Expert Q&A: Araí Monteforte Looks at the Transition to Cleaner, More Sustainable Energy around the World
Araí Monteforte joined Tetra Tech in 2014 and brings a background in engineering to the energy and international development markets. As the Chief of Party for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Scaling Up Renewable Energy (SURE) program, she works with USAID partner countries to reinvent national electric grids and develop the policies and institutional, regulatory, and technical solutions needed to provide sustainable, reliable electricity for future generations. Araí provides technical assistance for strategic energy planning, grid integration, and competitive procurement to help policymakers, utilities, and regulators modernize energy sectors and create policies that enable renewable energy markets to flourish.
SURE has supported auctions to procure nearly 4 gigawatts of clean energy generation capacity that will result in 36 million tons of CO2e emissions reduced through 2030, and has mobilized $3 billion in investment for clean energy. Araí also manages the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) work in Burkina Faso and MCC’s first regional compact in West Africa, helping the U.S. and partner governments reform national energy sectors.
She spent two years in Senegal as the resident advisor for the USAID Power Africa Transactions and Reforms Program and has advised governments, utilities, and financial institutions to evaluate, design, and implement sustainable energy policies and projects. Araí has a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and Computer Science and a Master of Science in Reliability and Quality Engineering from the University of Arizona, as well as a Master of Arts in International Economics and Energy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
What are creative ways our clients and partner countries are addressing climate change and the transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy?
There are various issues to consider when you’re transitioning from long-established practices to new approaches that provide economic benefits while also addressing the climate crisis. Aggressive climate change mitigation will require more renewable energy, which needs a healthy electricity grid to handle the variability of solar and wind energy to make sure energy isn’t lost in transmission. Strong power grids also enable countries to deliver new business models, like electric vehicles and distributed renewable energy, such as solar home systems. Much like the United States has prioritized electric transmission as part of the Build Back Better plan, many countries are taking new approaches to deciding when, where, and how to invest in their power grids.
Many countries are scaling up renewable energy and opening their markets to private investment. Auctions are one of the main policy tools to achieve these goals and enable governments buy renewable energy competitively. Renewable energy providers offer the price at which they will sell their electricity, and buyers can choose the one—or more—with the lowest price. Recently SURE’s partner country Colombia awarded contracts to 11 new solar farms that have a combined capacity of 800 megawatts. The prices they bid were 15 percent below the market. These projects are expected to bring in $850 million in investment, create 4,700 new jobs throughout the country, and reduce carbon emissions by 465,000 tons every year. Since 2017 Tetra Tech has supported successful auctions in Kazakhstan, Mexico, Serbia, Senegal, Pakistan, and India, as well as a previous successful auction in Colombia.
Why is the circular economy important as part of scaling up renewable energy?
For renewable energy to be a truly clean power source, solar, wind, and battery equipment must be manufactured, deployed, and decommissioned in a responsible, safe, and sustainable way. A circular economy purposely plans and designs for the reuse, rehabilitation, or recycling of products, so when they reach the end of their useful life they can be repurposed or sustainably decommissioned. This reduces hazardous waste and carbon emissions while extending the life of parts and materials, including reuse of the critical metals needed for renewable technologies.
Circular economies also open opportunities for new businesses and jobs, including markets for repair, refurbishment, recycling, and trade, as well as reuse-friendly engineering and design. This will be a major part of the pathway to a net zero economy and making sure that it’s a just transition. Developing countries and marginalized communities already are the most vulnerable to climate change, and they’re also the most affected by increasing waste from various types of energy. Systems that reduce waste and keep hazardous materials out of landfills can make a big difference for people’s health and safety.
What else is Tetra Tech doing to support climate-friendly energy policies and practices globally?
Tackling climate change needs everyone’s involvement, so Tetra Tech works with governments, donor agencies, energy project developers, local and international financiers, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and many other groups to create policies, change practices, and test and scale up innovations that can mitigate climate change and create a more climate-friendly energy sector. Climate change is a consideration in nearly everything we do now. For example, I was recently in Burkina Faso helping the country prepare for the launch of a $500 million MCC Compact. Tetra Tech is working with the ministry, the regulator, the utility, and other sector stakeholders to improve energy infrastructure, generation capacity, and power supply diversification, which are much needed in a heavily fossil fuel-dependent country. We also support increased participation in regional power markets, which will help Burkina Faso maximize its solar power potential.
Through SURE, Tetra Tech is supporting the Government of Namibia to realize its vision of economic advancement through the development of a green and blue hydrogen economy. This is an emerging area that could have a major impact on decarbonization. Namibia has incredible renewable energy potential and is looking to develop a hydrogen energy sector both to reduce emissions and to build its economy and reduce poverty. Tetra Tech also recently helped Ukraine launch its green hydrogen strategy, which is based on decarbonizing its heavy industries and becoming a major clean hydrogen supplier to Central Europe.
How do energy, climate change, and gender intersect, and what does that mean for energy-focused programs around the world?
Globally, women are underrepresented as decision-makers, policymakers, business owners, and workers in the energy sector. Women also are more likely to experience energy poverty and are disproportionately affected by climate change in many geographies. But women have an incredible role to play here. For example, women are more likely to make choices about household fuel, cooking tools, and other appliances that could have a real impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Companies that prioritize gender equality tend to see stronger performance and lower employee turnover, which means better service for customers. In every project, Tetra Tech integrates gender equality and women’s empowerment considerations into all tasks. For example, under the USAID Engendering Industries Program, Tetra Tech is working with energy utilities and other companies to attract, empower, and retain female employees, which means changing company policies that deter women and addressing bias in the workplace. For an energy sector workforce development program in Colombia, we included an experienced energy sector gender specialist, engaged women in its design, and incorporated their feedback throughout the program, not just in a separate gender-focused component. We also bring a gender lens to investment and financing, increasing women’s inclusion in local and global value chains as well as procurement and financing opportunities as business owners and entrepreneurs.
The energy sector is changing, but it’s still a very male-dominated industry in many countries. I remember applying for an unpaid student internship with a national oil company in the Amazon rainforest, and they told me this was a male-centric field and to apply elsewhere. At Tetra Tech, I lead a global renewable energy project and work with governments and utilities around the world. While many regions are nowhere near gender balance, dozens of energy and water utilities working with Engendering Industries have made tangible improvements to their workplaces, and renewable energy has higher female representation than the energy sector as a whole.