly those that have very limited or low levels of electrification.

So we talked about, for example, the risk and the danger of diesel supply chains in conflict settings, inadvertently sustaining the war economy so you can mitigate those as well as the environmental impacts. But new electrification allows for not just a cleaner solution, but also a host of other potential benefits and that includes health benefits and security benefits.

We were talking about streetlights and nighttime lighting, economic benefits job creation. But you also have this opportunity to think of the new renewable energy project as an entry point for peacebuilding. So from a peacebuilding perspective, you’re often looking for any hook or any entry point to use as a mechanism for collaboration or cooperation across lines, whether that’s between communities or between conflict actors. And that could be a joint market, it could be a shared management body, and introducing new renewable energy into a place like a city in South Sudan, for example, offers that opportunity so it fits into this kind of squishy concept of a peace dividend.

After a peace deal is signed the international community will often try to front-load investment and front load funding to support this idea of a peace dividend showing immediate impacts immediate benefits from the signing of the peace to help solidify support among the population and maybe try to weaken potential spoilers. And so the idea is that renewable energy is perfectly suited to that it can help address multiple challenges facing conflict-affected or conflict risk settings, in addition to taking advantage of this broader global trend that we see around renewable energy investment, and so it’s sort of connecting the dots of that global momentum around renewable energy to fragile states and trying to do so in a way that can maximize the peace benefits locally.

Host Raj Daniels  25:48

With your background in conflict resolution mediation, you could have gone in many different directions, why is peace important to you?

Dave Mozersky  25:56

I think from my experience, conflict is the worst problem I’ve ever come across or I’ve ever seen. It makes everything or almost everything impossible. And so, peace is a core requirement for justice and education and human development and growth. And I mean, the core of the SDGs in some ways this is animal development goals or common shared values almost require a peaceful environment in which to to be feasible. And so it’s always just been a motivating factor for me or a motivating goal, and it’s, you know, it’s a challenging issue to work on.

It’s certainly not one that probably will ever go away. There’s been conflict as long as there’s been humans. But we need, I think, to continue to work towards peaceful societies, peaceful structures, and aligning the incentives more generally around supporting and sustaining peace, both locally and in the world at large. And I think if you look at the world today, they’re sort of in a weakening and a strain on multilateral institutions. And that focus that we’ve had off and on international cooperation and peacebuilding, and I think that’s something that I hope changes, but we also need to align the economic incentives in the right way behind outcomes that will support peace and stability.

But we need, I think, to continue to work towards peaceful societies, peaceful structures, and aligning the incentives more generally around supporting and sustaining peace, both locally and in the world at large.

Host Raj Daniels  27:47

So what would you say are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about yourself on your journey?

Dave Mozersky  27:53

I think it’s hard to do something that’s cross-disciplinary. It’s not how, at least in the world I’m coming from, organizations work is sort of clustered by theme. So you have organizations working on human rights, or health issues, or education, all clustered together. And there’s a big gap between those working, for example, on conflict resolution or peacebuilding, and then climate change on the other side. So it’s not something that happens naturally, I think, but it’s very important.

And what I’ve learned and observed is that climate change is obviously a global threat, but the political and financial focus at a global level around combating climate change is really focused on the worst polluting countries rather than the worst affected countries. And so you have this unintended consequence of some of the most fragile countries in the world also been most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Not just in Africa, but included in Africa. And yet very little attention, focus economic investment or financing behind that to help mitigate or adapt to some of those impacts instead that climate change investment and climate change focus is on the main polluters. And so that’s been an interesting insight.

…what I’ve learned and observed is that climate change is obviously a global threat, but the political and financial focus at a global level around combating climate change is really focused on the worst polluting countries rather than the worst affected countries.

And then my own kind of journey has been a shift from one that was really more policy-focused to one that’s a little bit more hands-on and practical, with EPP. And I think that’s been welcomed. Because you can see the project that is being built, you can see the streetlights that the PRECs are supporting, for example, rather than just a political focus. Where agreement gets signed and doesn’t does or does or doesn’t get implemented, or more likely, it’s somewhere in the middle and people argue about it.

Host Raj Daniels  29:56

So staying on the subject of journey, 2025, what does the future hold for EPP? How do you envision it?

Dave Mozersky  30:05

So we are we’re, I think on a growth trajectory. So we are hoping to expand the PREC market and marketplace. So that means expanding the countries in which PRECs are available from Congo to South Sudan to the other countries, not just in eastern Central Africa but in our target geographies. Building out a larger corporate demand awareness of and corporate demand for PRECs as a way for corporations and governments to meet their renewable energy and sustainability goals while also achieving some of their impact and CSR goals.

And then also hoping to use this to really support local renewable energy sectors. So working with local renewable energy developers in our target countries, supporting capacity building, and training so that renewable energy development and renewable energy growth have the maximum impact possible. And I think working more generally at kind of a macro level to integrate to raise awareness and integrate the idea of renewable energy as a tool for peace as a tool in the toolkit for how the international community engages in fragile states. It’s not there yet, but there’s every reason that it should be.

Host Raj Daniels  31:28

I think it’s a beautiful vision, renewable energy as a tool for peace. So my last question, I’m gonna have a two-pronged last question for you specifically. One is for personally. We were speaking offline, talked about children, your background in conflict resolution, you have children also, what are some of the skills or recommendations you’d say, for raising children conflict resolution, and the second piece is advice or words of wisdom specifically for the audience and it can be professional or personal.

Dave Mozersky  32:00

Sure, the first question is a great one. Because I’ve asked myself that many times I used to think that I knew a lot about negotiations and mediation. And I have found since having kids that I am out-negotiated constantly, and they just kind of go to the nuclear option every time and or not every time but we’re mad and I would like…

Host Raj Daniels  32:23

Mutually assured destruction. 

Dave Mozersky  32:25

Exactly, exactly. But I have learned a great deal for my kids and I hope that I have imparted on them some something useful and they’re still relatively young, but from my work and my perspective, and that my wife.

The maybe two pieces of advice, one is the need to be creative and to keep pushing. I think there aren’t always going to the solutions that maybe are necessary or that you’re searching for aren’t necessarily going to exist. So it’s important to keep pushing and trying to find ways forward with that.

I think there aren’t always going to the solutions that maybe are necessary or that you’re searching for aren’t necessarily going to exist. So it’s important to keep pushing and trying to find ways forward with that.

And related to that is the need for partnership, partnerships and good colleagues along the way. I think the strength of EPP is that it is cross-disciplinary. And it was designed to be cross-disciplinary from the outset. We recognize that there was a big gap between, for example, the conflict world that I was coming from, and the community working on climate change and renewable energy.

When this started, it started as a program at UC Berkeley. I partnered with the climate scientists and renewable energy expert there, Dan Kammen. And part of the idea was to bridge this gap that there was this gap, and how can we help bring the world working on conflict resolution, closer to the world working with climate change and renewable energy? And from there, we’ve identified and been working with a great set of colleagues. But it’s been a series of partnerships thinking outside of the usual circles, let’s say that we operated in prior to that.

www.energypeacepartners.com

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

If you like our show, please give us a rating and review on iTunes. And you can show your support by sharing our show with a friend or reach out to us on social media where you can find us at our Nexus PMG handle.

If there’s a subject or topic you’d like to hear about, send Raj Daniels an email at BTU@NexusPMG.com or contact me via our website, NexusPMG.com. While you’re there, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter where we share what we’re reading and thinking about in the cleantech green tech sectors.

Raj Daniels