Sakari Oksanen says the world has to choose sustainable energy production. He promotes that idea as the deputy director-general of Irena.
Light from the morning sun floods into Sakari Oksanen's office in Masdar City. His windows overlook the sands surrounding Abu Dhabi. A field of solar panels stands out as a large black spot on the landscape.
Oksanen wants to see more of these black spots – throughout the world. To put it bluntly: the more land area is covered with solar panels in the future, the better the deputy-head and his colleagues at Irena have succeeded in carrying out their work.
Irena, the International Renewable Energy Agency, is an intergovernmental organization that promotes renewable forms of energy. The organization includes 150 countries that finance the activity by membership fees and voluntary donations. Oksanen has worked as the Deputy Director-General of the organization for a bit over a year.
The use of solar power is actually increasing. Construction of panels has become affordable, and the technology generates electricity efficiently.
"Solar power is not the only solution", says Sakari Oksanen. "Other forms of renewable energy will have similar success in the long term."
Renewable forms include wind, water, ocean, biomass and geothermal energy. Wind already produces a significant amount of electricity. However, electricity generation accounts for only a quarter of total energy use.
"For example, transportation can run on bioenergy, and housing requires geothermal solutions."
Renewable energy and energy policy in general tend to raise numerous ideological questions, but Oksanen is common sense kind of person.
"The ideological supporters of renewable energy tend to oppose either nuclear power or large international companies", Oksanen says.
Oksanen is not interested in rebel movements.
"Mankind needs to move towards sustainable and wise use of energy. It’s a scientifically proved fact, and all people should accept it. "
Oksanen spent his earlier career in the business world. He worked for a Finnish company Pöyry, which provides expert consulting on such topics as bioenergy boilers that burn waste to produce energy.
At Irena, Oksanen doesn’t work from quarter to quarter pace anymore. Results from his work could become clearly visible only after several decades.
"This organization aims to promote change. I'm certainly not going to be around to see the effects."
Irena offers information and support, but the actual work is carried out by the governments of member states. Also, investors and builders of power plants will have to take action.
Irena seeks to bring politicians and governmental authorities into contact with builders and financiers. The organization has, among other things, developed a map of the world, that pinpoints the wind and solar resources available in different areas. The service helps to decide where different renewable energy technologies could be deployed most profitably.
According to Oksanen, the fastest-growing renewable energy markets are currently China and India. The United Arab Emirates is first in the Middle East, followed by other countries in the region.
Europe's greatest user of renewable energy is Germany. Finland and Sweden produce quite a lot of bioenergy. Denmark and the Netherlands benefit from wind power.
In the United States, the situation varies from state to state.
"California’s energy policies are the most advanced."
In South America, Chile, Brazil and Mexico have all entered the game. Africa’s frontrunners are Morocco and South Africa.
"Africa has a great opportunity to benefit from falling costs of building solar energy," says Oksanen.
Will the global industry remain tied to sites with solar panels? Not necessarily, according to Oksanen. For example, solar power generated in the Sahara desert could also be used in the northern hemisphere.
"An electricity grid that covers the whole world may lie in the future."