MENA region could save $750bn if renewable targets met, says IRENA chief

If the nations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were able to hit their ambitious 2030 renewable energy targets then the entire region’s power sector could enjoy a net benefit of $750 billion, said Adnan Amin, the director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on the sidelines of the agency’s sixth MENA renewable energy conference.

Speaking to reporters, Amin stressed that almost every MENA nation’s renewable target lies somewhere between 5-15% of penetration by 2030. Together, if these goals were achieved, the power sector in the region would be boosted by around $750 billion in various cost and benefit savings.

IRENA’s recent calculations included in March a call for the globe to increase the annual rate of renewable energy deployment six-fold, while doubling current annual investment to reach $770 billion per year. By doing so, IRENA says, the world can save more than $4 trillion between now and 2030, while reducing carbine emissions by 12 gigatonnes during that timeframe.

Currently, renewables account for 16-17% of the world’s global energy mix. IRENA is campaigning for that rate to hit 36% by 2030, and is one of the most viable and actionable options left for the globe if it is to limit temperature increases to below two degrees and thus satisfy the terms of the Paris Agreement, struck last December at COP21.

Speaking specifically about solar, Amin was bullish on the technology’s positively transformative and disruptive impact on the world’s energy landscape. “Solar is already competitive with natural gas, and the cost of PV power generation has dropped 80% in the past five years. There can be further reduction in cost,” he said.

However, despite the obvious benefits of more renewable penetration – particularly in the MENA region – a series of challenges and hurdles remain. Director of Oxford Energy Institute Studies, Bassam Fattouh, remarked at the conference that clean energy targets in the region are “very ambitious”.

"Several challenges hamper renewable energy production in MENA, such as state monopoly of the power system, a lack of institutional capacity and conventional energy subsidies," Fattouh told the AFP.

In January, IRENA presented a report at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi that addressed the immense social and economic benefits that clean energy integration could bring to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including an 8% reduction in carbon footprint, the creation of 200,000 jobs, and a 16% decrease in water consumption.