​Are we harnessing the power of the sun?

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Are we harnessing the power of the sun? With the success of rooftop solar and other initiatives, we’re beginning to head in the right direction.
Photo: Bernd Sieker/flickr

Solar success has come from unexpected quarters. For example, Germany is probably not the first country that comes to mind when you think of sunshine, but we can follow Germany’s lead. It’s the world’s biggest small-scale photo-voltaic user with an installed capacity of 32 gigawatts, and 60 percent of capacity is from solar panels that are installed on people's roofs.

Germany also launched a 100,000 rooftops program, which provided concessional, 10-year loans along with attractive feed-in tariffs to further incentivize households to participate. This was soon after the success of its pilot 1,000 rooftops program, which created the right incentives and targets were achieved a year ahead of schedule – in 2003. 
Germany, Japan and the U.S. state of California are fulfilling their strong solar power potential, and we could all learn from their examples – especially nations that haven’t yet explored the proven promise of solar.
Statistics like these convince me that there is so much more we can and must do. I’m heartened that progress in India has been steady, with successes that prove the country is ready for more.
Solar success in India
Wheeling my suitcase in and out of Delhi International Airport a couple of times a month, I can’t help but marvel at the beautiful yoga hand poses honoring the sun at the arrivals hall. Most ancient cultures and civilizations knew the power of the sun for their people. 
Support for rooftop solar PPP projects in India illustrates how far progress on solar has come – as well as where it’s heading. Gujarat State in India certainly does, and we see this in part through its adoption of rooftop solar initiatives. 
Households in Gandhinagar in Gujarat are enjoying additional incomes from renting their roofs to grid-connected panels. The more power these citizens generate, the more money they earn. This translates into new behavior patterns: cleaning the panels often and removing the laundry put out to dry in the sun to avoid creating shadows (through a “generation-based incentive”).  
The pioneering Rooftop Solar Program in Gujarat is an example of how governments can partner with the private sector through a well-structured PPP to develop a sustainable, replicable model to implement rooftop solar PV systems. The new publication Partnerships IQ: Rooftop Solar Public-Private Partnerships in India explores this in great detail, outlining legislative and regulatory processes alongside technical specifications.
Learning by doing
A village shop in Sri Lanka lit by solar panels.
Across the globe, we see several other ways to create incentives for households to participate in rooftop solar programs. In California, for example, savings in electricity bills for households or rooftop owners contributed to the success of its program. For rooftop owners, the key benefits from implementation of a rooftop solar system include the utilization of idle rooftop space to generate power, resulting in reduced electricity expenses, and/or additional revenues from the sale of power or from roof rentals. With the decrease in the cost of solar installations that we are seeing today, there is an opportunity for governments and private companies to come together and harness the power of the sun in innovative ways, like through grid-connected rooftop solar.
Three months ago, IFC’s Lighting Asia and its partners were awarded three coveted awards by the Rural Marketing Association of India for rural marketing/ awareness campaign in India. This award was broadcast on Bloomberg TV in April (available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js_1BS9TDsE).
It was an honor to be recognized for IFC’s work in the off-grid lighting program, which was created to address the energy needs of energy-starved communities in remote rural India while promoting local entrepreneurship and sustainable rural development.
Despite this, I feel we have barely started to scratch the surface when it comes to the opportunities (and challenges) in the rural off-grid markets. The experience of both the Lighting Asia/India program with rural communities demonstrates that emerging and innovative distribution models in off-grid renewable energy sector in India are important demonstration of what can be achieved. To keep up with the rising demand of a rapidly growing economy, there will have to be a breakthrough in scaling up these efforts exponentially. 
We simply need to do more through large-scale ground mounted solar parks, grid-connected rooftop solar in urban areas, or off-grid lighting solutions to households in remote corners where the grid has not reached yet.  There are several ways to do this, from public-private-partnerships to innovative rural marketing campaigns.

The challenge is to create scale by clustering individual efforts, the same way that the challenge of a great orchestra is to fuse the sounds of each individual instrument.  When it works, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. 


Isabel Chatterton

Regional Industry Director for Global Infrastructure, Asia Pacific, IFC

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