India trying to position itself as a leader in solar power

Ahead of the COP-21 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Paris, India is expected to float a grouping of countries called the International Agency for Solar Policy and Application (InSPA), possibly at the ongoing India-Africa Forum Summit (refer).  This solar alliance is known to have a backing of countries such as Australia, New Zealand, China, Brazil and African nations. Being an Indian initiative, the alliance’s secretariat is expected to be set up within India.

  • India wants to position itself as a key global solar market as against been seen as just another emerging solar market
  • Renewable energy makes so much sense for India that the country needs to start taking a leadership role
  • The government needs to start taking more responsibility to support the growth of the sector as there are still substantial challenges to be resolved

Amongst its several objectives, the InSPA alliance is pegged as a platform for developing countries to share technologies with each other rather than depending on costly transfer of solar technologies from Europe and the US. However, at least at this stage, the messaging seems more important than the substance of this initiative. India now wants to start positioning itself as a key global solar market and not just another name in the list of emerging solar markets. Over the past months, both Prime Minister Modi and the Minister for Power, Piyush Goyal, have used the phrase ‘renewable energy capital of the world’ to describe India’s future role (refer) in the sector. While one may dismiss that as empty grandiloquence, there is definitely a sense that India has got the most to gain from renewable energy amongst major economies in the world.  The country, therefore, needs to take a leadership role to support the sector growth and address critical challenges in its technological and operational implementation.

But what is India’s credibility as a founding member of the alliance? It is generally seen as a laggard in the sector, way behind the leading markets of Europe, China, US and Japan. It does not have access to any special technology, nor any solar manufacturing capacity of note. On the other hand, it has amongst the highest solar market potential and has a pipeline of 15 GW of solar capacity that is expected to catapult it to the third largest global solar market over the next two years. Moreover, as the country is fiscally constrained, solar sector growth is driven by sustainable factors like commercial parity and growing demand for power. Through various policy measures such as reverse auctions and government owned solar parks, India has been able to bring down the cost of solar power and address some daunting operational challenges. These policy measures mean that India can showcase solar, in particular, to emerging markets and lead the way in sector development.

Going forward, India needs to build expertise in low cost manufacturing, grid-integration of renewables and smart grid management. Coordinating R&D efforts and coming up with a credible technology sharing process can bring measurable benefits for all stakeholders.

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