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.
Semi-constructed skyscrapers dotting the horizon, shoppers, commuters and students flooding the sidewalks and a sea of trucks, cars and buses - all fighting for their own space along Bole road, Addis’ main thoroughfare. The signs of a decade of 10% annual economic growth for Ethiopia were evident in the cab ride to the hotel. The energetic vibe of Addis also reminded me that despite rapid advancements, it was still a country with one of the highest poverty rates in the world, large rural populations without energy access, significant bio-diversity and environmental risks and a nascent private sector to deal with it all.
To engage the private sector was the reason I was in Ethiopia. I was preparing for the business plan development of an Ethiopian Climate Innovation Center (CIC) similar to the Kenyan CIC launching later this year. The $15 million program will invest in and support early-stage companies wanting to become more involved in the booming local and international cleantech markets while becoming profitable and competitive.
However the suite of services developed for each CIC look different in each market and is therefore designed via a rigorous gaps, opportunities and needs analysis with local stakeholders. While in Ethiopia, I met with a few of the 100-plus stakeholders that will take part in the design phase of the Center. Public and private sectors, development partners, NGOs and academia were eager to share their expertise and experience of what was needed for a CIC in Ethiopia. These are my thoughts following those discussions:
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.