International Renewable Energy Agency: briefing by the Department of Energy


22 February 2010
Chairperson: Ms E Thebethe (ANC), Mr F Adams (Western Cape, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Energy presented a briefing to the two Committees, sitting jointly, on the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The presenters outlined a brief history of IRENA and details of its establishment, as well as its significance given the importance of renewable energy. South Africa was a member of the IRENA. IRENA intended to provide global leadership and would facilitate access to information and technological advances by all of its member states. The Department explained the operation of IRENA by discussing the content of its three previous sessions, as well as what was to be discussed in its future sessions. The ultimate objective of IRENA was to promote the widespread and increased adoption and the sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy. The activities that would be taking place to benefit South Africa as a member state, as well as the contributions that South Africa would have to make towards IRENA, were set out.

Members asked about the distribution and selection criteria for the scholarships, whether any other African countries were members of IRENA, and whether the Department had formulated a strategy on how it could best benefit from IRENA, particularly in regard to renewable energy. Members also asked the extent of the benefits of joining IRENA, and when these were likely to be visible and measurable. Members were assured that there would be no preferential treatment to, nor discrimination against, any of the member states, and the Abu Dhabi fund would be open to all.

Meeting report

International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA): Department of Energy briefing
Ms Nomawethu Qase, Director: New and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy (the Department), and Ms Mokgadi Mathekgana, Chief Director: Clean Energy, Department of Energy, briefed the Committee on the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). This Agency was founded in Germany on 26 January 2009. In the founding conference, a Preparatory Commission, supported by an Administrative Committee, was established for the rapid and effective establishment of the IRENA Agency. So far IRENA had held two further sessions in addition to the founding session. During these, observer status was given to states, entities, international organisations and other organisations in the field of renewable energy. The second session was held in Egypt in June 2009, and it was during this session that Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, was established as the interim headquarters of Irena. At the third session, Hon Dipuo Peters, Minister of Energy, signed a commitment for South Africa to become a full member of IRENA.

To date there were 143 member states. By 15 February 2010, 11 member states had ratified the Statutes, so that only 14 further signatures were required to bring these Statutes to force. Ms Helene Pelosse of France was elected as the interim Director General. Other important decisions taken were the designation of Bonn, Germany as the Centre for Technology and Innovation, and Vienna, Austria as the Agency’s liaison office for cooperation.

The Department stressed that In order to cope with the current worldwide challenges such as the increasing energy demand, global warming and rising energy prices, there was a need to rapidly increase the deployment of renewable energy technologies. This would require the increased mobilisation of human, technological and financial capacities on a global scale. IRENA, as an organisation, existed to provide global leadership and expertise so as to ensure that renewable energy technologies were rapidly optimised and able to reach their potential. IRENA was the first organisation to solely concentrate on renewable energy and offered its support to both industrialised and developing countries. IRENA would also facilitate access to relevant information including reliable data on the potential of renewable energy, best practices, effective financial mechanisms and state-of-the-art technological expertise.

Ms Qase, explaining the operation of IRENA, said that before the formal sessions took place, there would be a meeting of the Administrative Committee in which documentation would be prepared. The agenda would include a programme and budget, as well as best practice presentation. All member states would therefore be encouraged to present case studies on best practice so that knowledge could be shared for the benefit of all member states.

A fourth session was scheduled for November 2010 in Abu Dhabi. The main aim was to ensure a transparent and legally compliant handover from the transition phase that was led by the Preparatory Commission. The date for the meeting of the assembly was dependent on the ratification process because it was necessary to have signature by the twenty-fifth member state before that date.

The main objectives of IRENA were to promote the widespread and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, taking into account national and domestic priorities and benefits derived from a combined approach of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Other objectives that were also taken into account were the contributions of renewable energy to environmental preservation, climate protection, economic growth, social cohesion, access to and security of energy supply, regional development and inter-generational responsibility.

IRENA had been established as a centre of excellence for renewable energy technology. There would be many activities performed by the agency for the benefit of its members. These activities included: monitoring, analysis and systemisation of current renewable energy practices, initiating discussion on and ensuring interaction with other governmental and nongovernmental organisations, providing relevant policy advice and assistance, and improving knowledge and technology transfers and capacity building, which included the training of members. Overall, IRENA’s success would be based on the international community’s ability to transfer ideas, strategies and expertise. As a result, an effective and strong network would be established which would enable member states, agency organs, private industry, the academic community and all other stakeholders to engage with one another, exchange best practices, share knowledge and acknowledge the need to have as wide a geographical representation as possible.

In support of IRENA’s mission to promote the development and use of renewable energy, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development had been established. An amount of R366 million would be available annually over the next seven years. This would support activities under the guidance of the Secretariat. The funds would be available in the form of soft loans and would be used solely to finance renewable energy projects in developing nations recommended or endorsed by IRENA. Abu Dhabi also offered 20 scholarships at the Masdar Institution for Science and Technology for IRENA-recommended students. The selection procedure and governance were still being developed by the Secretariat.

Following the signing of the Statutes, all of the member states were expected to make annual financial contributions and also to ratify their membership as soon as possible. The State Law Advisors of South Africa had examined the Statute of IRENA and found it to be acceptable from an international law point of view, as well as not being in conflict with any of South Africa’s other international obligations, and had certified the Statute. The Presidential approval was granted on 25 June 2009. As a member state, the contribution for South Africa would be R513 000 annually

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) asked if the twenty scholarships being awarded would even spread throughout the provinces of South Africa.

Ms Qase reminded Members that there were 143 member states, but only 20 scholarship positions for all member states. The selection criteria were still being worked on.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) wanted to know if any other African countries were members of IRENA.

Ms Qase noted that there were indeed quite a few African countries including Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Côté d’ Ivoire.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked whether the Department had formed a strategy on how to best benefit from IRENA, in particular regards to renewable energy.

The Department’s representative replied that a strategy was being formed on how to maximise the efforts and work that was currently being done in the country.

 Mr P Dexter (COPE) wanted to know the extent of the benefits of joining IRENA, and when these were likely to be visible and measurable.

The Department’s representative replied that South Africa would benefit from its membership with IRENA by sharing the experience with regard to global renewable energy sources. In this global community there would be sharing of knowledge as well as the transferral of technology.

Ms S Chen (DA) asked if South Africa would receive the same or equal member benefits as other countries. In particular, she enquired whether South Africa would qualify for the loans made available by the Abu Dhabi fund.

The Department responded that in terms of the Statutes, the Agency was based on the principle of the equality of all of its members and would pay due respect, without any discrimination, to all of its members. The same applied to the Abu Dhabi fund, which was open to all members.

The meeting was adjourned.


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