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2017 IRENA Assembly Showcases Global Push for Renewables

By Tina Casey

If you're looking for some good news to chase away the clouds looming over the U.S. renewable energy picture, now is your chance. The International Renewable Energy Agency convened its 2017 Assembly in Abu Dhabi this weekend, and TriplePundit is there to bring you the latest news on the growth of renewables and the decarbonization of the global economy.

Regardless of any downtick in the U.S. renewables market over the next few years (for the record, that probably won't happen), the IRENA event demonstrates that global energy leaders are dedicated to accelerating the decarbonization movement. As a guest of IRENA, TriplePundit will also pick out some key highlights from the World Future Energy Summit, including hundreds of exhibitors showcasing renewables, transportation and other sustainable technologies.

IRENA and renewable energy

As indicated by its name, IRENA has renewables baked into its mission. The agency's roots go all the way back to the 1981 United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in Nairobi, Kenya.

The idea of coordinating international efforts on renewables was kicked around for many years (way too many, some would say), until momentum started to build after the World Summit for Sustainable Development 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Preparations began in earnest to create the new agency, and IRENA was finally launched in 2009, with the mission of  promoting "the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity."

In a coincidence of timing, 2009 was the first year in office for outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, whose two terms saw the American market for renewables develop at a feverish pace.

IRENA has also accelerated rapidly in the past eight years. It now spans almost the entire globe, with 149 member states plus the European Union, and 27 more states in the process of coming on board.

Catalyzing action on renewables

The 2017 IRENA Assembly convened on Saturday and Sunday of last week. In advance of the weekend event, IRENA held a forum for legislators on Friday called "Renewable Energy – the Role of Legislators in Catalyzing Action.”

This event aimed to explore the challenges different countries face in terms of policymaking, legislation and support for legislative action on renewable energy.

That topic is certainly of interest here in the U.S. Incoming President Donald Trump is all but certain to try unspooling the renewable energy progress that took place under the Obama administration. And stakeholders are already gearing up to let their legislative representatives know where they stand. That includes key American business leaders, as well as environmental organizations.

Business leaders will likely continue ramping up their investments in clean energy regardless of a change in national policy. But these individual efforts are no substitute for the kind of rapid, efficient transformation needed to maintain the global economy.

Here's IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin explaining the importance of national policy in driving the adoption of renewables in the global marketplace:

“Lawmakers have a rich history of creating the policy and legal frameworks that can drive renewable energy deployment. Their role is even more critical as governments look to transform their energy infrastructure and markets.

"By bringing together lawmakers from around the world concerned about energy issues, IRENA can better support their efforts to accelerate the energy transition.”

To set the tone for acceleration, during the forum IRENA released a new report detailing the renewable energy potential in Europe's southeastern countries.

Titled "Cost-Competitive Renewable Power Generation: Potential across South East Europe," the report sums up potential in the region, where significant renewable energy resources have yet to be developed. The overall potential adds up to 740 gigawatts or more:

"... The region’s wind energy (532 GW) and solar PV (120 GW) potential is largely untapped, and 127 GW of this overall renewable energy potential could be implemented in a cost-competitive way today. The report says this figure could rise further, to above 290 GW, if more favorable cost of capital is considered for the region."

In addition to covering policymaking tools, the Friday meeting addressed the all-important financing mechanisms needed to accelerate change, and the availability of databases, analytical reports and other forms of support for policymakers.

The 2017 Assembly

At the Assembly this weekend, TriplePundit paid particular attention to several key events including a session on accelerating the corporate sourcing of renewables, a high-level roundatable on innovations that will drive the "next stage of the power sector transformation," another high-level round table on off-grid renewable energy, and a discussion of the driving forces behind decarbonization.

If all goes as scheduled, we will also bring you several exclusive interviews focusing on innovative technology and renewables.

In the coming week, we'll also give you firsthand news from the World Future Energy Summit and exhibition hall, take a closeup look at the sustainable cities experiments going on at Masdar City, and visit a massive power plant that has overcome the challenges of producing utility-scale solar power in harsh desert conditions.

Stay tuned!

Photo (cropped): via IRENA

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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