Interview: Dr. Ajay Mathur

Director General at ISA

ISA to Play Crucial Role in Promoting Solar Energy Deployment

June 21, 2023. By News Bureau

Solar energy is becoming a mainstream source of electricity in many parts of the world. China, the USA, Japan, Germany, and India are the top-performing countries in solar energy adoption. Advancements in solar technology have been ground-breaking, significantly since the efficiency of solar panels has improved multi-fold.The International Solar Alliance (ISA) significantly facilitates solar expansion by bringing together countries and enabling solar deployment through its initiatives and activities, shared Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, ISA in an interview with Energetica India.

Que: Tell us about the progress and milestones achieved in the solar energy sector. How is International Solar Alliance (ISA) facilitating solar expansion?

Ans: The solar energy sector has made significant progress and can claim several milestones. The cost of solar panels has dropped significantly in the last decade, making solar energy more affordable for governments, enterprises, and individuals. Solar capacity has grown exponentially in the previous decade. As per an estimate of SolarPower Europe’s flagship Global Market Outlook for Solar Power, for the 9th consecutive year, global solar power broke its annual installation record with 168 GW of new solar PV capacity in 2021. In 2022, global solar is expected to continue the decade-long record-breaking streak, installing more than 200 GW of solar for the first time.

Solar energy is becoming a mainstream source of electricity in many parts of the world. China, the USA, Japan, Germany, and India are the top-performing countries in solar energy adoption. Advancements in solar technology have been ground-breaking, significantly since the efficiency of solar panels has improved multi-fold. New technologies like thin-film solar panels and breakthroughs in materials will steer solar cell technology away from the limitations posed by silicon. Using perovskite crystals in solar cells has improved their efficiency to about 30%, and the recent June 2022 contribution from researchers at Princeton University of a commercially viable perovskite-silicon solar cell, which can be manufactured at room temperature and requires less energy when compared to its predecessor, has set the stage for a potential blockbuster. Perovskite cells have other advantages – flexibility and transparency, thus expanding their application and usefulness.Battery energy storage and the advent of green hydrogen, produced by water electrolysis using solar electricity, can be game changers for the global solar sector.Governments worldwide support solar energy adoption through policies like tax credits, feed-in tariffs, and renewable energy mandates. Theprovisions extended by China, the USA, Germany, Japan, Australia, and India deserve special mention—therange of interventions to promote the deployment of solar energy and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels is worthy.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) significantly facilitates solar expansion by bringing together countries and enabling solar deployment through its initiatives and activities. ISA aims to promote the use of solar energy among its 114 Member and signatory countries, especially the developing countries, LDCS and SIDS, by providing technical assistance, encouraging research and development, and promoting financing mechanisms for solar projects.

Some key initiatives of ISA include providing tailored training and capacity-building programmes to promote the use of solar energy and create innovative financing mechanisms to support the deployment of solar projects in developing countries. The Solar Finance Facility and the SolarX grand challenge are specialised interventions in this direction.To enhance the solar footprint, ISA promotes the coupling of solar energy with various applications, including agriculture, mobility, and health.

Overall, the International Solar Alliance is helping to accelerate the deployment of solar energy worldwide, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat the climate crisis, and promote sustainable development—chieflySDG 7 on affordable and clean energy and SDG 13 on curbing climate change.

Que: International Solar Alliance (ISA) aims to harness solar energy by mobilising over USD 1 trillion in investments by 2030; what is the roadmap? Please summarise the targets that you have set up.

Ans: ISA is guided by its ‘Towards 1000’ strategy, which aims to mobilise USD 1,000 billion of investments in solar energy solutions by 2030 while delivering energy access to 1,000 million people using clean energy solutions and resulting in the installation of 1,000 GW of solar energy capacity. This would help mitigate global solar emissions by 1,000 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

In collaboration with World Resources Institute, Bloomberg Philanthropies, CONCITO, the Investment Fund for Developing Countries, and the World Climate Foundation, ISA has developed the ‘Our Solar Future Roadmap to Mobilize USD 1 Trillion by 2030’ Report, which was launched at COP27. The Report underlines that scaling solar energy can help deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy access worldwide. To improve access and security,meeting the following milestonesis imperative:

 Average annual investment in solar solutions must double from 2021 through 2030 to achieve the Paris climate goals and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
 Targeted action is required to ensure developing countries and emerging markets receive an equitable share of investment.
 Across all market segments, significant barriers to scaling up solar include a lack of enabling policies and regulations, bankable project pipelines, and risk-management challenges.
 Governments can act immediately, in partnership with commercial banks and development finance institutions, to address these barriers and to replicate and scale effective solutions.
 Broader international collaboration is also needed to scale up available resources, manage risk at scale, speed up transactions and standardise good practices, support innovative business models, and develop systems to monitor commitments, track progress, and measure impacts of solar investment.

