Solar PV rapidly becoming protagonist in a world in transformation

The second Global Solar Council Virtual Forum shows a growing, healthy sector that can deliver social and economic benefits on top of its clean energy advantage

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July 15, 2021 – The global solar sector has shown impressive resilience in adapting to the exceptional market conditions of the past 18 months, even in the face of challenges like arduous permitting processes, inadequate power grids and still not enough gender balance across the value chain. As highlighted in a Global Solar Council post-COVID survey, expectations for sales growth are rising in 2021 aided by underlying demand trends and stronger support from governments, which are turning to solar not only in terms of decarbonization policies but also to stimulate economic recovery.

These were some of the key topics and insights to emerge from the opening day of the Global Solar Council Virtual Forum: Powering a bright future with Solar PV, held in cooperation with SolarPower Europe and with the support of GET.invest. Featuring 38 distinguished and expert speakers, the event welcomed over 400 participants from solar business leaders to industry associations and from government to financial institutions, who joined from every continent, including top solar countries such as Germany, Spain, the U.S., India and China and emerging markets as varied as Argentina, Nigeria, the Philippines, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

Jose Donoso, Chairman of the Global Solar Council,commented:“A sustainable energy transition requires decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation, democratization: solar PV has demonstrated it can be a protagonist in all of these transformations and accelerate much needed progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, not to mention meet increasing electricity demand. The Global Solar Council has carefully collected input from the world-class experts who contributed to the Virtual Forum 2021 and will bring recommendations to the COP26 in Glasgow.”

Solar energy is vital to reach decarbonization and development targets. The 1.5°C Pathway of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) requires a profound transformation of the global energy sector along with a surge in renewable energy investments. But the socio-economic benefits of the transition could be achieved even in the short term: by 2030, the 1.5°C Pathway would boost global GDP by 2.4% above current forecasts and allow renewable energy jobs to more than triple to 38 million, with solar PV accounting for the largest share of this employment creation.

Francesco La Camera, IRENA Director General, stated: “The significance of the choices we make in the coming years is clear, there is no longer room for error. Energy decisions need to be reconciled with economics and human development goals, environmental concerns and financial avenues. This is the time to be decisive, uncompromising, and courageous: the energy transition is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”

To stand a chance in adapting to climate change, the world needs to head towards electrification on a vast scale. According to Ajay Mathur ,Director General of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), this means that beyond the power sector, also heating, industry and transportation will drive huge demand, which increasingly needs to be flexible. Sustained by a comprehensive policy framework that considers people, prosperity and planet, renewable energy and especially solar PV can ensure all regions have the opportunity to reap the benefits of the transition.

We need to remember – as highlighted by REN21 – that only 1 billion people live in cities with decarbonization plans. And we are still very far away from what we need in order to achieve the SDGs and decarbonize the global economy, as pointed out by Climate Action Network International (CAN). Even where the legislation is in place, like in the European Union, in many cases it is not applied as it should because there is a strong enough sense of urgency about addressing the climate emergency. Despite strong growth and creating the most renewable energy jobs in the world (25-30 jobs per MW installed per year), solar accounts for only about 3% of all electricity produced on Earth.

That all means greater political efforts are needed to level the energy playing field and be consistent with net-zero targets, ease permitting to speed up both large-scale and distributed installations and upgrade electricity grids to unlock the full potential of self-consumption. As pointed out by the International Solar Energy Society (ISES), education is a key opportunity to achieve justice, equality and inclusion in the energy transition, training the next generation and disseminating knowledge for greater stakeholder engagement, and creating locally responsive systems.

Hans-Josef Fell, President of Energy Watch Group, told the GSC Virtual Forum: “In view of the steep global temperature rise, it is a necessity to aim for an economy based on 100% renewable energy by 2030. Scientists have shown that such transition would be technically and economically feasible, given the political will to do so. Solar energy is the cornerstone of this transition and will provide the lion’s share of energy in a 100% renewable world.”

When it comes to developing countries, India is an absolute model as it went from 4 to 40GW solar PV in only 8 years and is the only G20 country which is in line to achieve Paris Agreement. According to Subrahmanyam Pulipaka, CEO of the National Solar Energy Federation of India, this shows that the developing world can successfully decarbonize. However, developed countries have been responsible for most of global pollution up to a decade ago. Although they have pledged financial aids to the developing world, they are not delivering and we need to ensure they are held accountable for their commitments, Pulipaka added.

A session moderated by BloombergNEF featuring major financial institutions – European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank – highlighted the need to secure revenues, ensure credit worthiness, provide enough technical support and clear policies for compensation mechanisms, and to ensure grids are able to cope with larger RES penetration, in order to multiply bankable projects and boost private investments in renewables, especially in the developing world.

GSC Chairman Donoso commented: “Solar PV has to deal with two new challenges: increasing prices due to inflated raw materials cost in Asian countries – which may or may not be transitory – and growing hostility to PV installations in OECD countries.” The increasingly widespread cases of Not In My BackYard (NIMBY) local opposition to installations, despite broad acceptance of solar’s vast potential, are as dangerous as denial of climate science because they restricts land availability. “I am convinced the sector is on a right path to overcome these challenges: better communications and more involvement of local communities are necessary to clarify that PV plants are an opportunity for biodiversity, coupling a commitment to prioritizing local jobs and benefits,” Donoso concluded.