ABU DHABI -- China is now the largest market for renewable energy and has potential for more growth in the sector, according to the chief of the international organization encouraging the use of eco-friendly power.
Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), recently spoke with Nikkei in the green-power promoter's headquarters in Abu Dhabi, ahead of his planned visit to Japan starting Monday.
"I can assure that China has a strong commitment to renewable energy," he said. The world's second-biggest economy plans to invest $360 billion in the sector by 2020, he said, and he expects that the effort will have a significant impact on the global energy market.
"Pollution in China's mega-cities is a key driver for the Chinese to move into renewable energy," he said of the background to China's effort. He welcomed the situation where "Chinese policies are also moving decisively and favorably in terms of renewables" to counter the problem.
In contrast with China, "the ASEAN countries were slow starters [on introducing renewable energies] but are catching up." Amin raised the example of Thailand, where "It is possible in Thailand to go up to 30% renewable in the next few years." He also mentioned Vietnam as one of the fast-moving countries.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has set a goal of having 23% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Amin expect the member nations to go even further. "Our analysis shows that ASEAN countries can easily reach 27% with a very positive economic scenario."
He praised Japan for becoming "one the top three energy clean hubs in the world." He said, "They generated almost 20% of the total global clean technologies in 2016." He believes that the use of more electricity rather than hydrocarbons in the end-user sector -- such as automobiles -- is the critical point for the advance of renewable energy. "These technologies will be the next step-change, and Japan has tremendous opportunities to exploit."
Amin said the energy shift in general will help achieve a more democratized world. Diversifying energy sources will dilute the concentrated privileges of supplying electricity that have been granted to governments and a limited number of corporations.
"The ownership pattern of renewables is completely decentralized. The energy system of the future will not be owned by a handful of people. It will have participation from the citizens," Amin said. As an example, he mentioned an effort underway in a municipality [Higashi Matsushima city] in Japan's northeastern prefecture of Miyagi, one of the areas hit hardest by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to establish self-distributed power-supply infrastructure.
Unlike oil, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power are not concentrated in specific places on the earth. "I anticipate a move from scarcity and competition characterized by conflict, into a world of abundance with new types of international cooperation beginning to be formed," Amin said.
He also noted that the entire world is moving away from oil at a pace faster than previously thought, pointing out that Asia has been catching up with the rest of the world in adopting renewable energy and that even oil-producing countries are increasingly investing heavily in renewables.
IRENA is an international organization with the aim of spreading the use of renewable energy such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower, as well as the use of the ocean as a power source. It was established in April 2011 in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Its primary activities include the study of renewable energy use, making policy recommendations and helping members develop the ability to use renewable energy. Amin, from Kenya, is its first director-general.