Irena chief wants to map energy

The Abu Dhabi-based Intnerational Renewable Energy Agency is behind a project to locate and evaluate wind and solar data.

Adnan Amin of Kenya, new interim director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), speaks during a press conference in Abu Dhabi on October 25, 2010 after he was chosen to replace Helene Pelosse of France on the sidelines of the fourth IRENA preparatory commission meeting in the Emirati capital. AFP PHOTO/STR
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ABU DHABI // In addition to all that is involved in launching the world's first green-energy body, the organisation's new head has placed a priority on producing a map of the world's solar and wind resources.

Adnan Amin, the Kenyan economist who stepped in last month to take over as interim director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), for the first time yesterday outlined some of his plans for the position. Mr Amin spoke at a meeting of journalists organised by the German Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with the Ecologic Institute, a non-profit research institute with offices in Germany, Austria, Belgium and the US.

Mr Amin took over from Helene Pelose, who had been heading the Abu Dhabi-based organisation for about a year when she stepped down in late October.

Since then he has met with a high-ranking official at the World Meteorological Organisation, which owns records with a century's worth of data on wind velocity and solar radiation levels around the world.

Summarising this information in a map that could be disseminated to countries would clarify their renewable energy potential and hopefully help them develop green ideas in a more efficient and rapid manner, Mr Amin said.

He said Irena would not implement renewable energy projects, but rather "provide the space for all the stakeholders to come to the table" to discuss energy transformation. About 60 per cent of greenhouse emissions came from the energy sector.

Continuing to rely on fossil fuels only in the face of an ever-increasing demand for energy would have serious repercussions for the environment and public health, he warned. "The international community must come together in a common effort to transform the energy system in the coming decades," he said.

While the immediate challenge for the Irena boss is to establish the fledgling organisation as a functioning international institution, the next step would be to develop a mid-term strategy that takes into account the various factors limiting countries from adopting renewable options.

Mr Amin said Irena would work to improve awareness about renewable energy technologies and policies that encourage fast adoption, as well as help those governments interested in clean energy develop local expertise toward their goals.

Another priority was to raise awareness about subsidies received by the fossil fuel sector, he said. Globally these "massive" subsidies amounted to an estimated US$500 billion (Dh1.8 trillion) annually, he said, and remained one of the main factors blocking countries from adopting renewable energy options. When governments help oil companies defray the cost of exploration and production, prices of their end product are kept so artificially low that renewable forms of energy cannot compete.

"It is a responsibility of governments to design new systems of regulations and incentives that can create a level playing field," he said.

While environmentalists have been pointing to solar, wind and geothermal energy as the way to combat climate change, some countries, including the UAE, have been turning to nuclear power, which does not result in direct carbon emissions. Mr Amin was careful not to take sides in the debate between the two camps, which has often been heated.

"There is an international agency that deals with the issue of nuclear power," he said. "A lot of the safety issues have been resolved. Nuclear energy is becoming safer. The other side of the coin is that there are still risks."

Mr Amin outlined some steps that Middle East and African countries have been taking in the clean-energy field. Morocco had a renewables target of eight per cent of primary energy by 2012, he said. Algeria achieved a 10 per cent share in 2008, while Jordan had set a target of seven per cent by 2015 and 10 per cent by 2020.

Abu Dhabi has a renewables goal of seven per cent by 2020, which could be considered small compared to the country's neighbours.

"The significance of what Abu Dhabi is doing is not in the percentage we are currently seeing, it is in the nature of their investment," Mr Amin said. "They are really looking at future transformation and change."