Workers unload solar panels during an installation in Washington, DC. Photo: Getty Images / AFP / Alex Wong

The Group of Seven Summit that kicked off in England on Friday is an opportunity to cooperate in support of countries emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with a common-sense approach to what a green recovery means in practice.

Establishing major solar-power targets nationally and through multilateral cooperation can be an immensely powerful move to contain global emissions and revitalize employment in sectors stagnating under coal, oil and natural gas. 

Consensus has been building for years that solar power and storage is the strongest global solution for the climate crisis, and the International Energy Agency recently reinforced that along with its sister technology, wind power.

The solar PV (photovoltaics) industry alone accounts for 4 million jobs annually around the world, and millions more can be added by 2030 if the right political decisions are made.

With the declining cost of battery storage – it dropped 70% in the US alone between 2015 and 2018 – solar presents the most financially prudent path forward to meet incremental capacity addition. It is cheaper than building new coal- or gas-fired units, decentralized, infinitely scalable and energy storage eliminates the intermittency of raw solar power.  

Sweeping change in the global energy industry is thus inevitable. Within the past year alone major institutional investors like BlackRock have weighed in to throttle fossil-fuel financing, and are realigning their portfolios to support the strengthening momentum toward net-zero economies.

The benefits of solar power make it an ideal vehicle to unlock billions of dollars in green financing and assist every nation in meeting their sustainable development goals. It would also obviate the need to recapture and store excess carbon and instead generate future-ready employment, even for individuals affected by the transition to clean energy.

We have much to correct if we are to honor the Paris Agreement, and reports indicate that we may overshoot 1.5 degrees Celsius in global warming by as soon as 2025, but energy investments centered on solar power present an excellent opportunity to focus international climate action.

This is already indicated in part by the fact that support for renewable energy has multiplied year on year. Countries have committed to install 826 gigawatts of new, non-hydro renewable energy capacity by 2030 at a cost of US$1 trillion, and solar now accounts for a third of the world’s clean energy workforce.

The International Solar Alliance intends to amplify this momentum and proliferate solar for net zero global emissions through global advocacy, extending programmatic support for innovative solar projects and building an ecosystem of skilled workers for a solar-powered green economic recovery.

One of its primary objectives is putting together a roadmap to help its member countries mobilize $1 trillion by 2030, which will include policy measures to facilitate cross-border renewable energy transfer projects as part of the “One Sun One World One Grid” vision.

The roadmap will also bring together a suite of investment mechanisms for developing economies to draw in institutional investors who are increasingly looking to allocate more capital toward low-carbon investments. The goal is to mobilize $1 billion by 2025 in a blended financing risk mitigation facility via philanthropic, public and private-sector capital to support solar enterprises in Africa and globally.

The funding will be used to enable solar-based systems to power all manner of applications, including community-level power plants, rooftop systems for domestic and industrial customers, agricultural pump sets that were previously run on costly and polluting diesel fuel, and for utility-scale solar parks. 

Ajay Mathur

Ajay Mathur is director general of the International Solar Alliance.