Zero emission future may be a bit further than our envisaged solar development processes can illuminate now, but it is very much tangible and achievable with continued growth. Countries are moving towards energy shift faster and more aggressively. They are trying to claim as big a part of the growing solar market as they can through huge investments, Government support on industrialization, and technological up gradation. Since solar is new in comparison with the traditional energy, it is understandable that an impressive growth at its infancy will certainly translate into worldwide energy fulfillment at its maturity. Currently, countries are focusing on a 5-year time frame to enhance, support, and build the solar energy platform that won’t ever power down.
Therefore, China $103 bn, USA $44.1 bn, UK $22 bn, India $10 bn, Germany $8.5 bn, Brazil, $7 bn, South Africa $4.5 bn and other countries investing on renewable energy, summing up to a total of $286 bn (approx.) within 2016, seems like the right move to bring a sustainable future closer. And although, better investment and Government backed policies have led to a massive global 75 GW PV capacity installation in 2016 alone, that cannot be the full extent of our efforts to see the sustainable future unfold.
Let us explore three initiatives that can lay a stronger foundation of a clean energy future within 5 years.
Technology Up gradation
Countries are now forming communities to strengthen solar industry through collaboration. The Paris Agreement was one of the platforms that led not just developed countries like UK, US, and Japan, but also brought developing countries like Chile, India, and Brazil to strategize the best way for solar growth. These platforms made resource and knowledge sharing possible, which resulted in technological up gradation. Through this collaboration, today Indian domestic solar manufacturers have MOUs with leading tech firms from Germany, Japan, and USA; which is supporting capacity enhancement, efficiency improvement, and increase in quality.
China’s Top Runner Program is another methodology that leads to tech up gradation of solar industry, by creating competition. This process is a perfect example how every country should act to incite growth and technological up gradation while strengthening its domestic manufacturing capacity (click here for more information on China’s Top runner program, and what India can learn from it). Although, countries are spending big on renewable energy, focus on technological up gradation is needed to scale higher levels of growth. Therefore, more collaboration platforms (like ISA) and competitive strategies (like Top Runner Program) can help countries bring the change faster.
Plans for Rural Electrification
It is obvious that development would start where demand is higher, presenting the rationale why solar growth is at its peak around the metropolises. However, to go beyond just reaching a milestone in green energy installation, the world needs to plan for rural electrification as well. Involving the common man is the best way to make solar acceptable, especially when it has to contend with decades old relation between human society and fossil fuels.
Energy scene in the rural areas of developing countries are bleak, with huge number of places still un-electrified. Brazil’s ‘Light for all’ program launched by the Federal Government in November 2003, invested more than $20 bn within 2012, increasing electricity in the rural ambit up to 92.6 per cent. India has also made incredible strides to illuminate its rural areas under Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (12,809 villages electrified out of 18,452). The project has INR 4,843 Crore to support the growth. And the promise of 100 per cent electrification by May 2018 by Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley ensures aggressive and positive reform. Such initiatives should be followed by other developing countries to inform and help common man adopt solar energy, speeding the energy transition within next 5 years.
With the inception of solar installation as an alternative energy source by developed countries, all the countries have stepped into a competition to beef up their own solar capacities. India is not far behind either, scaling from 10 MW in 2010 to 10 GW in 2017. However, in this race to phase out and save the import expenditure of fossil fuels, countries are ignoring the importance of maintaining energy security. And countries like China are taking advantage of such scenario to dump low quality modules at a cheaper rate, gaining profit and claiming more of the industry worldwide. For example, in FY 2014–15, India imported 161.5 million solar panels, spending almost $821 million. And the import expenditure jumped to $1.3 billion in 2015-16 (Click here for more details on solar dumping issues in India). And since the country has only 5 MNRE accredited module quality testing facilities, we can safely assume that an uncanny amount of low quality modules have already been used in Indian solar projects.
Now, since these projects are designed to satisfy growing energy requirement of the country, being low quality makes them unreliable. Therefore, focusing on energy security by imposing anti-dumping and making more module testing facilities operational would be the right and much needed move for quick and lasting growth.
Obviously, it will take more effort than we have mustered so far, but making solar energy our primary energy source within just 5 years, is possible. We need to remember that green energy transition, is not just a better choice for us, it is the only choice that will sustain a future we desire and deserve.