IRENA clarion call for G20 leaders may fall on deaf ears

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Quite how much traction the report presented by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to the movers and shakers of the world’s biggest economies at the G20 summit will have, is hard to gauge.

The agency prepared a report on the usefulness of harnessing renewables to accelerate the energy transition and, not surprisingly, solar power is a prominent feature.

But whether headline-grabbing soundbites such as the estimate PV investment can create more than twice as many jobs per unit of electricity generated than coal or natural gas, or that women make up 10-15% more of the renewable energy labor force than are represented in the conventional energy sector, remains to be seen.

As the introduction to the report presented to the G20’s Energy Transition Working Group explains, not only was the study not passed to the energy ministers of the global group’s member states at the weekend, but “it does not necessarily reflect the G20 membership’s national or collective views.” That caveat was apt in the case of U.S. President Donald Trump, the lone voice refusing to sign the group’s statement on climate change.

Time and again in the report, the leading role solar can play in the energy transition is emphasized, with PV at the heart of several examples of best practice presented to representatives of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations.

Solar shines light on renewables best practice

IRENA’s recommendation that states introduce guarantees for renewable energy investors cites the Renovar program rolled out in the weekend summit’s host nation of Argentina. The national government backs projects against PPA offtaker failure by ensuring developers can either break power deals and sell their energy elsewhere in such circumstances, or can recover the value of non-depreciated assets – with the World Bank providing a further layer of reassurance last year, amid Argentina’s economic woes.

A similar call for renewables projects to be aggregated into portfolios with bigger capacities more likely to catch the eye of investors, pointed to the example of seven PV projects that were bundled in Jordan last year.

And in calling for member states to take innovative approaches to drive the community adoption of clean energy, IRENA highlighted the proliferation of pay-as-you-go plans – often via mobile phones – that are permitting African households to install solar appliances and reduce reliance on diesel.

Amid familiar calls to have PPAs delineated in local currencies – rather than harder dollar or euro deals which expose local investors to risk – and to introduce green bonds, the IRENA report also tried to encourage the world’s most advanced economies to loosen regulation that restricts the cash flow into solar and other clean energy investment. One example given was the Basel III restrictions imposed to force banks to retain enough fluidity in the event of a repeat of the 2008 global financial crash, with one of its unintended consequences being less liquidity to back renewables development.

Did heads of state take notice?

Despite the worthy intentions though, the suspicion is the most important leaders on the world stage will have been distracted by other matters, at a conference where President Trump postponed – officially at least – a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin amid the latest escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and fresh Russian election meddling revelations back home. Although, at least President Trump’s 90-day truce with China on tit for tat trade tariffswill give some respite to his domestic solar industry.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, was unable to escape the shadow of Brexit and its threat to her political future. Her energy representatives will have taken little succour from the section of the IRENA report devoted to advising member states of the importance of regulating power markets in a manner which encourages renewables, given the recent slapdown from the EU on the manner in which the U.K. capacity market was waved through.

“The electricity market should facilitate all available variable renewable energy resources and promote the required long-term investments that provide system flexibility, while ensuring high standards of efficiency, reliability and environmental performance.”

With the EU among the G20 member associations, that particular sentiment may have added an extra edge as the after-dinner mints were passed around in Buenos Aires on Saturday night.