Clockwise from top left: Bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind: the six main renewable energy sources. Image Credit: AP/Supplied pictures

Read the news and you will see it: renewable energy technology is improving, costs are falling, investment is rising, and deployment is growing.

At first glance, it may look like just a few headlines, but underneath lies a bigger story; the story of a new age of maturity for renewable energy — where technology costs plummet, investment and deployment climb, employment grows and world leaders recognise the necessity of replacing fossil fuels with renewables.

In just the last three years, the world added more than 100 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity every year — a number equivalent to the total installed generation capacity of Brazil.

In the same time frame, renewables accounted for more than half of net capacity additions in the global power sector — meaning more new renewables capacity is being installed than new capacity in fossil and nuclear power combined. As a result of these additions, in 2013 the share of renewables in total electricity production worldwide exceeded a record 22 per cent.

More than 160 countries now have defined renewable energy targets, up from just 15 countries in 2005 and investment in renewables increased six fold in the last decade to more than $260 billion (Dh955 billion) in 2014, excluding large hydro.

And the story continues ...

In a report released last month, we learnt that more than 7.7 million people are employed by the renewable energy sector worldwide, up 18 per cent in just the last year and up 32 per cent over the last two years. On average, renewable energy technologies now create more jobs than fossil fuel technologies.

For instance, solar PV creates more than twice the number of jobs per unit of electricity generated than coal or natural gas.

In the latest milestone of the clean energy movement, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the agency tasked with the global proliferation of renewable energy, officially inaugurates its new headquarters building in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, on June 3. The new headquarters contributes to Masdar City’s growing ecosystem, which focuses on sustainability and integrates research, business and education.

Irena is the first international agency to be headquartered in the Middle East, and some have raised their eyebrows about its location in the heart of the oil-rich Gulf. What most people don’t know though is that decades of experience in the energy industry coupled with massive investments in the renewable energy sector make Abu Dhabi — and Masdar City — an absolutely appropriate home for Irena.

The UAE’s renewable power-generation capacity is the highest among the GCC countries, its solar potential is second only to Saudi Arabia, and solar and wind may now be the cheapest sources of new power in the country. A country with this much resource potential and a strong willingness to invest, the future is indeed bright for renewable energy.

As with the other buildings in Masdar City, the Irena headquarters pushes the boundaries of sustainable design and green building technologies. It is fitting that the agency mandated with the global adoption and deployment of renewable energy, be housed in one of the most sustainable building in the UAE and one of the most sustainable of any international organisation worldwide.

The rapid growth of Irena is a testament to the commitment of countries around the world to advance the development of clean, safe and affordable renewable energy. Our new advantageous location positions the headquarters as a nerve centre for renewable energy action and knowledge for the future, which will be necessary to the continued maturation of the industry.


The writer is the Director-General of Irena.