11/16/2012 06:13 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2013

While US Government Dithers, Social Enterprises Fill the Gap on Climate Change

After a sprawling 2012 presidential election that saw unprecedented heat waves, record droughts, and the Colorado Wild Fires, it has taken the utter devastation of Hurricane Sandy to put man-made climate change and renewable energy back on the US political agenda. The president put climate change on his list of possible second-term initiatives in his acceptance.

Though this renewed focus may hold hope for those who see large-scale action by major governments as the only possible solution to global climate change, the 2012 election also brought the defeat of a Michigan ballot initiative calling for 25% of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025. The initiative was opposed with extensive spending by energy utilities, as well as major organized lobbying efforts from the natural gas and hydro-fracking industries, raising some serious doubts about the prospects for major policy changes on climate change.

So, while advocates of renewable energy face continued opposition in the US, the role of renewable energy in international development has become increasingly more mainstream. The United Nations Development Program has made promotion of local, "off-grid" solutions the primary focus of their efforts to bring electricity to poor rural areas in developing countries in 2013, arguing that governments and the private sector must coordinate with financial institutions to make these technologies cheaper and thus more accessible for the 1.3 billion people currently lacking access to an electricity grid.

Social enterprises, such as US-based Empower Generation (EG), have begun to wrestle with this challenge by using a combination of international donor financing and revenue from sales of renewable energy by local entrepreneurs to create self-sustaining community-based energy solutions that leapfrog the antiquated national grid system. Funding this work may offer US voters concerned about climate change an alternative destination for their future campaign donations. Founded in 2011, Empower Generation empowers entrepreneurs in rural Nepal to develop local markets for solar PV lights by facilitating access to suppliers and, crucially, by providing financing to local consumers. By charging consumers for clean energy, EG is trying to reduce donor dependency cultures in Nepal, while creating a self-sustaining and fast-growing market opportunity for clean energy enterprise.

So while major climate change policy remains a question mark in the US, efforts in the developing world by groups such as Empower Generation offer the hope of entrenching sustainable energy production before large energy grids fueled by fossil fuels take root. EG believes the clean energy revolution will leapfrog the national grid system in the countries they work in, promoting fast innovation in the energy sector, similar to the mobile phone revolution in the past decade. To EG, small-scale clean energy solutions for developing communities is the way to move the world forward, addressing climate change and providing access to energy for those waiting in the dark for a large utility to reach them. What do you think?