Sharp Off-Grid Renewables Focus At Manila IOREC

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IOREC gets underway in Manila (IRENA)International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition, Manila, June 16, 2014 (IRENA)

The efforts of the fledgling—but remarkably effective—International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition are paying off again this week. To more than 400 IOREC delegates in Manila, the International Renewable Energy Agency, Asian Development Bank, and Alliance for Rural Electrification are demonstrating that small-scale and off-grid renewables can offer viable, strikingly swift change to remote rural communities and small island states.

Conventional fuels can break the back of island communities. Many of these have to spend up to an amazing 10% of GDP on fossil fuels. Mostly, it’s in the form of imported kerosene and diesel.

The lead agencies say off-grid renewables are win-win here. They offer not only big promise for individual/corporate stakeholders, but also vital and universal access to electricity for the people of the Asia-Pacific region. In direction and reach, IOREC fosters collaboration among all stakeholders working toward improving access to modern energy services.

Kicking off the conference, leaders Wencai Zhang of ADB, Adnan Z. Amin of IRENA*, and rural electrification maestro Ernesto Macias summed up their progress to date and expectations for a swift and bright future of off-grid renewable energy: locally produced energy with low or no storage requirements and minimal transmission losses. As well as offering strong personal commitments, each leader has extensive knowledge of collaborative pathways to implementation.

Key findings of 2012 IOREC in Ghana
Image Credit: IRENA

Of the 1.3 billion world citizens with sketchy or no electric power in their lives, fully 95% live in Africa or Asia. Two years ago, IOREC put together a conference in Ghana that has already borne fruit. IOREC produced a stunning summary of key findings and recommendations from the Ghana conference and included it with this year’s convention materials. Salvatore Vinci, an IRENA policy advisor, repeated the key messages from Ghana in a targeted audiovisual presentation.

This time, in Manila, the group hopes to spur further action. The leaders say that the present offers a historic opportunity for energy transformation on a bold scale. To this end, IRENA and ADB entered into a memorandum of understanding this morning. The MOU cements cooperation between the two institutions to accelerate deployment of renewable energy in Asian and Pacific nations.

Wencai Zhang, a vice-President of the Asian Development Bank since last December and former director of the Department of External Economic Cooperation at the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Finance, started off the conference. Dr. Zhang, who describes himself as “energy-agnostic,” is steering the Asian Development Bank in the direction of universal access by 2030.

Wencai Zhang, ADB. Image Credit: Sandy Dechert / CleanTechnica

Positive, animated, and engaging, Wencai sketched ways to translate paper commitments into positive actions. He charted a bolder path than some counterparts in other leading world financial organizations who have clung to more conventional energy investments. Working with the Group of 20, ASEAN+3, and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation has given Zhang the exposure necessary to get results. His development work in Sri Lanka has already given the country a jump ahead, to the point where the nation has nearly achieved “middle income status.”

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, followed Zhang. He brought extensive UN experience to the group, as well as realism inspired by years of experience. Adnan spoke of decentralization as key to bringing the historically disenfranchised remote corners of the world up to technological parity with their more intensely developed cousins. It’s an absolutely necessary fast track for socioeconomic advancement, Amin said.

Access to clean and reliable electricity supply is vital for social and economic development, and off-grid renewables present a cost-effective, clean and reliable solution for electricity access in rural, peri-urban and island contexts.

Amin also spoke of the needs for dedicated policies, enabling regulations, access to financing, tailor-made business models, and accelerated use of technologies.

Colleague Ernesto Macias of the Alliance for Rural Electrification agreed. He said that from initial government and charitable funding, renewables have matured into profitable investment vehicles. He spoke of synergies between off-grid renewables and other tech developments. Mobile phones are a clear example.

Ernesto Macias, Alliance for Rural Electrification president, addresses the IOREC meeting (cleantechnica/Dechert)
Ernesto Macias, Alliance for Rural Electrification president, addresses the IOREC meeting. Image Credit: Sandy Dechert / CleanTechnica

Macias has developed and managed rural electrification projects around the world. He recalled the days of pioneering renewable energy in the 20th century. Some of those proposed solutions have become obsolete, Macias said. As well as grandiose plans that did not pan out, he cited efforts like the Canary Islands program of the 1990s, which continues to contribute to applied renewables work. Macias and Amin experienced a strong bond forged in the efforts of those days. They visibly enjoyed the remembrance.

“As the international private sector reference for off-grid renewable energies, ARE is glad about IRENA’s increasing activity in this field,” especially the decision to establish IOREC as the long-term platform for mutual exchange among public sector decisionmakers, financiers, and practitioners.

Attendees at IOREC 2014 (cleantechnica/Dechert)
Attendees at IOREC 2014. Image Credit: Sandy Dechert / CleanTechnica

Fostering new collaborations in the twenty-teens, IOREC offers a great start for attending inventors and entrepreneurial agents of future change.

*Full Disclosure: IRENA is covering the cost of my flight to and accommodation in Manila.

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