It’s been clear here at the World Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi that the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, is fast emerging as a leader in forging a more sustainable energy future. With 159 countries—plus the EU— having joined it, a staff of 70 and a $28-million annual budget, IRENA held its third Executive Assembly here, making an impressive show on the sidelines of the summit. One example is its Renewable Energy Roadmap, which attracted lively interest among delegates.
Everyone talks about the crisis of energy access – the 2.7 billion people who use wood and other solid fuels, and the 1.5 billion without access to electricity – but who is doing something about it?
At the African Energy Ministerial Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, today, both high-level planning and on-the-ground energy projects were visible, and truly inspiring. In a five hour Green Household Energy Solutions Expo that I had the true pleasure to chair, the Minister of Economic Development for South Africa, Mr. Ebrahim Patel, kicked off the discussion by saying that South Africa was committed to growing nation’s clean energy generation capacity for both domestic use and for export and in the process create green jobs.
The meeting marks a key chance for integration and coordination as the last regional ministerial meeting before the COP17 Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa in December of this year. The room was packed, with over 15 ministers in attendance, and the discussion turned to the benefits of regional integration of transmission systems, building wind, geothermal, and large-scale solar energy projects.
However, the focus and the stars of the meeting were the innovators at the household and local community level who showed the possibilities that exist with a range of new approaches – some technological but many managerial and social as well.
Ron Bills of Envirofit, a producer of high efficiency woodstoves said: “We have sold 300,000 stoves, and can provide high quality stoves to scale up clean energy cooking markets anywhere!”
Last month, I blogged about the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which I was a coordinating lead author. In that report we found that by 2050, roughly 80 percent of global energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources. The IPCC’s best-case prediction is contingent on a big caveat, however. It is that government policies must “play a crucial role in accelerating the deployment of Renewable Energy (RE) technologies.”
Fair enough, but which policies work best? Which can be replicated widely? Which sectors need more radical new approaches? Given the complexity of energy technologies, and markets, modes of power generation, transmission, distribution, consumption, metering and billing, and the multiplicity of policies—feed-in tariffs, subsidies, ‘feebates’, renewable portfolio standards, and so on— policy makers are often scrambling for guidance.
As author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the IPCC report, as well as a member of the Summary for Policymakers’ team, I am pleased to suggest a useful source: a recent Discussion Paper No. 22 produced by my World Bank colleague Gabriela Elizondo Azuela, along with Luiz Augusto Barroso, Design and Performance of Policy Instruments to Promote the Development of Renewable Energy: Emerging Experience in Selected Developing Countries.
Elizondo and Barroso studied grid-connected RE policy options used in six countries—Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Sir Lanka and Turkey. They find that sound governance is an essential condition for the success of policy incentives that aim to accelerate the integration of renewable energy. “For example,” Elizondo says, “legal and regulatory frameworks for grid connection and integration have to be in place before RE policy is introduced.” In the IPCC report we called this the ‘enabling environment’.
In just one day, the sun delivers about as much energy as has been consumed by all human beings over the past 35 years. So why haven’t we exploited more than a tiny fraction of this potential? There are many reasons: cost, storage, transmission, distribution, entrenched subsidies and technological challenges are but a few of them.
But the reasons not to take advantage of renewable energy are falling away. A report published this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that close to 80% of the world’s energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources by 2050, if backed by the right enabling public policies. I served as a Coordinating Lead Author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the report, as well as member of the Summary for Policy Maker’s team, and I can attest to how much rigorous analysis and effort comparing data and sources went into this process and document.
The same Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation found that the technical potential of renewable energy technologies “exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world.”
These encouraging findings were released Monday, May 9, after being studied carefully, examined, and then approved by member countries of the IPCC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
When Chinese president Hu Jintao visited the US this month, many issues made headlines, but one that didn’t is nonetheless important: clean energy cooperation, competition, or both. This issue is a litmus test for the two superpowers’ ability to build a partnership based on mutual needs and opportunities. The outcome will affect our global economic, environmental and geopolitical future, and may influence the range of clean energy opportunities for emerging economies in fundamental ways.
Cooperation does exist between the US and China, with longstanding joint work on energy efficiency standards, and through a new but underfunded US-China Clean Energy Research Center. But the game has to be raised with higher-profile actions. Far more can be gained globally if a spirit of cooperation permeates the high-level political dialogue. These are not the only two nations to watch, but because they are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and the two largest economies on the planet, signs of a shared vision of the future would mean a great deal.
The two countries need each other to build the clean energy economy. China needs energy to grow, and can drive the exponential growth needed to move renewable energy to the center of the global energy system. The US has a nimble and deep research and development system, and serial innovators and entrepreneurs whose Silicon Valley mentality has created wealth many times over. US capital market and enterprise management capacities are huge.
Do you believe in the power of the sun? Are you a supporter of solar energy, the “fastest growing energy source in the world?"
If yes, then you might be interested in signing the Solar Petition of the SolarCOP16, brought by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).