The Global Solar Alliance, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Paris on Monday, has been creating quite a buzz. Governments, businesses, NGOs and academics have welcomed the initiative, which is being seen as a major step in the fight against climate change.
The Alliance is likely to boost the absorption and deployment of solar power, which has already seen exponential expansion in the last five years — between 2010 and 2014, the installed capacity of solar energy across the world has grown from 23 GW to about 180 GW. During the same time, price of solar electricity has fallen by about eight times. Even in India, the price of solar electricity is likely to become very competitive in comparison to coal or other sources of energy once the new solar plants being installed now are operational.
Such is the excitement around solar energy that at the climate change conference in Lima last year, former US vice-president and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, after making an upbeat presentation on solar technologies, said he had moved from being pessimistic about climate change in 2007 to being highly optimistic now.
It is an invitation to 121 countries lying between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, which get the most solar insolation, to make collaborative efforts to harness solar energy to generate electricity. Most of these countries are in Asia, Africa and South America, and many of them are power deficient.
By coming together to install solar power plants, these countries can drive up the demand for solar technologies manifold, in the process forcing down prices even more. Currently, the growth of solar installed capacity has been coming from very few countries.
Another objective of the Alliance is to bring standardisation to manufacturing processes and solar technologies. If every country starts using similar products and processes, costs of manufacturing elements of solar technologies can fall substantially.
The fall in prices of solar power so far has been propelled mainly by rising demand. Analysts say prices haven’t bottomed out yet.
“It can easily go down further. Not just by demand but by technology innovations too. We have not seen enough research and development activities happening in the solar sector as of now, especially in the developing countries for their own use,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency under the Ministry of Power. Mathur is a key negotiator for India in Paris.
Facilitating research and development is envisaged as one of the main objectives of the Solar Alliance. A keenly awaited technology breakthrough is in the area of storage systems. There is currently no way to store the electricity being produced by solar systems, because of which the sun is not the most reliable energy source on many days.
“It is my belief that the Solar Alliance can foster technology development that will ensure a faster scale-up of solar systems in various economies, particularly promoting improvement in storage technologies. It will ensure that the energy access and energy scarcity situation, which India and a number of developing countries are grappling with is addressed on a war footing,” Srinivas Krishnaswamy of Vasudha Foundation, an NGO, said.
Money and Infrastructure
The Indian government, the prime mover behind the Alliance, has committed itself to providing Rs 400 crore over the next five years to building infrastructure and meeting recurring costs. A secretariat is being set up in New Delhi. Till a building is constructed, the secretariat will function from the Delhi-based National Institute of Solar Energy. India hopes that after five years, the Alliance secretariat would become self-financing.
Stepping stone to more
The Solar Alliance model, if it succeeds, can potentially be extended to other forms of renewable energy like wind or biogas. It can, in turn, foster south-south cooperation and bring transformational changes in providing affordable access to energy in poorer countries, and lift living standards.
“(It is) a truly brightening move. This will undoubtedly encourage global corporates to initiate more bold steps in utilising solar power. This initiative is bound to have a knock-on effect on other forms of renewable energy as well,” Damandeep Singh of CDP India, a business consultancy group, said.