Overall, ISA's Roadmap for harnessing solar energy is ambitious. To realise these ambitions, ISA works closely with its Member Countries, international organisations, and private sector partners to achieve these targets. At the same time,we are leveraging technology and innovation to promote the use of solar energy and reduce the cost of solar power.

Que: How far has India come on the solar front regarding the ambitious clean energy goal? What kind of policy framework is in place to facilitate the sector? What gives us an edge, and what more needs to be done?

Ans: India has made significant progress on the solar front and has become a global leader in deploying solar energy. India's ambitious clean energy goal is to install 175 GW of renewable energy capacity, including 100 GW of solar capacity, by 2022.
India's ambitious clean energy goal is to install 175 GW of renewable energy capacity, including 100 GW of solar capacity, by 2022.

The target, set in 2015, was 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity to be set up in the country by 2022. This included 100 GW from solar power, 60 GW from wind power, 10 GW from bio-power and 5 GW from small hydropower.India has achieved 119 GW. Out of this, 62% of the solar power target (62 GW of proposed 100 GW), 70% of the wind power target (42 GW of 60 GW), 107% of the bio-power target (10.7 of 10 GW) and 98% of the small hydropower sector target (4.9 of 5 GW), had been achieved by November 30, 2022.

India gains its edge from several policies and initiatives it has launched to support the growth of the solar sector, including:
 Solar Parks: India has launched a programme to develop solar parks across the country, which provide land, infrastructure, and transmission connectivity to solar developers.
 Rooftop Solar: India has launched a rooftop solar programme to install 40 GW of rooftop solar capacity by 2022.
 Solar Manufacturing: India has launched a programme to support domestic solar manufacturing, which includes incentives for solar cell and module manufacturers.
 Solar Auctions: India has adopted a competitive bidding process for solar projects, which has helped reduce the cost of solar power.
 Renewable Energy Targets: India has set ambitious renewable energy targets, including a target of 450 GW by 2030.

In addition to the above interventions, India has several advantages that have helpedits edge become sharper: abundant solar resources, a large and growing energy demand, and a robust policy framework. However, some challenges still need to be addressed further to facilitate the growth of the solar sector in India. These challenges includeIndia’sneed to upgrade its transmission and distribution infrastructure to facilitate the integration of large-scale solar projects into the grid. While solar power costs have decreased significantly, financing remains a challenge for solar developers, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.India needs to address regulatory barriers hindering the growth of the solar sector, such as land acquisition and permitting issues.

Overall, India has made significant progress on the solar front and has the potential to become a global leader in deploying solar energy. India must continue innovating and investing in the solar sector to achieve its ambitious clean energy goals while addressing the challenges hindering its growth.

Que: Last year, an MoU was signed between International Solar Alliance (ISA) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for the solarisation of the aviation sector across all member states. Kindly brief us on the progress made so far.

Ans: The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the ISA, and ICAO aims to promote Solar energy use in the aviation sector and reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint across all Member Countries.

Solarisation of the aviation sector is in ascendance. Important achievements in this arena include solar-powered airports. Several airport operators worldwide are implementing climate initiatives at their airports, such as installing photovoltaic plants and powering aircraft on the ground with Solar energy. Some recent examples are Solar deployment at the Douala International Airport, Cameroon and Mombasa International Airport, Kenya. Apart from this, India first completely solar-powered Cochin International Airport is one of its kind initiative by India. Also, Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI), Delhi, has become the first airport in the country to function solely on hydro and solar energy and has set the target of net-zero carbon emission airport by 2030.

In the above context, ISA Secretariat organised a site visit of the solar plant installed at IGI Delhi airport Cargo terminal on 20 October 2022 for Member Country delegates attending its Fifth Assembly. The visit aroused much interest in the Member Countries for adopting solar energy applications for their airports.

ISA is looking forward to working together with ICAO for the large-scale adoption of solar technologies at international airports of Member Countries in the field of policy development, research & innovation, and planning & designing of pilot projects for airport applications (terminal & airside), aircraft operations through direct & indirect use of solar energy or any other application in the aviation sector where solar technologies can be implemented. The cooperation between ISA and ICAO will help the aviation industry achieve its goal.

