Solar’s Place in the Sun: Maximizing the Energy Gains

In the arena of renewable energy sources, wind and hydropower were the first success stories. Solar photovoltaics (PV) started slowly catching up, and since 2017 there has been an unmistakable momentum behind the development and deployment of solar energy production.

Debate name: Lights on for Innovation in Energy!

Date: 13 November 2018

We must make the most of this progress. The Paris Peace Forum hosted a discussion at its 2018 inaugural session on how to maximize the gains from this solar expansion. Benefiting from the insight of a concrete knowledge-sharing project of the International Solar Alliance, the Forum probed how to bring stakeholders together and facilitate the exchange of research, technical know-how, and best practices.

What’s the Problem?

Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy supplies is essential for the world to meet its growing energy demands (and the forecast ahead), to significantly reduce carbon emissions, and to achieve the universal access to energy that moves populations from poverty to prosperity. In fact, widespread lack of access to modern energy hinders progress on UN Sustainable Development Goals ranging from health to gender equality, employment, air pollution, education, and economic growth.

The good news is that the transition is underway and new technologies are developing every day. But it is a race against time.

World Energy Outlook 2018

Paul Simon, the deputy head of the International Energy Agency, participated in the Paris Peace Forum and shared forecasts from the IEA’s — just-released — annual World Energy Outlook 2018 report. This is not just about swapping out energy sources. Global energy demand is expected to grow by more than 25 percent in the next two decades. Almost all that growth will occur in developing economies.

India is particularly notable. Although China will dominate total energy demand, by far the largest energy demand growth will occur in India. “While global energy demand is expected to grow at about 1% per year … India is expected to grow at 3.3%”, Simon reported. Even accounting for the coming demographic surges ahead, this is a remarkable explosion of demand.

“India is perhaps the single most important country in terms of global energy growth in the next twenty-five years. Their choices will be critical. By 2023, India will quadruple its solar PV production capabilities.”

Paul Simons, International Energy Agency

The panel framed one of the main challenges around keeping pace. The IEA’s analysis is “very confident that India will make major progress in reducing — essentially down to zero — the number of people who do not have access to basic electricity”; Asia similarly. But it needs to be done in a way that is sustainable and cost-efficient in order to successfully meet the need. Also, advances in electricity access do not necessarily address needs in heating, industry, or transportation.

Another panelist caveated that while some places are leaping forward, others still face huge deficits. “[The IEA] anticipates that 700 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will still lack access to modern energy.” Spreading advances worldwide is essential.

solar energy Paris Peace Forum

What’s at the End of the Tunnel

The good news is that renewable energy sources are taking off — solar with an especially impressive momentum — and price points are more affordable. The panel pointed to the remarkable 80% drop in the cost of solar technologies in just the last few years. Solar is expected to become cheaper than gas, wind, and even coal over time. Solar will be a big part of the path forward for many developing countries.

“Solar PV (photovoltaics) will be the single largest source of new energy generation. It will exceed wind by 2025, hydropower by 2030, and even coal by 2040.”

Paul Simons, International Energy Agency

Considering the urgency of the climate change crisis, global population growth, energy demand forecasts, and the need to make large-scale, systemic change to our energy practices, the choices are now. Philippe Malbranche, Director General of France’s National Institute for Solar Energy (INES) warned about the scope of the challenge — think in terms of ten-fold growth of solar energy production if we want to meet the coming energy demands. “The yearly market [of solar energy supply] has to grow from almost 100 gigawatts per year to 1000 gigawatts per year, just in the next decade.”

With its focus on concrete solutions, the Paris Peace Forum highlighted a project working to ensure that the rapid spread of solar is done in a sustainable way: the STAR-C (Solar Technology Application Resource Centre) project of the International Solar Alliance.

The challenges of global energy demand and carbon-reduction targets do have a resource here to make use of. But as Megha Pushpendra Yadav, the representative from ISA, described: “it needs to be done in a way that is safe, convenient, affordable, equitable, and sustainable”. It will require a widespread effort and every innovative approach we can muster.

The International Solar Alliance

The International Solar Alliance is a treaty-based organization focused on addressing the specific solar technology development and deployment needs of solar resource rich countries located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The goal is to address their unique energy challenges (often agrarian populations, affordability issues, and equitable access) by pooling knowledge, practices, and a common approach.

