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Empowering Renewables

by Adam Lane on Aug 16, 2012

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Adnan Amin, IRENA Director General.
Adnan Amin, IRENA Director General.

Adnan Amin, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, explains how his organisation is making the case for renewables

As a young organisation charged with supporting the growth of global renewable energy, it would perhaps be understandable if the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and its Director General Mr Adnan Z. Amin, had taken tentative first steps in a fairly massive task.

This has certainly not been the case. Through such things as its flagship programme of investigating countries’ renewable energy potential – the Renewables Readiness Assessment – and its role in reviewing applications for a share of the Abu Dhabi Development Fund’s US $350 million budget, the organisation has an impressive list of concrete achievements it can point to over its short existence.

The challenge, though, is still considerable. IRENA is aiming to draw together knowledge frameworks to support renewable development; to help stakeholders keep track of the plethora of rapid technological advancements in renewables; and to work with governments on capacity building – ensuring that the investment potential of renewable energy can actually be realised.

“With the scale of investment that is required in renewable energy to meet the various targets that we now have worldwide, it’s not possible that this is going to come solely from the public sector.

The real change in terms of scale for renewable energy investment is going to come from the private sector. The role of government is to ensure that the enabling policy environment for investment is there, and that protections such as environmental and social safeguards are also in place,” Amin says.

Amin and IRENA are recently returned from the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil, held twenty years after the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development. With a focus on issues including energy, sustainable cities and water, there has been a muted response from many in the industry who perhaps anticipated a more seminal conclusion.

“I think the outcome - what it actually is - is an enabling platform. For us, the result on the energy side was very positive. There’s a strong recognition of the renewable energy future and there are a number of areas where we can move forward quite decisively in taking hold of the renewable energy agenda.

Of course everything could be better – this one could have been much better – and you have massive disappointment from many NGOs that expected some kind of transformational moment in Rio.

“I understand that sentiment, but I think that it’s not helpful to trash it to an extent that people stop treating it seriously. I think it should be treated seriously, we should take the positive parts of it, and we should ourselves turn it into an action agenda. We intend to do that,” he says.

Amin suggests that the conference outcome at least avoided a ‘Copenhagen scenario’ where, in the presence of world leaders, no agreement was reached on sustainable development. The ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ initiative has set three targets before 2030 – to double the share of renewable energy, to ensure universal access to modern energy services, and to double the improvement in energy efficiency.

Global Atlas
One aspect of IRENA’s work that certainly gained a higher profile in Rio was the organisation’s Global Atlas project; a hugely impressive undertaking that aims to gather data on renewable energy potential into a central, open-access resource.

“The starting point of any investment in renewable energy is going to be mapping the resource potential. The Atlas is still at a fairly broad level, but we have already started to generate images on wind and solar that is giving us a pretty clear idea of where the resources are, and we are expanding this to bring in more and more countries.

Of course, there has to be a next step where the investors themselves make the specific investigations that are required, but the Atlas in principle eases that task substantially and gives a very clear picture to the international community of what is possible in terms of potential,” Amin says.

The Atlas already has renowned institutions such as France’s ParisTech and the United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory involved, together with the UAE’s Masdar, all bringing different expertise to bear on the project.

Masdar, for example, is researching solutions to the oft-mentioned issue of dust in the Middle East, and the effects it can have on the efficiency of solar PV panels. Using new remote imaging technology, they can now actually look at the dust in the atmosphere to give a clear sense of where solar investments should be sited to avoid endemic dust problems. It is this kind of knowledge that Amin says can be focused in the Atlas.

“There is a lot of new research coming, and I think the Global Atlas can become the vehicle for taking all that information that exists in different pockets – either expert institutions, government coffers or wherever it is – and making that much more systematic and available to investors and the public. It really has huge potential for the future and we are investing a lot in it.”

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