By Marta Lobo
Jan 13, 2013
Discussions on energy in general are relevant for two reasons: first, most of us not only just use energy but we also recognise its absolutely indispensable role to allow us to function in our routines, assure the continuation of the economic systems we rely upon, and to put simply to allow for the survival of mankind; second, we finally have come to accept that energy sources and supply chains as we know them are unsustainable and that the current dominating energy systems will end sooner rather than later, threatening all fundamental structures of our existences, from means of production, to transportation, and including social relations.
It is thus crucial to move on from oil-based energy resources and fossil fuels to alternative, more sustainable ones. The importance of this shift was initiated some 20 years ago when governments first became significantly attached to commitment by adhering to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change). It was then than national political leaders were first brought to attention that not only the possibility of the eventual end of fuel-based energy sources was real but more importantly, the negative impact that usages of these sources was having on climate, the environment, and species, including ours. Whereas this was not such a straight forward process, decades later, the creation of IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency), the rapid adherence it generated, and its growing performance within the international sphere clearly demonstrate interstate commitment to as well as recognition of the importance of this shift from usages of largely polluting and already scarce energy sources, to a rather joint effort to use sustainable renewable ones. Now a strong organisation, IRENA has conquered a place of its own alongside the much longer existing IEA (International Energy Agency) created in 1974.
At its third Assembly, IRENA is able to set high expectations surrounding both the presentation of its 2013 programme, and the release of a renewable energies world map that will contribute to illustrate the progress of achievements on renewable energies globally and at regional level, whilst simultaneously pinpointing developments at the national scale.
The latter is particularly important in the context of this article: the notion that intergovernmental commitment is only both impacting and measurable when it offers a framework for national promotion and local action and investment.
Not on purpose, a conversation on the subject of the installation of solar panels for domestic use that I recently overheard, could not be more appropriate. This was in brief about the period of time that would take for the installation of solar panels to pay themselves, i.e. considering installation costs, how long would it take for the price of the electricity bill to be matched. For the general public this is still too high a cost to pay for. However, this is not a one way situation: there is much more to it, and I believe that similar conditions apply much further than the example itself can illustrate. Whereas it would not make sense for a single family to sustain the cost of solar panels installation on its own, its advantages for the family itself but especially for the community and the country have a much greater dimension. In this particular case, the country at stake its Portugal, a country situated on the sunbelt region, where a fully working solar-based electricity-generating system would be many times higher than the actual national demand for electricity, thus enabling a country that is not blessed with other forms of fuel-based energy sources to export energy through high-voltage lines.
The same country is in fact located in a strategic position also due to a set of other conditions. These enable it to benefit from a wealth of resources related to renewable energies: its location on the solar belt, but also its position on the Atlantic coast and its mountains from which wind, water and wave-power energies can largely be taken advantage of.
The question however is how can countries like Portugal in the face of such serious economic depression can turn around and encourage investment in its natural resources.
This is precisely where international integration plays its role. For developing countries like Portugal with a wealth of natural resources as well as a primordial geographic position yet struggling financially, IRENA’s 3rd General Assembly, this year strategically preceding the World Future Energy Summit, might be exactly the platform needed to attract the extend of foreign investment that is required to first build up national profiles in the industry to then balance internal finances by taking advantage of resources that are largely overlooked and greatly underexploited.