The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) has formally ratified its agreement with the UAE to establish its permanent global headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
At first, the UAE may seem a surprising choice to host the Irena headquarters — the global centre of excellence for renewable energy. Of all the countries in which to base the leading international organisation driving the growth of renewable energy, why choose one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas as a base to drive reduced dependency on the very stuff that made the UAE what it is today?
But the reality is that the UAE is one of the world’s most dynamic supporters of renewable energy and is as blessed with abundant renewable energy resources as it is with oil and gas.
The decision by Irena’s member states to base itself in Abu Dhabi is further evidence of the UAE’s rapidly growing reputation as a global centre of excellence for renewable energy. This position was especially vivid this week as the country played host to the world’s largest gathering of renewable energy industry leaders and policy-makers at Irena’s Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit and the first Renewable Energy Conference — all in Abu Dhabi.
Probably the biggest themes emerging from Irena’s Assembly this week have been the falling cost of renewable energy and the advanced technologies which are making renewable energy generation and distribution ever more cost effective and efficient. For example, the price of solar panels has dropped by two thirds in two years.
The economic argument for renewables is sounder than ever before. So what are the inhibitors which remain to achieving our goal of doubling renewable energy by 2030? One of the biggest challenges is getting the policy and investment environment right. Creating the political will to makes these changes takes time and skilful policy negotiations to change the status quo. Those attending our Assembly this week were learning from global best practices on how to effect the structural changes to energy generation within their countries that the world needs to tackle climate change.
The far-sighted vision of the UAE’s leadership has seen significant long-term investment plans in renewable energy as part of its commitment to diversify the economy and reduce reliance on oil and gas as part of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and Dubai’s Integrated Energy Strategy 2030.
This commitment to creating infrastructure projects such as Masdar along with the UAE’s political will and economic investment has turned this country into a crucible for new renewable energy development across the UAE and beyond.
The UAE has for some time grasped the wide range of opportunities beyond environmental benefits presented by renewable energy for the long term prosperity of the nation. Renewable energy offers other gains such as the creation of skilled jobs for Emiratis, improved health, energy security and the opportunity to increase oil and gas exports and revenue by reducing local consumption of fossil fuels.
Every barrel of oil consumed at home, at a cost of around $10 each, is a barrel not exported at a price of $100. In addition the UAE has a surplus of renewable energy resources, particularly solar which can be developed rapidly and could be the basis for future energy exports.
This economic windfall from substituting oil and gas with renewable energy for domestic use, along with the opportunities to export renewable energy to overseas markets, has created extraordinary potential which the leadership is wisely developing.
With the UAE’s combination of natural renewable energy resources, its political will, wise leadership and long-term financial commitment to renewable energy development, Irena would be hard pressed to find a more fertile land to plant the roots of its global hub for renewable energy.
Adnan Z. Amin is the director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi.