Should renewable energy include nuclear?
The US, China, and dozens of other countries are meeting today in Egypt to chart the course of a new international agency aimed at promoting renewable energy.
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"Advocates of nuclear try to avoid these essential differences by linking these two forms of energy under the umbrella term 'low-carbon technology,'" says Dr. Doerte Fouquet, Director of the European Renewable Energy Federation. "People forget that emitting zero CO2 is only one of the characteristics that defines a renewable source of energy."Skip to next paragraph
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Renewables tied to oil
"Their support for Abu Dhabi as IRENA's headquarters is linked to these agreements and a secure supply of oil," says IIda Tetsunari, advisor to Japan's Minister of Environment and executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.
IRENA supporters say that would contradict its founding purpose to set the foundations for a renewable energy economy.
"Are the original goals of IRENA being co-opted so that renewables get pushed aside by a nuclear agenda – 'sprinkling some renewables on top of our nuclear power'?" asks Dr. Eric Martinot, an international expert on renewable energy markets and former World Bank energy officer.
The UAE has a 7 percent future target for renewable energy and is planning to build Masdar, a city powered only by renewable resources. The Emirates claim that their vast solar potential is not enough to power the rest of the UAE and are looking to nuclear power to fill the gap.
"Since the 1970s, scientists have shown that renewable energy can satisfy the energy needs of the entire world, but these studies get systematically ignored. IRENA will change this," says Hermann Scheer, a member of the German Parliament, and pioneer of the agency.
The case for Germany
In both countries building new nuclear plants is illegal. Instead, they've focused on introducing new policies to encourage renewable energy generation. Germans can access interest-free loans to buy solar panels and get paid to feed renewable energy to the grid. The country has 300,000 green jobs, and is hoping to double its share of renewable energy power to 30 percent by 2020, four times more the UAE's target.
Dr. Scheer, who has been fighting to establish the agency since the 1990s, says the founding of IRENA took off when the German government sought support of like-minded countries. "This was the only way to avoid the veto power of countries with strong nuclear or fossil interests, who have stopped IRENA in the past," he says. "IRENA could be designed as a lame duck or it could promote renewable energy acceleration everywhere. This is the case for decision."