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New International Body to Promote Renewable Energy
Six dish Stirling Systems developed by Schlaic...

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by Kate Connolly in Berlin and David Gow in Brussels

A new international body to promote renewable energy is to be established today, in a move that its supporters insist has the potential to replace the global dominance of conventional power with wind, solar and other sustainable sources within a matter of years.

Fifty-five governments have said they will commit themselves to full membership of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), at its founding conference in Bonn today. A total of 116 countries will take part.

The US has not joined, but is widely expected to do so under the new administration. Britain, however, has not signed up to Irena, although it is understood to be sending officials as observers.

Officials in the new Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: "We are certainly supportive and are interested in joining but we need to make sure that what we're joining has the right focus. There needs to be more focus on the deployment of renewables rather than just talking policy and issuing papers - and there needs to be a wider membership."

The DECC is hyper-sensitive to persistent criticism that Britain is dragging its feet on renewable energy and clinging to old coal - and gas-fired - generating plants to prevent the lights going out in the middle of the next decade.

Headed by Ed Miliband, the department wants to see the US and Asian countries such as China and Japan indicate they will join too before it signs up to Irena.

Irena aims to help both developing and industrialised countries transfer to renewable energy with practical advice to those who lack the knowhow.

Its founders see it as an institutional counterbalance to the International Energy Agency which has been accused of not doing enough to promote alternative energy. Irena's initiator, Hermann Scheer, who is president of the World Council for Renewable Energy and a German MP, told the Guardian: "Irena is the single-most important step for a speedy global introduction of renewable energies. It will give an enormous push to the use of renewables around the globe."

With an initial budget of €25m (£23.8m), gathered from a means-tested membership subscription, Irena will give financial, practical and technological support to member countries such as Chad, which has a constant solar supply, but is almost wholly dependent on conventional energies such as gas and oil, to build solar power plants.

Other countries which have signed up include France, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Vietnam, Paraguay, Mali, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Danish climate minister, Connie Hedegaard, told the Guardian that Irena would enable the proper coordination of renewable energy usage across the world. "Renewables have been homeless in the energy family until now," she said. "We have a chance to spread their use, particularly in the developing world, to spread best practices, deliver useful statistics and calculations and share the knowhow about what pays off and what doesn't.

"There's a growing understanding that renewables are important on many levels, from energy security to growth and development.

"Even Saudi Arabia, an oil-producing country and member of Opec, has just announced it wants to have 7% of renewables by 2020."

This piece originally appeared in the Environment section of The Guardian.

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I'm very excited by this news. This development will be critical for the mainstreaming of renewable energy. To me it symbolizes a power-shift away from the old guard, the IEA and other fossil-fuel focused agencies.

Posted by: Mike Simons on 27 Jan 09

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