2007: A year to remember for climate change

Steve Sawyer

After digesting the contents of the first events of the year, Steve Sawyer hopes that 2008 can live up to the promise of 2007.

It seems at least plausible that 2007 will appear in future generations of history books as the year that humankind woke up to the Inconvenient Truth of climate change. Explaining to those future generations why it took 20 years will be something of a problem.

2008 may not prove to be quite as full of landmarks, but will be rather busy nonetheless. The Washington International Renewable Energy Conference in March, four sets of post-Bali climate negotiations in place of the usual two, and our own Global Wind Power 2008 Beijing at the end of October, will keep us on the hop…and there's an election in the USA on 4 November that might have some consequences for the renewable energy sector, not to mention the future of the planet.

My first outing was to Abu Dhabi, for the World Future Energy Summit conference and exhibition convened at the cavernous Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, to showcase the Masdar Initiative, a project to develop renewables and other new energy technologies for the Middle East, which was launched in the spring of 2006 by the government of Abu Dhabi.

“Meet the Leaders, change the world” was the headline for the event. Why on earth, you may ask yourself, would a small (4.3 million people), rich (per capita income, US$23,000/year, higher than the OECD average) country built on oil and gas, with the second highest GHG emissions per capita in the world (second only to neighbouring Qatar) want to host such an event?

Apparently, like fellow Emirate Dubai, Abu Dhabi's leadership has the foresight to add up the numbers and read the writing on the wall. They see that economic diversification is essential to their future, and where better to start than with the sector that created their wealth in the first place?

The event itself was headlined by Prince Charles (who appeared by hologram!), Prince Andrew, H.H. General Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan (the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi), the Presidents of Iceland and Djibouti and various other dignitaries, including the US Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman.

They were followed, however, by a largely uninspirational gathering of oil company executives and carbon capture and storage (and nuclear) advocates, paying lip service to climate change (and renewables), but at the same time exhibiting various stages of denial about the end of the fossil age and trying to position themselves to take advantage of this latest environmental nuisance.

Former UNEP head Klaus Töpfer, Jonathan Porrit of Forum for the Future and Greenpeace director Dr Gerd Leipold tried to inject a note of reality into the proceedings, but were fighting an uphill battle whenever they sought to imply that fossil fuels would NOT be the dominant energy source for the indefinite future. Renewable energy technologies were relegated to various side sessions, and there were no representatives from the renewable energy industry present in any of the main sessions, except for representatives of BP and Shell's renewables divisions, who only talked about carbon capture and storage.

The Masdar Initiative (Masdar means “the source” in Arabic), on the other hand, seems to be a serious initiative to adapt and commercialise renewable energy technologies in the Middle East. Driven by the Government-owned Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, the initiative includes: the Masdar Institute, a graduate level education and research institution offering Masters and PhD programmes in cooperation with MIT; the Masdar Research Network, which seeks to commercialise new technologies and assist new start-ups through a US$250 million Clean Tech Fund; the Carbon Management Unit, which seeks to develop CDM in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region; and the Special Projects Unit, which seeks to develop large-scale capital-intensive energy and technology projects. Priority sectors include polysilicon, PV, hydrogen power, energy storage and biofuels.

The jewel in the crown, however, is The Masdar Special Free Zone, a small city next to the Abu Dhabi airport which will be a community for about 50,000 permanent inhabitants with work places for up to 80,000. This community will eventually house the various pieces of the Masdar Initiative. Designed by a team led by internationally acclaimed architect Norman Foster, the project will be car free, zero emissions and nearly waste-free, depending on solar, wind and recycling for its energy and material needs. See the video here: http://www.wfes08.com/page.cfm/link=214

At the conclusion of the opening session, Crown Prince H.H. General Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan pledged an additional US$15 billion to support the overall Masdar Initiative. So yes, they’re serious. And they’re going to do it again next year, from 19-21 January 2009. Let's hope the RE industry is better represented then.

While everyone in Brussels was either engaged in furious last-minute lobbying, or sitting on pins and needles waiting for the EC's energy and climate package to come out on 23 January, at the Global Wind Energy Council we were collecting and collating reports from member associations, companies, energy agencies and ministries to determine the installed wind energy capacity globally during 2007.

While our final numbers won’t be released until after this article has gone to press, it's clear that installed capacity for 2007 will exceed 20 GW, up from just over 15 GW during 2006, exceeding even our own projections once again. The numbers from the US were astonishing, where 5244 MW of clean, emissions-free wind power was installed, and the Chinese industry more than doubled its installed capacity (again!), putting in 3448 MW, but the big surprise was Spain in second place, with 3515 MW.

For the first time in decades, the majority of the windpower market was outside Europe, and that trend is likely to continue in 2008 and into the future.

When the Commission's proposals on renewables, climate and the ETS, etc, did finally come out on 23 January, there was much rejoicing at Renewable Energy House.

EREC President Arthouros Zervos was pleased with the work of the EC, calling it “a coherent proposal addressing all renewable energy sectors”… “the long awaited Directive contains the necessary elements which should help meet the 20% target,” he added. “Now we expect the Member States and the Parliament to further improve the legislative document and agree on the directive this year since time is running out. We hope that all parties will stick to their commitments to make this happen. The whole world is watching us. It is up to us to prove the EU is serious and efficient in guaranteeing affordable and clean energy supply to its citizens.”

EWEA Chief Executive Christian Kjaer agreed. “The European Commission has today provided a powerful response to the imminent energy and climate crisis. By introducing a voluntary trading mechanism, controlled by Member States, the proposal maintains market stability, increases investor confidence and will help Member States to reach their ambitious, yet achievable, targets,” he said.

Let's hope that the French get their wish and get this legislation finished and into operation during their Presidency during the second half of this year.

About the author

Steve Sawyer joined GWEC as the first secretary general on 2 April 2007. He has worked in the energy and environment field since 1978, with a particular focus on climate change and RE since 1988.

He spent 30 years working for Greenpeace, primarily on a wide range of energy issues. He was the ceo of both Greenpeace USA (1986 – 1988) and Greenpeace International (1988 –1993), and he served as Head of Delegation to many Kyoto Protocol negotiations on climate change. He also lead delegations to the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002 and numerous sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development. He is also a founding member of the REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network and was a member of the Steering Committee of the Renewables 2004 ministerial conference in Bonn. He has also been an expert reviewer for the IPCC's Working Group III.


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