Guest Article #46

IRENA: Tackling Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Developing Renewable Energies

Several approaches have been launched to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. One of them is to promote renewable energies and accelerate their deployment. Initiating a paradigm shift and securing the energy transition towards renewable energy were the reasons why 75 countries met in Bonn on January 26th 2009. On that day, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was created as the result of decades of lobbying from researchers, politicians and economists. Its member States are oil consumers, oil producers, pro- or anti-nuclear: IRENA is the energy reconciliation agency and carries hopes of the 21st century for a renewable energy future.

One hope is, indeed, to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But shifting to renewable energies is also about reducing energy dependency and increasing energy security. Another hope of our member States is to enable economic and social development, because renewables can produce massive amounts of inexpensive energy while creating millions of jobs that cannot be outsourced.

A year and a half after IRENA's creation, the number of its member States has doubled: 148 countries and the EU have signed the IRENA Statute and 29 countries have already ratified it. Such a record speed is unprecedented in the annals of diplomatic history. The IRENA Statute entered into force on July 8th.

IRENA has a clear mandate to promote all renewable energy sources worldwide (bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind). IRENA is to become a centre of knowledge, sharing and giving easy access to technical and economic information.

Many people are not aware of the huge potential of renewable energy. Statistics for example focus on grid-connected electricity generation and miss the off-grid part, all the solar panels and mini wind turbines that power a house, a school or a village. Hundreds of thousands of these systems exist in Bangladesh. Another example is that of biomass, which is usually considered in statistics as renewable energy. But is it really renewable when women spend most of the day walking further and further to collect wood for heating and cooking, increasing deforestation in developing countries?

Dozens of countries know they do not have reserves of fossil fuels, but they are unaware of their incredible renewable energy potential and how best to tap into it. By connecting laboratories worldwide, IRENA will make this data available to everyone and will tell the truth about the costs of renewable energy. Technologies such as hydro are mature and do not need subsidies; others like solar photovoltaic still need a little help, but costs are expected to drop sharply in the future. It is time now to redeploy the fossil fuel subsidies. They have been estimated for a long time in the low hundreds of billion dollars, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently evaluated their cost at 500 billion dollars!

IRENA will be the place to exchange best practices and share experiences on political and legal frameworks to put in place in order to promote renewable energy. IRENA will promote solutions and face the following challenges: integrating increasing shares of renewables in electricity grids; combining renewable energy sources to generate base load and peak load electricity; using the massive diffusion of electric vehicles and their fantastic storage capacity coupled with smart grids to ease the integration of renewables; organizing the production of future biofuels for aircrafts; and facilitating the training to renewable energy techniques by using the new information technologies.

IRENA's governance will make it a 21st century agency with the use of the new information and communication technologies. Also, to be more efficient and move faster, member States have agreed to form small working groups gathering countries with common topics.

The Agency has already delivered concrete projects. Tonga for example, contacted me a few days after my election to ask for IRENA's help. In 2009, diesel purchases accounted for 19% of Tonga's GDP and 25% of its imports. We helped the Government set up a roadmap for 2010-2020. The ambitious target is to halve diesel imports and to develop renewable energy production. Other small island States want to make this energy revolution. IRENA will assist them in this task.