India’s solar leadership: a guiding light for global sustainability and innovation

What you need to know:

  • Bolstered by solar power investments and initiatives like the International Solar Alliance (ISA), India stands as a beacon of global energy solutions, showcasing its dedication to sustainability.

By Dr Maheep

India is emerging as a leader in the global shift towards clean energy. The country isn't just responding to international pressure but ardently shaping a future that resonates with its commitment to environmental stewardship.

Bolstered by solar power investments and initiatives like the International Solar Alliance (ISA), India stands as a beacon of global energy solutions, showcasing its dedication to sustainability.

Pioneering a delicate equilibrium between economic growth and clean energy adoption, India strategically positions itself as a key player in the realm of green technologies, elevating its stature as a leader in sustainability.

The nation's resolute drive for increased domestic production of solar and wind energy reflects a conscientious effort to reduce its carbon footprint while attaining global recognition.

At COP28, India's nuanced approach intertwines its domestic priorities with global imperatives within the Paris Agreement.

Noteworthy achievements include generating 40% of electricity from non-fossil fuel sources, exceeding the 2030 target by a remarkable nine years.

Beyond borders, India's leadership extends through international alliances, portraying a commitment to collaborative endeavours like the International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, LeadIT, Infrastructure for Resilient Island States, and the Big Cat Alliance.

In this intricate interplay of environmental progress, economic needs, and diplomatic manoeuvres, India's presence at COP28 in Dubai showcased adept negotiation skills and a steadfast commitment to equitable climate solutions.

As a voice for the Global South, India exemplifies that sustainability aligns seamlessly with national interests and citizens’ needs.

Moving forward, India has the opportunity to further strengthen its position by fostering international cooperation and ensuring that sustainable development leaves no one behind.

India's pivotal role in creating the International Solar Alliance (ISA) signifies a turning point in the global fight against climate change.

Established in November 2016, ISA gained support from over 20 countries through its Framework Agreement. Focused on promoting renewable energy, ISA's significance was underscored in the context of the Paris and Marrakesh climate conferences.

While distinct from formal UN talks, ISA's creation marks a substantial step forward, emphasising its crucial role in global climate action.

The ISA has an ambitious strategy called 'Towards 1000.' This strategy aims to attract USD $1 trillion in solar energy investments by 2030.

In addition, it seeks to provide clean energy access to one billion people and install 1,000 GW of solar capacity worldwide. These actions would significantly reduce global carbon emissions.

Headquartered in India, the ISA is the first treaty-based international government organisation of its kind, highlighting India's leadership in addressing climate change.

India's approach to solar energy started in 2009 with the National Solar Mission.

India opted for competitive bidding right from the start, unlike major renewable players like the US, China, and Germany, who initially relied on subsidies.

This approach received a further boost when PM Modi set a new, ambitious target of 100 GW of solar power by 2022.

India's solar story has been quite successful, with solar capacity reaching over 29 GW and attracting $42 billion in investment between 2015 and 2019.

While this only accounts for 2% of India's overall electricity generation, renewables as a whole by January 2024 have surpassed 31.4% with 17.3% solar, even surpassingg the US, a much wealthier nation.

Notably, solar power is growing three times faster than wind power and is expected to become the dominant renewable source within a few years.

One innovative application of solar power in India is its use in agriculture. With over half the population relying on farming, powering agriculture is crucial.

Various states are experimenting with different solutions, like Madhya Pradesh's solar pump programme and Maharashtra's use of dedicated feeder lines powered by solar generation stations.

The recent solar energy boom is driven by a dramatic decrease in production costs, which fell by 80–85% in just seven years, leading to the inception of the ISA.

This drop was due to the increasing demand for solar power as countries shift away from fossil fuels due to climate concerns. As a result, solar energy is now competitive with traditional sources like coal-fired plants.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA), proposed by India in 2015, targets countries in the tropics, which receive abundant sunlight and are expected to experience significant energy demand growth in the coming years.

The ISA aims to encourage these countries to adopt solar power as their primary energy source by lowering costs.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) strategically employs three key measures to reduce solar energy costs globally.

Firstly, it amplifies global demand, stimulating further price reductions.

Secondly, it advocates for standardisation in equipment and processes, fostering efficiency.

Thirdly, the ISA supports research and development, focusing on areas such as advanced storage systems.

This coordinated approach aims to enhance the affordability and attractiveness of solar energy on a global scale, reflecting a commitment to sustainable solutions.

For India, the ISA serves as a gateway to global leadership in climate change mitigation.

Hosting the ISA secretariat and contributing financially to its operations, India positions itself at the forefront of international efforts for clean energy advocacy.

Notably, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank promptly partnered with the ISA, showcasing the alliance's global resonance.

In 2021, the United States, through Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, joined the ISA as its 101st member.

This symbolic move underscores the U.S.'s commitment to advancing global solar energy usage, particularly in developing nations.

Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav welcomed this partnership, foreseeing strengthened ISA efforts to provide clean energy globally.

At the sixth annual assembly in New Delhi in November 2023, the ISA announced increased funding for solar projects in developing countries.

Their direct contributions to individual projects will surge from 10% to 35%, with a specific focus on mobilising $35 million for the Global Solar Facility (GSF) dedicated to financing African solar projects.

This initiative aligns with reports revealing a rapid global expansion of solar power, yet also emphasises the persistent lack of investment in developing economies.

With a 37% annual growth rate since 2000 and a projected doubling of global capacity by 2025, the ISA acknowledges the imperative to address insufficient investment, especially in regions struggling to attract private capital. 

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The Global Solar Facilitation Scheme (GSF) addresses crucial issues in Africa: low electricity access and limited solar energy investment.

Despite possessing 60% of the world's prime solar resources, Africa contributes only 1.3% to global solar capacity, leaving millions without electricity.

Spearheaded by India's Power Minister and International Solar Alliance (ISA) President, the GSF aims to raise an initial $100 million, acting as a catalyst to attract an additional $10 billion in private investments.

This financial boost is expected to provide clean energy access to 35–40 million African households, impacting approximately 200 million individuals.

The initiative responds to a global imperative, as highlighted by the Director General of ISA, who underscores the substantial shortfall in global renewable energy investment—currently a mere 10% of what is necessary for achieving net-zero emissions.

The Director General further emphasises the skewed distribution of investments, with countries of the Global South receiving only 15%, despite harbouring half the world's population.

With backing from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the GSF endeavours to bridge these disparities and unlock Africa's solar potential.

As over 110 countries commit to tripling their global renewable energy capacity by 2030, India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, stands as a driving force in this transformative global agenda.

The agreement reached during COP28 reflects a collective dedication to limit the rise in global temperatures, with India's G20 presidency marking a significant milestone in this journey.

In conclusion, India's profound impact through the International Solar Alliance is not just a national achievement but a beacon of hope and collaboration for the world.

The ISA, coupled with India's dynamic approach to renewable energy, has been serving as a powerful model for other nations, emphasising that sustainability can be a cornerstone for economic growth and global environmental progress.

Dr Maheep is an expert in the fields of international relations and global politics. He is an ardent supporter of sustainable development for humanity.