Que: Earlier this month, International Solar Alliance (ISA) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched pilot projects on scaling solar applications for agricultural use in ten African member countries. Tell us more about this programme and your c

Ans: ISA and UNDP announced the launch of ISA’s first programme, Scaling Solar Applications for Agriculture Use (SSAAU), in ten African ISA Member Countries: Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger, Republic of Sudan, Senegal, South Sudan, Togo, Tuvalu, and Uganda. The programme is slated to be implemented over the next two years and will be financially supported with USD 2 million, which ISA and UNDP have jointly secured. This pilot programme will provide agricultural workers with enhanced energy access and a sustainable irrigation solution through new and innovative solar water pumping systems deployment models. The larger goal of the initiative is to help Member Countries devise and implement large-scale projects and schemes to induct solar pumping technology in agricultural practices. This will help agriculture-based communities curb their carbon emissions and enjoy cost efficiencies.

The initiative is crucial and can have far-reaching impacts, assolar energy is Africa's fastest-growing renewable energy source. This initiative can become the epitome of South-South cooperation and demand aggregation by employing ISA’s convening power.This achievement showcases both popularity and impact of ISA’s programmes and, in this case, the vision of its very first programme of implementing decentralised solar applications in rural settings in the form of solar water pumping systems (SWPs) and reinforcing it with technical assistance.

This initiative by UNDP and ISA becomes important as agrifood systems account for 31% of the total greenhouse gas emissions globally. Expanding the application of solar technologies in agriculture, especially in energy-intensive areas like irrigation, will help reduce emissions and enhance farmer incomes. The broad avenues of collaboration will include exploring localised and innovative deployment models, pilot demonstration, skilling programmes and training for technical staff to build local capacity, developing best practices documents and detailing learnings from demonstration projects.
Overall, this programme is a step towards promoting the use of renewable energy in the agricultural sector and increasing agricultural productivity in African member countries. By promoting the use of solar energy in agriculture, the programme can help reduce carbon emissions and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Que: Please brief us on the countries that have recently joined ISA as full members. How will ISA’s role change after the recognition?

Ans: The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is a coalition of countries with a shared goal of promoting the deployment of solar energy globally. 114 countries are signatories to the ISA Framework Agreement, of which 92 countries have submitted the necessary instruments of ratification to become full members of ISA.

Since the beginning of this year, the Republic of Cyprus and the Federative Republic of Brazil have joined the Alliance as Members. At the same time, the Republic of Congo and New Zealand are Signatories to the Framework Agreement of ISA.
As full members of ISA, countries have greater access to the resources and benefits the Alliance offers. These benefits include access to technical assistance and financial support for the deployment of solar energy projects, access to knowledge-sharing and capacity-building programmes, and participation in the decision-making processes of the ISA.

The following avenues are available to ISA Members to engage with ISA and its Secretariat:
• Member Countries are invited to join the nine thematic programmes of ISA to focus on areas they are interested in collaborating with ISA and their fellow Member Countries. The nine thematic programmes of ISA are 1. Scaling up solar Applications for Agricultural use 2. Affordable Finance at Scale 3. Scaling up Solar Mini-Grids 4. Scaling Solar Rooftop 5. Scaling Solar E-mobility and Storage 6. Solar Parks 7. Solarising Heating and Cooling Systems 8. Solar PV Battery and Waste Management 9. Solar for Green Hydrogen
• Member Countries may extend grants or concessional loans to establish projects through ISA. Countries extending the funding support may dictate the scope of the projects, including the activities (capacity building, analytics and advocacy, programmatic support), target geographies, partnering organisations, etc.
• Countries may also extend in-kind support to initiatives of ISA, such as the Solar Technology Application Resource Centres (STAR-Cs), training programmes and webinars, publications, or help with Organisational Development activities.
• The ISA Manual of Regulations also provides for project sponsors to offer human resources as officers on secondment to the ISA Secretariat to support the projects.

Adding new members to the ISA is a positive step towards promoting solar energy deployment globally, reducing carbon emissions, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. With more full-fledged members, ISA can mobilise more resources and promote greater collaboration among Member Countries to promote solar energy deployment, reduce the cost of solar energy technology, and increase access to affordable and sustainable energy for all.

Que: What is your vision for the ISA in the next five years?

