Views of Upendra Tripathy

“The energy transition taking place is global in nature”

Upendra Tripathy, Director General, ISA

The International Solar Alliance’s (ISA) mission is to provide a platform for cooperation in mobilising more than $1,000 billion worth of investment in the solar segment in member countries by 2030, by bringing down the cost of technology and capital through project formulation and demand aggregation. To this end, the ISA plays the role of an incubator, accelerator, facilitator and enabler to assist member countries as per their needs. In September 2020, at the World Solar Technology Summit, the ISA was given the mandate to become the nodal agency for implementing the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative. Envisioned by the Indian prime minister, the initiative calls for connecting solar energy supply across borders, enabling nations to access and share solar energy, based on their respective demand and generation. It also seeks to capitalise on the time-of-day variability of solar energy and brings together large-scale solar deployment, battery storage and other technologies. At the third Global RE-Invest 2020, Upendra Tripathy, director general, ISA, spoke about the work done by the ISA, his vision on the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative, solar waste disposal and the aim of reaching kerosene parity. Excerpts…

The energy transition taking place is global in nature. Globally, we are often confronted with grave inequalities in terms of access to technology, finances and capacities to manage this transition. The ISA is working towards the common desire of bridging these gaps and catalysing solar energy deployment.

The world is witnessing rapid innovations in the solar segment. These innovations are in solar cell efficiencies, nano-tubes, infrared spectrum solar panels and storage technologies to make solar generation more efficient, cheaper and easily despatchable. Some innovations are way ahead of our time. For example, scientists are also working on having solar power stations at geostationary orbits to meet our energy needs in a sustainable manner. The solar revolution is impacting our day-to-day life. At the macro scale, we have over 4 billion people employed in the solar segment. The reach at the micro level too has been phenomenal. We now have solar watches, solar electronic toys, etc.

Given these trends that are shaping the solar segment today, the ISA plans a vision on demand aggregation, de-risking investments, facilitating partnerships and capacity building. ISA has already launched several programmes on solar applications for agriculture, affordable finance, large-scale solar projects, minigrids, rooftop solar, solar e-mobility, storage, solar heating and cooling. The aggregation of demand for solar pumps, rooftop solar, minigrids and solar home systems has resulted in significant cost reduction for member countries. Our work has already become a reference point in member countries as they often talk about ISA price and ISA standards. Our work on the de-risking of solar projects has been instrumental for the World Bank driven global Solar Risk Mitigation Initiative. Our proposal for a World Solar Bank, accepted by many countries, will be instrumental in bringing about a solar revolution.

“The core philosophy is to make the sun a public good.”

The ISA’s Solar Technology Application Resource-Center (Star-C) programme is a reflection of our focus on developing solar energy technologies in member states, most of which are developing, least developed or island countries. Various capacity building programmes have already started, while some are on the way. We are witnessing a dawn full of hope, aspirations and challenges and we seek everyone’s support in the ISA’s journey.

One Sun, One World, One Grid

The projects under the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative will be interspersed around the world. This initiative will connect solar not only projects, but also solar derivatives, which include many applications. Even green hydrogen will be considered as a solar derivative. To this end, we are looking not only at investments but also not only employment and environmental aspects of the grid. The report on One Sun, One World, One Grid that will soon be launched will cover all these aspects. The report will discuss whether the work will be carried out in two, three, or multiple phases, the financial implications, technologies required and the investment scenario. It will also focus on the level of employment that will be generated around the world. Moreover, it will deliberate on how solar energy can be used around the world, at different times, for power generation, transportation, heating and cooling. The core philosophy is to make the sun a public good.

The Climate Parliament’s Secretary General, Nicholas Dunlop’s green grid alliance is a good idea. He has been able to approach many governments to focus on this idea. This can in fact be linked to One Sun, One World, One Grid. In the next COP26 at Glasgow, we are planning to come up with a Glasgow Charter, in which we may be able to launch the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative, the World Solar Bank and the green grid alliance as well. Capital has a crucial role to play in working on such projects; therefore, the idea of a World Solar Bank is a step in the right direction.

“Our proposal for a World Solar Bank, accepted by many countries, will be instrumental in bringing about a solar revolution.”

ISA’s work on the solar waste disposal policy

The ISA is now trying to work on a circular waste disposal policy, which can assist in monetising the equipment used in a solar project after it reaches its end of life. According to data, in 1 MW of a solar plant we set up today, we can recover 70 tonnes of glass, 56 tonnes of steel, 47 tonnes of concrete, 19 tonnes of aluminium, 7 tonnes of silicon and copper each and 6 tonnes of plastic. The ISA will now try to figure out the price of these materials when it was set up 30 years back, and what the price would be when such materials are to be recovered after the project reaches its end of life. Therefore, going forward, solar waste itself is going to be an important source of revenue. The ISA will also work on standards for the recirculation of solar waste. This presents a massive opportunity, considering that there is so much of hidden wealth. Going forward, there is a big investment opportunity in the solar waste disposal segment.

Reaching kerosene parity

Solar power is gaining uptake across the world, and now the prices are falling significantly. With this, we will reach kerosene parity that is near zero cost. In fact, if you deflate the Rs 2 per kWh solar tariff, which was recently discovered, at the inflation rate of not more than 3-4 per cent, over a period of 30 years, you will see that this tariff has already reached near zero.

It is interesting to see the trend in which solar prices have gone down. In 2014, I joined as secretary in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. At that time, we were struggling to lower the tariffs for solar energy. We would often request the Ministry of Power to bundle 1 MW of solar power with 10 MW of thermal power, in a bid to sell solar at a lower price. Today, the reverse is happening. NTPC Limited is deploying a lot of solar power to reduce the cost of their coal-based power projects. Recently, a historic low tariff of Rs 2 per kWh was discovered in a solar tender auctioned by Solar Energy Corporation of India.

After reaching grid parity, we are aiming to reach kerosene parity. This is because millions of people are without energy access. Any amount of grants or charity will not be able to provide energy access to all. The ISA wants to change this scenario in two ways. One is through demand aggregation. In fact, with the help of Energy Efficiency Services Limited, the ISA has done demand aggregation for 47 million home power systems, which may be implemented in a phased manner in five years. With this, we are going to bring down the price of home power systems. This home power system will include a solar refrigerator, a solar radio and a solar fan. For solar pumps, we aggregated demand across 22 countries. With this, we were able to bring down the cost of solar pumps by 40 per cent. Many member countries now call this the ISA price and use this price for local procurement.




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