India and France launch international alliance to scale-up solar power, target poorer nations

(From left to right) France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, French President Francois Hollande and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the International Solar Alliance on Monday in Paris.
(From left to right) France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, French President Francois Hollande and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the International Solar Alliance on Monday in Paris. ST PHOTO: DAVID FOGARTY

PARIS - India and France launched an International Solar Alliance on Monday (Nov 30) that groups 121 prospective countries to boost development, finance and investment to rapidly scale-up solar power, particularly in poorer nations.

The alliance, an initiative promoted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, focuses mainly on nations within the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, a band of the planet that receives large amounts of sunlight.

In a declaration read out at a lavish launch ceremony on the sidelines of UN-led climate talks in Paris, the alliance aims to mobilise US$1 trillion (S$1.41 trillion) of investments by 2030 for massive investment in solar.

In his launch speech, Mr Modi invoked Indian tradition in which the sun is the source of all forms of energy.

"The world must turn to the sun to power our future," he said. "We want to bring solar energy into the lives and homes by making it cheaper and more reliable and easier to connect to the grid," he said.

India currently has 4 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity and plans to ramp this up to 100 GW by 2022, with a further 12 GW by the end of next year.

"If you put clean energy within the reach of all, it will create unlimited economic opportunities," he said.

"This is an alliance that brings together developed and developing countries, industry and financial institutions in a common enterprise," Mr Modi said, announcing US$30 million to host the initiative and build a secretariat building in India.

Solar costs have plunged in recent years, making solar power on a par or even cheaper than conventional fossil fuel power plants. Solar is also increasingly popular because it can bring electricity to remote towns and villages without having to pay for costly connections to the grid. That appeals to Mr Modi because about 400 million Indians do not have access to electricity. Globally, it is about 1.3 billion.

French President Francois Hollande at the launch ceremony said: "We can no longer accept the paradox, namely countries with the largest potential for solar energy represent a very small share of solar energy production. These countries concentrate the majority of the world's population and it is in these countries that everybody does not have access to electricity."

The alliance groups nations from Africa, Asia and South America as well as wealthier states such as Australia, Singapore and the United States.

Green groups hailed the launch.

"This new alliance is a sign of India's leadership on the global stage," said Mr Manish Bapna, Managing Director of the Washington-based World Resources Institute think tank.

"This alliance brings in many other countries with vast solar potential, including many from Africa. By facilitating international cooperation, the alliance will advance technology exchange, drive innovation and create new business opportunities in India and elsewhere.

"This new alliance is a shining example of how an ambitious climate agreement can stimulate public and private investments in the low-carbon economy," Mr Bapna added.

dfogarty@sph.com.sg