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Interview with Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA

Interview with Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA
06 . Aug . 2021

Francesco La Camera is the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Mr. La Camera formerly served as Director-General of Sustainable Development, Environmental Damage, EU and International Affairs at the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land & Sea since 2014. As the national coordinator for climate, environment, resource efficiency and circular economy, he led the Italian delegation to UNFCCC’s COPs 21 to 24 and the EU delegation to COP 20. He was responsible for the organisation of Italy’s G7 Environment Presidency in 2017. He also led the Italian delegation to the G7 Environment meetings in 2016 and 2018. He served as co-chair of the Africa Centre for Climate and Sustainable Development established in Rome in partnership with FAO and UNDP and co-chaired the Financial Platform for Climate and Sustainable Development in partnership with the Italian Development Bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. Mr. La Camera was instrumental to the support provided by Italy to several renewable energy initiatives such as the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), the Initiative for Renewable Island Energy (IRIE) and the Global Geothermal Alliance (GGA), coordinated by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

If we look at the programs launched in the Gulf countries, such as ‘Vision 2030’, launched by Saudi Arabia, for example, it is clear that the energy transition in this area, in addition to the energy structure, comes to touch economic and productive in the foundations. In fact, there is not only the use of renewable sources for energy generation, but also the reduction of dependence of the economy from the export of petroleum products. Are we facing a 360° revolution? In your opinion, what do the Gulf countries face in 2030 from this point of view?

Renewable energy has become central to energy policy in the Gulf for several reasons. Carbon emission reductions, economic diversification and reduced domestic consumption of export resources are the primary drivers. There is no doubt however, that for the Gulf region renewable energy represents a path to stable long-term economic growth and economic resilience. Regional ambition has been made possible by the falling cost of renewable energy. Today, it is the cheapest way to generate new electricity in most Gulf countries despite their access to fossil-fuel resources. Reliable, cheap power underpins development and therefore renewables present an undeniable case for to policy makers and leaders.

The renewable generation targets that the various countries of the Gulf have set are very ambitious and aim to exploit all renewable resources in a diversified way. In the center, there are obviously solar technologies, both photovoltaic and solar in concentration, but also wind is emerging as a resource with great potential. How do you foresee the renewable mix in this area be comprised?

Solar is the dominant renewable energy technology in the region, and it will remain the primary driver of energy transformation given the abundance of strong solar resources that exist in the GCC. Despite this dominance, the region does possess wind energy potential – particularly Oman and Saudi Arabia which are promising markets. Oman’s 50 megawatt Dhofar project, set for completion by the end of 2019, is the first utility scale wind project in the region and it will supply electricity to around 16,000 homes, equivalent to 7 percent of the Dhofar Governorate’s power demand. Saudi Arabia’s first wind energy tender, the 400-megawatt Dumat Al Jandal, secured a winning bid at a little over 2 cents per kilowatt hour last year demonstrating significant investor confidence both in the country and in the quality of its wind energy potential. Beyond solar and wind energy, research is ongoing with regards to the feasibility of other forms of renewable energy in the Gulf, including geothermal and bioenergy. During Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week earlier this year, following our Assembly, a new biofuels initiative powered a test flight using a 50-50 mix with traditional fuel. This is a particularly interesting development and points to the commitment made by regional governments towards the new energy economy. Given the many renewable energy projects in the pipeline in the region, there is no doubt that the GCC’s energy mix in 2030 will be much more diversified than it is today with a significant renewable energy component.

These changes are destined to have an important impact on the international energy scenario: the markets are already on the alert today regarding the consequences they can also have on the price trends of petroleum products. How will the role of the Gulf countries in light of the global energy spectrum change over the next few years?

GCC nations are showing their commitment to renewable energy as a cost-effective source of power generation domestically and this is positive. As an organisation, we do not have a view on the impact of diversified energy policies on traditional energy exports. As the energy transition deepens however, we may see Gulf countries emerge as renewable power exporters, not only to regional neighbours but also further afield. There is already an ongoing interconnection project between Saudi Arabia and Egypt and discussions for an interconnection with Ethiopia to export electricity to Africa. There are also plans to export electricity to Europe. Moreover, countries across the Arab region are cooperating on renewable energy development, which includes the development of regional grid infrastructure capable of transporting power across markets. In this regard, IRENA is engaged in the Pan Arab Clean Energy Initiative which serves as one such platform to advance these programmes.

In the redefinition of the energy structure and considering the demand rate of electricity is continuous with very strong growth, especially due to residential consumption, the issue of energy efficiency, which the Gulf countries have so far been little sensitive, it proves central. How is it moving on this front and what needs to be done to promote the spread of a radically new culture in energy consumption?

The GCC countries do face unique environmental challenges. It is one of the hottest and driest inhabited regions in the world, placing a tremendous amount of pressure on cooling and desalination infrastructure – both of which are energy intensive. Like many regions of the world however, behavioral change with regards to responsible energy consumption and the introduction of measures to improve energy efficiency in buildings are important steps, and I believe regional governments are embracing this. Masdar City is an example of the UAE’s desire to establish a blueprint for low-carbon urban development. Moreover, the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) was formed in 2006 with the specific objective of improving energy efficiency measures in the UAE. There are similar efforts all over the region such as the Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) and the Saudi Green Building Forum. The latter is leading the country’s efforts to achieve the officially stated goal of becoming a world leader in green building.

The changes of these development plans also go in the direction of more intense relations with foreign countries, favoring foreign capital investments, and increasing technological partnerships. From this point of view, what are your perspectives on Europe and Italy?

There is no sustainable development without renewable energy. Therefore, I see it as being critical that key national and intergovernmental stakeholders strengthen their cooperation to ensure that renewables and the provision of affordable electricity remain at the centre of development goals. I see Europe playing a key role in delivering against the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Italy as an important contributor to that. In this regard, the existing EU-GCC Clean Energy Technology Network, based in Masdar City, is playing a major role in catalyzing mutually beneficial partnerships for the deployment and development of clean energy technologies in the GCC.

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