IRENA calls for a doubling of global renewables to save over USD4 trillion a year

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Investing more to save more was the message coming out of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) REmap: Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future press briefing at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue last night. During an optimistic briefing, IRENA acknowledged that 2015 had been a good year for renewable energy and that current national plans are encouraging, but warned that much more still needs to be done, advising that doubling efforts and investment in renewables would pay dividends in the immediate future.

Extending analysis to 40 countries that represent 80% of global energy use, IRENA has created a framework, which it believes can be effectively applied in the real world. The roadmap includes individual national reports for a number of the biggest energy users, including China, U.S., Germany, Mexico, and the UAE.

It calls on countries to increase the annual rate of renewable energy deployment six-fold and double the current annual investment to approximately $770 BN up until 2030, but that this would result in savings 15 times higher than the cost. If this were to be achieved, it would increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix from 18% today to 36% by 2030, a huge increase from the 21% that would be reached under the current plans.

Of course, this would have broad reaching benefits, which were highlighted during the briefing. Not only would the doubling of renewables save huge sums of money and huge numbers of lives annually, $4.2 trillion and 4 million, respectively, but it would also slash carbon dioxide emissions up to 12 gigatonnes in 2030. This in turn would help to limit the global temperature rise to 2C degrees above pre-industrial level, which requires a zero carbon system by 2050, and thus a rapid increase in scale of the renewable energy deployment.

“Achieving a doubling is not only feasible, it is cheaper than not doing so,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General. “Remap shows this is not only the most economic pathway, but also the most socially and environmentally conscious. It would create more jobs, save millions of live from reduced air pollution and set us on a pathway to limit global temperature rise to two degrees as agreed in Paris.”

Looking to IRENA for guidance

Asked whether countries will need to actively seek out solutions to adopt the framework set out in the roadmap, Amin said that more and more countries are reaching out to IRENA for advice on renewable energy deployment. “Energy ministers cannot afford to be ideological anymore,” said Amin. They need to do what is economically attractive, and the economic benefits of adopting renewables are starting to become clear.

As a result, membership to IRENA has grown to 145, which includes 144 states and the EU, while Amin added that even oil rich countries, such as the UAE and Kazakhstan have even been asking IRENA to help them with renewables deployment. “The age of renewable energy is here, but without concerted efforts, its potential will not be reached fast enough to meet international climate and development targets,” said Amin.

Part of the framework includes shifting focus to create renewable energy solutions for industries outside of the power sector. Three areas that were highlighted were electric transport, heating and cooling. “The energy transition is well underway in the power sector, but to reach global climate and development targets, the next phase will require more focus on transport, heating and cooling,” said Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre. “If a doubling is achieved, these sectors would account for roughly half of renewable energy use in 2030 and so must scale-up dramatically to meet that target.”