Article, Helmut Lölhöffel, July 2009
The global energy transitionmust speed up

The signatory countries to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), numbering 136 countries by now with more than 4 billion inhabitants, have designated Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) as headquarters of the Agency and nominated Hélène Pelosse, France, as its first Director General. These crucial decisions being taken, IRENA is now in a position to take up its work immediately.

After EUROSOLAR gave birth to the idea to establish an IRENA and as a consequence of Hermann Scheer’s constant activism and long lasting personal commitment for the IRENA initiative, Hermann Scheer can duly be credited with the success of IRENA’s foundation.

„This is a historic date for the global energy transition. Many more states than sceptics feared at the outset, comprising nearly two thirds of the world’s population, have gathered to facilitate the global breakthrough for renewable energy“, said Hermann Scheer, Chair of the World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE) and President of EUROSOLAR, commenting on the decisions that were taken on 29 June 2009 in Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt).

Although an important goal was reached, not all wishes became true. Neither did the city Bonn, which applied to host the headquarters of IRENA along with Vienna and Abu Dhabi, succeed with its bid, nor was Hermann Scheer mandated with a leadership position at IRENA. More than 70 well-known protagonists from the renewable energy scene called in an open letter upon delegates in Sharm el Sheikh to involve Hermann Scheer in IRENA’s start-up phase, suggesting to nominate him as „Founding Chair“ of IRENA. There were many who expected Hermann Scheer to become Director General of the Agency. Had the German government nominated him, he would have been – especially after the decision was taken to locate the headquarters in Abu Dhabi – the favourite among candidates. However, the federal government refrained from nominating him because it feared that his candidacy would weaken Bonn’s chances. To avoid any competition, which at one point might have come down to „Bonn or Scheer“, an agreement with Hermann Scheer was reached to proceed accordingly.

Bärbel Diekmann, mayor of Bonn, and Sigmar Gabriel, federal minister for the environment, presented Bonn’s application in Sharm el Sheikh. Yet, the arguments in favour of Bonn did not suffice in the end. Abu Dhabi came forward with a multi-million contribution to IRENA’s budget and offered to headquarter IRENA in its eco-city Masdar. Their bid won over numerous member states from Africa and the Arabic world but also the two new members USA and France. Negotiations aiming at a compromise resulted in the decision to establish the IRENA Innovation- and Technology Centre in Bonn and to install the Agency’s Liaison Office for cooperation with other organisations active in the field of renewables in Vienna.

Several initiatives took place behind the scenes in Sharm El Sheikh, attempting to harness Hermann Scheer’s experience, knowledge and potential to the benefit of IRENA. At one point it was discussed to form a directorate, comprising the four nominees and chaired by Hermann Scheer. This attempt failed eventually. Finally, Hélène Pelosse, deputy head of staff of international affairs at the French ministry for the environment was able to obtain the majority and won against the Spanish candidate with 63 against 60 votes. The candidates from Greece and Denmark were eliminated during the first two rounds of voting.

After all, the constant struggle was finally successful. It was already in 1990 that EUROSOLAR initially brought forward the idea to form an international governmental organisation for renewable energy. It took 20 years until this Agency was founded but patience and stamina have lead to this respectable outcome. The accession of 136 member states within five months gives proof of the success story of IRENA. The US, Australia, Japan and Great Britain signed the statute shortly before the conference in Sharm el Sheikh. It is nevertheless striking that several oil exporting countries like Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have not yet become members. Coal exporting South Africa is also missing as well as Brazil, which fears that IRENA could interfere with its export interests in the field of bio ethanol.

Thanks to the offer from Abu Dhabi, IRENA’s work can start on the basis of a significant initial budget – even though, as EUROSOLAR sees it, the stage is set awkwardly: IRENA will be headquartered in a country that lives on its rich oil reserves and the Director General originates from a country where nuclear energy is more or less unchallenged and which still aims at building and delivering nuclear reactors – even to IRENA member states. Following Hermann Scheer, the results that IRENA will deliver in practice will be essential – responsibility with this will lie with member states. Already at this point, it will be imperative to block attempts of certain governments to belittle the importance of IRENA and to water down its work.

Despite several objections, questions and problems: The start of the IRENA-era is a milestone on the way to a transition from fossil to renewable energies. Although the federal government failed with its Bonn candidacy – partly due to clumsy behaviour – and was left empty handed after its decision to prioritise on the seat, Germany will remain world leader when it comes to the proliferation of renewable energies and will contribute with its experience to the work of IRENA. The Innovation and Technology Centre is set to play a prominent role for research and technology.

WCRE and EUROSOLAR will accompany IRENA's activities in a constructive manner. They will support the Agency in its task to enable its current and future members to swiftly take part in the central project to supply humankind with a safe energy supply and to contribute to halting climate change.

A chronology titled „The long road to IRENA“ has been published by EUROSOLAR and the WCRE. It can be ordered via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Contact: Helmut Loelhoeffel, EUROSOLAR communication, Mobile: 0049-(0)173/6160004