Towards Global Solar Alliance
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to African countries to join the global solar alliance ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris on November 30, could be a game changer. Climate change was a core theme in his speech at the ongoing India-Africa Summit in New Delhi, representing a third of the world’s population.
“When the sun sets, tens of millions of homes in India and Africa become dark. We want to light up the lives of our people and power their future”, he said.
The use of Sun as the symbol of a new dawn in India’s age-old relationship with Africa is significant. India’s first human bond with the continent was forged when British colonialists exported Indians as indentured labour to consolidate an empire over which the Sun never set. Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian who received his political baptism in South Africa, later led the freedom struggle in his home country inspiring anti-colonial movement in Africa and Middle-East. And the first India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru formed a third non-aligned group with Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah among others to strengthen the political bond.
The Solar Alliance proposed by Modi will now take further the bond forged by this shared past into a vision of a shared future. Both India and African nations need plenty of energy to spur their economic growth. When the sun sets, tens of millions of homes in India and Africa become dark. They can use the Sun to light up lives of our people and power their future. And they can do this without making the snow on Kilimanjaro disappear and glaciers that feed the River Ganga retreat.
Media reports indicate that Modi’s call has evoked a positive response from African leaders attending the Summit. Ghana President John Mahama has committed his support to the initiative, saying that inability of most countries in Africa to utilise the abundant sunshine to produce solar energy for consumption was unacceptable. Mozambique, Morocco, and nearly a dozen other African countries that have recently joined hands to launch a campaign to bring solar power to 620 million people across the continent have also chipped in.
By seeking to involve African countries in India’s global initiative, Modi has struck a rich vein as Africa has huge potential to harness solar energy. As experts have pointed out, installing state of the art solar panels in the Sahara desert alone can light up the whole of Europe throughout a year. The world already has long distance transmission technologies for fulfilling such needs. All that Africa needs is the expertise and the funds to ensure the success of the project.
This is the first time India has made a concerted effort to bring together developing countries to push through common development strategies, especially on the technology front. During his talks with the African leaders, Modi made it clear that India intends to push for a special session on solar energy and issues related to technology transfer to developing nations during the UN climate change Summit in Paris later this year.
What makes Modi’s solar initiative especially workable is that India has already kick-started pioneering work in a sunrise sector like solar energy. Its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted to the UNFCCC say that it would ensure that 40 per cent of its installed power generation capacity comes from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. This would involve increasing the country’s solar capacity from 4GW to 100GW in the next seven years. India’s efforts in recent years have enabled it to raise investments in the renewable energy sector to about $7.4 billion in the last year to make it one of the top players in the segment.
Harnessing solar energy is a major component of this commitment. Improvements in solar technologies have helped India bring down the capital cost of solar projects from Rs 17 crore per MW at the turn of the decade to less than Rs 8 crore at present. As a result, solar power technology is becoming increasingly cheaper with around 15 per cent year-on-year decline in prices of components.
This has helped push up India’s solar power generation capacity from a few Megawatts a few years back to 3002 MW by the end of the last year. In the last budget, the government had unfurled more ambitious plans to step up the capacity building targets in the solar energy sector to 100 GW or one lakh MW by 2022.
With its massive plans to step up solar power generation, India can provide technologies and Indian companies, which are already working to extend telecom networks in Africa, can even fund a part of these efforts.
Coordinated efforts by India and Africa in the solar energy sector could bring in sizable synergies including significant economies of scale. However, though the optimism about the prospects of solar energy has accelerated and improved possibilities of substantially stepping up the share of photovoltaic cells in global electricity generation to 16 per cent by 2050.
By proclaiming his resolve to announce a global solar alliance, India has sent a strong signal to the global communities about the sincerity of the developing nations to fight climate change. As the Indian Prime Minister has underlined, the excess of a few cannot be allowed to become the burden of many. If the African countries join the proposed global solar alliance, the developing countries can work as a business block in the solar energy sector which needs both finance and technology to grow in sunshine developing nations. The timing of the announcement is significant as such a grouping together will put greater pressure on the developed nations to see that a genuine global public partnership alone can make clean energy affordable. They must provide finance and technology to developing countries and enable them to adapt to the impact of climate change.
(The writer is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)