Who’s on the Hot Seat

The agenda for mobilizing solar is an ideal one for multi-stakeholder collaboration. The International Solar Alliance is built on a big tent approach. Their collaborative model not only reaches beyond national borders but also across sectors working closely with multilateral organizations, industry, the scientific community, NGOs and other stakeholders in order to expand solar energy supplies and utilization.

STAR-C is a capacity-building project of ISA that is creating a network of training and technical centers in ISA member countries, in order for them to not only accelerate deployment of solar energy resources but also to be able to support and sustain these platforms.

As Ms. Pushpendra Yadav described: think in terms of large scale deployment of new solar energy technologies. For efficiency and durability, training of technicians, systems providers, infrastructure managers, and more will be essential. Not only that, but she also emphasized that when their centers for excellence train “stakeholders”, she considers “stakeholders” to also be the local policymakers, politicians, and bureaucrats. Without their buy-in, there is no systemic solution.

Philippe Malbranche Paris Peace Forum

“To scale up [solar usage] at the level necessary, we have to enable countries to have a bottom-up approach. It has to be local associations, cities, collectives, and so that propose how to use solar for their local environment.”

– Philippe Malbranche, INES

Meanwhile, the project’s global centers of excellence have created research facilities for cross-fertilization of knowledge and feedback. The ISApresentation drew attention to the importance of information sharing, education, and generally expanding awareness. Ms. Pushpendra Yadavspoke of the fluid exchange and cooperation with partners ranging from international organizations (the IEA as one example), national institutions (France’s INES, for example), development aid agencies and NGOs on the ground.

As Ms. Yadav pointed out, it’s also very practical to have contributions from the private sector that is designing and manufacturing these rapidly evolving technologies. For example, when they can donate time from their engineers to provide training programs in developing countries, it is invaluable. Partnerships from and contributions with the scientific community are likewise. Philippe Malbranche came back to the scope of the problem, echoing the importance of stakeholder collaboration. If scale-up needs to be ten-fold, then “we need to multiply by ten the number of people trained, feasibility studies, projects, and more — and at the same time mobilize the financing to do so.”

Due to the geographical nature of solar, STAR-C is largely a south/south network — building capacities and efficiencies in the solar-rich states within their mandate. But as the diverse panel demonstrated, there is also a north/south component in that ISA’s training and technology assistance benefits greatly from the scientific knowledge, research networks, technology resources, and education initiatives from countries beyond their scope. All panelists emphasized how valuable a wide geographical scope is to address global energy challenges and make use of the proliferation of new technologies.

What’s Next

Energy demand is growing exponentially, alternatives in renewables are exploding fast, and solar energy is a big part of closing this supply gap. Innovative thinking and tools will be needed to advance under the time pressure we face — whether that be in technical, financial, or organizational arenas.

The diverse panel of practitioners at the Paris Peace Forum offered recommendations for effectively and efficiently advancing the large-scale global transition to solar energy. Each from their own perspective, they emphasized the critical importance of collaboration, sharing best practices, and pooling their unique added value in a complementary manner. Solar supplies, infrastructure, and usage are growing fast. But it will be initiatives that foster knowledge sharing and training, exchange across markets, and collaborative scientific research are going to be the fastest and most effective means to pool ideas and expand the pot of expensive, high-tech resources. Solar scale-up is happening fast.

solar energy Paris Peace Forum
Photo: IEA

Panel Participants

The Forum thanks panel participants: 

  • Megha Pushpendra Yadav, Strategic Communications, International Solar Alliance
  • Paul Simmons, Deputy Executive Director, International Energy Agency
  • Philippe Malbranche, Director General, INES (National Institute for Solar Energy)

The panel was moderated by Abdoulaye Mathilde Bord-Laurans, Head of the Energy Unit, Agence française de développement.

This is a publication of the Paris Peace Forum reflecting the debates at the Forum’s inaugural session in November 2018. It does not necessarily represent the conclusions of each individual participant.


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About the Paris Peace Forum

The Paris Peace Forum is an annual event aiming to push forward new rules and solutions to address the global challenges of our time. All actors of global governance are invited to join the Paris Peace Forum 11-13 November in Paris, France.

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