Ans: Recent findings of the International Solar Alliance and The Economics of Energy Innovation and System Transition, a University of Exeter initiative, reveal rapid global growth of solar power – much more than the expectations of governments and analysts. The findings further predict that solar is on track and positioned to dominate the global power sector without additional deployment subsidies. Solar deployment will continue its ascendance; related technologies will continue to improve with speed, and costs will continue to decline. This landscape can fortify the solar growth story with technology upgrades and effective policies.

The ISA aims to lead in promoting solar energy deployment globally and achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. ISA outlines several objectives and goals for the next five years, including:
• Scaling up solar energy deployment: The ISA aims to mobilise over $1 trillion in investment to deploy 1,000 GW of solar energy globally by 2030.
• Promoting innovative financing mechanisms: The ISA aims to promote innovative financing mechanisms,specially blended finance, to increase access to finance for solar energy projects. The Solar Finance Facility is a point in a case focusing on providing payment guarantees for solar projects to enhance the confidence of international investors to invest in solar projects in the African continent, which received only 5% of the global solar investment in 2021. Enhance the role of private players in the sector through its Corporate Advisory Group, which aims to increase private-public sector dialogues to mobilise financing in the least developed countries, reduce global policy barriers to solar development, and encourage cross-country collaboration in building manufacturing.

• Promoting knowledge sharing and capacity building:ISA recognises that for successful deployment at a desired scale, the solar sector requires increased institutional capacity and skilled human resources. ISA has collaborated with global training institutions to enable this and forged meaningful partnerships to establish regular training sessions for on-ground actors and key decision-makers. These training programmes are thus crucial platforms enabling the consistent upskilling of all stakeholders in the solar energy ecosystem.As of 31 March 203, 3025 solar energy professionals have benefitted from ISA’s capacity-building exercises.

ISA’s international network of Solar Technology Application Resource Centres (STAR-C) is designed to help Member Countries cultivate the necessary human capacity and skills to undertake energy transitions independently while boosting their economies’ growth and job creation. STAR Centres act as the technology, knowledge and expertise hub on solar energy and a go-to place for the Member Countries at regional and country levels. ISA’s STAR-C initiative aims to meet the ISA Member Countries’ capacity-building needs by building capable solar workforces, sensitising policymakers and financial institutions, incubating enterprises, raising the quality of products and services, and creating a knowledge repository on information/data related to solar energy. STAR Centres across the globe would strengthen the capacity for deploying solar energy applications and research, business modelling, incubation, training, testing standardisation, engaging faculty members, and providing shared facilities, labs, and testing centres.

• Supporting policy and regulatory frameworks: The ISA aims to support the development of policy and regulatory frameworks to promote the deployment of solar energy and create a favourable business environment for the solar energy sector. ISA’s G20 interventions as an international partner to the 2023 G20 Presidency of the Republic of India include important themes that will aid the global energy transition.

First is a roadmap for promoting solar energy for universal energy access. ISA will work with G20 to accelerate initiatives to promote solar-powered mini-grids in Africa for clean energy access in rural areas. Under the aegis of its Solar for Green Hydrogen programme, ISA will establish a virtual platform styled as a Centre of Excellence. It will operate across G20 member countries to provide leading-edge knowledge and competency to advance green hydrogen production and utilisation with the object of harmonising solar supply chain standards. ISA interventions in this direction will include studying kinds of financing instruments which can be developed by individual countries or the G20 as a whole to support solar manufacturing— identifying competitive advantages/potential niches for each G20 country or a sub-set of G20 countries and G20 invitees within the framework developed by ISA. Support from G20, the form of concessional financing/guarantees to support solar manufacturing, in particular, module assembly and assembly of equipment for solar homes, solar businesses and mini-grid systems, would help to harmonise guidelines and regulations with emerging global norms rather than creating country-specific standards.

Transforming Solar: Supply Chains Workstream supported by Australia, Germany, India, UAE, and the USA is another ISA initiative aimed at diversification of supply chains in solar panels. The recent solar price fluctuations can be attributed to the choking of various supply chains. This unique ISA initiative will define reports, industry standards, and commitments to boost solar manufacturing worldwide to meet the 800-1000 GW requirement by 2030, up from ~200 GW manufacturing capacity today.

Overall, ISA aims to play a crucial role in promoting the deployment of solar energy globally and contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by mobilising investment, promoting innovative financing mechanisms, and supporting knowledge sharing and capacity building.

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