Solar energy could account for a significant proportion of the future renewable energy mix, but first, obstacles including awareness, investment and supply chain challenges must be overcome
Renewable energy is at the core of the energy transition. Renewables will account for 50% of the global power mix by 2030 and 85% by 2050. In 2021 renewable power capacity added more than 314 gigawatts, and renewable energy comprised 28% of the global electricity mix, up from 20% in 2011. Solar energy use is growing rapidly due to declining costs, government incentives and a growing awareness of the need for clean energy sources. The solar PV market maintained its record-breaking streak with new capacity installations totalling 175 GW in 2021.
In the last decade, the cumulative global solar PV capacity reached 942 GW.
But despite significant growth, solar faces challenges in policy and advocacy, technology interventions, supply chains and inadequate business models.
Policy and advocacy issues
To improve access to electricity, 12 sub-Saharan African countries adopted mini-grids that had reached 41,000 GW by 2019. This development can be linked to policy and regulatory changes and to the population’s acceptance of solar. The International Solar Alliance contributed to creating aggregated demand for 236 solar mini-grids, with a cumulative capacity of 82.5 megawatts across nine ISA member countries. This policy advocacy initiative can be implemented in small island developing states and least developed countries.
To scale up solar mini-grids, two challenges need to be overcome: limited awareness of solar technologies, and the substantial funding required from investors and developers.
Solar PV rooftops need both net metering and gross metering for their development. India, Germany, Japan and the United States are successfully implementing rooftop projects, thanks to policy support from government through incentives and subsidy mechanisms, which pave the way for investments. Many SIDS and LDCs do not have adequate policy support. A robust framework would help countries economically and fulfil their nationally determined contributions to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. ISA has trained 128 participants from 12 countries on capacity-building initiatives and can contribute significantly to solar rooftops.
Solar pumps minimise dependency on conventional pumps, with their erratic electricity supply, and are more sustainable with lower emissions. However, due to insufficient awareness and training, the growth of solar watering systems has not reached the agriculture sector. ISA’s Scaling Solar Application for Agricultural Use programme recently aggregated demand for 272,579 solar water pumping systems and undertook an initiative for a global tendering process.
The need for technology interventions
According to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in 2020 residential solar installations used panels with efficiencies between only 16% and 22%.
The application of nanotechnology in the solar cell industry can boost the absorption and retention of sunlight, which would improve the efficiency of solar modules that can be used for different applications.
Green hydrogen technology, with efficiently run electrolysers and coupled with energy storage, can improve capacity and enable round-the-clock power for consumers.
Transportation contributes 23% of global emissions. Syncing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles with battery energy storage systems and solar mini-grids in rural and urban areas would appreciably boost the energy transition.
Need for robust supply chains
Supply chain challenges, especially increasing prices for shipping and key materials, pose a major hindrance for the solar sector, but can be addressed significantly by recycling and reusing materials. ISA continues to promote the 3Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle for solar and battery waste management.
New business models
Innovations in business models have been critical for the successful deployment of solar plants. Mobilising financing in these business models is paramount to achieve universal energy access by 2030. They vary widely in complexity as well as in their target consumers, delivery approaches, economics and use of digital technologies.
In the pay-as-you-go pricing model, users pay based on consumption. This model has successfully catered to more than 8 million people in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and other major regions.
In the community-shared business model, the entire community uses the energy generated, either on or off the grid based on grid availability.
ISA, with its strong alliance of 114 signatory countries, is committed to using its expertise in policy advocacy, capacity building and programme implementation to convert these challenges into new business opportunities and make electricity accessible to all.
To manage climate change, we need to increase the reliability of new energy technology to reduce emissions.
We need to develop solarised smart cities. We need to implement carbon removal and sequestration processes. We need easy financing for new energy technology, and we need to ease the transfer of technology. We need to develop a carbon credit market. We need to build local capacity to understand energy security. And we need special risk mitigation policies for small island developing states and least developed countries.