Ministers from 24 countries unveiled about a dozen clean energy partnerships yesterday in an event that avoided the topic of climate talks, even as the participants make up more than 80 percent of world energy use.

Instead, there was talk of tax policy, atlas-drawing, sister-city partnerships, and other keywords of practical action a world away from the much more difficult process of negotiating a climate treaty.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting last December in Copenhagen, Denmark. The idea behind the two-day meeting was to help national leaders start the nuts-and-bolts work of advancing low-carbon technologies in their countries.

The unfinished treaty talks in Copenhagen didn't get much momentum from these countries, a point that got little discussion on the second, public day of the meeting.

Much more attention went to the fruits of day one, when the ministers met privately: They crafted a group of clean-energy initiatives in smart grid, carbon capture and sequestration, electric cars, efficient appliances and more.

If these programs reach their full potential, the Department of Energy said, the world could skip building 500 mid-size power plants between now and 2030. By DOE's calculations, that's about 1,500 terawatt-hours of power that won't be needed.

By 2030, however, the world is on pace to add more than 14,000 terawatt-hours of power, according to the International Energy Agency.

The gap underscored what many said of the ministerial: that it's not to be confused with the larger climate negotiations.

'Nothing to do' with treaty impasse
India, for example, has resisted binding carbon targets on two grounds: that wealthy countries caused the problem and reducing Indian poverty must take priority over climate. But at the ministerial, India signed onto four energy-efficiency projects.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of India's Planning Commission and the head of its delegation, said of the meeting, "this has nothing to do with international negotiations."

He said the climate talks focus on topics like what national targets should be, how to verify what countries are doing, and how some countries should compensate others. The ministerial, to his mind, was more about sharing knowledge in areas where India is already committed to act.

"We've set our own objectives, our own standards, which we're going to do with or without international support," he said. "Now, in that activity, there are a lot of other countries in the same position, and we want to collaborate with them, learn from them, et cetera."

India will help lead one program to replace old, inefficient televisions and light bulbs with efficient ones. According to DOE, these appliances make up 15 percent of household electricity use worldwide; efficient TVs could save about 80 power plants' worth of energy.

The quest for a more efficient TV
A senior DOE official said the United States is sharing lessons with India about how North American utilities got energy-efficient appliances out to the public. The official said TV use and TV sizes are on the rise in markets like India, so it's important to get standards in place before millions of inefficient TVs make their way to living rooms.

The official said the appliance program will cut emissions because when a larger number of countries agree to promote energy-efficient TVs, the technology is more likely to reach scale.

"If everybody is insisting on very high-efficiency televisions in their markets, costs will come down, and it'll be cheaper for everyone. And similarly for other technology categories," the official said.

Does DOE consider this work directly related to international climate talks? The official said the ministerial "enables the broader agenda on the negotiations, but for us, the important work is just to get started and deploy everything we can today."

Matt Todaro, international policy director for the Climate Action Network, said the United States set up expectations that it would "raise the level of ambition" when it announced the ministerial in Copenhagen, but the actual meeting didn't seem to ask much of the participating countries.

"It advances the process, it does show some level of U.S. leadership on the issue of clean technology," he said of the plans released by the 24 ministers. "But it simply doesn't go far enough for U.S. citizens or for the globe."

He said all the ministerial projects are exciting and will have benefits for the climate, but they also appear soft because they lack details on milestones.

The CCS project, for example, included plans to draw up new atlases and maps for countries that want to know where to store CO2. But Todaro said it's not clear who has to do the maps or what they have to have ready by the next ministerial, which will be held next spring in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Click here to read a fact sheet on the clean-energy partnerships.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500