The price of solar electricity has touched record low this year, going down even below that generated by traditional coal-based power plants, but head of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), a new multilateral agency set up at the initiative of India two years ago, says there is no reason why it cannot go down even further.
Upendra Tripathy, director general of ISA, said: Technology and innovation, coupled with increased demand was likely to drive down the prices even below the current lowest price of Rs 2.44 per unit that was achieved at an auction for a solar project in Rajasthan earlier this year.
“Eventually it is a question of demand and supply. Technology is moving very fast and surprising us every day. We are already coming out with flexible solar panels now. You can wrap them around a train coach or put them on a wall. Semi-flexible panels are in the market. The next stage is 3-D printing of solar panels which is still at the development stage. It is a matter of just a few years. Once 3-D printing is made possible, the costs of production will come down further, bringing down the prices of solar electricity. So, I do not think that the prices have rock bottom and cannot go further down,” Tripathy told The Indian Express.
The ISA, which was proposed at the 2015 climate change conference at Paris as a collective effort to switch to renewable sources of energy, has set a target of 1000 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity in its member countries by the year 2030. The ISA is currently open for membership to all the countries — a total of 121 — lying between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricon, either fully or partially. This area gets maximum solar radiation.
Tripathy said plans for about 300 GW were already under consideration. “In the next 12-13 years, we have to add another 700 GW of capacity and it would require an investment of about $1000 billion,” he said.
Tripathy also said that there was no reason why the membership of ISA cannot be opened in future to other countries as well but that was a decision to be taken by the steering committee of all the members. “We have been receiving expression of interests from several countries which are not in the tropical area to join. They can join even in the current structure but only as partner countries. But most countries would like to join as full members with voting powers. We already have received interest from Germany, Nepal, Mongolia and Korea,” he said.
The ISA currently has 44 members. Only 16 of them have so far ratified the ISA charter, two of them doing in the last ten days. The ISA will become a legal entity and fully operational from December 6 this year, 30 days after it received the 15th ratification.
“While the tropical countries do get maximum sunlight, there are many other places where the solar radiation can be harnessed very efficiently. In India, for example, the most solar efficient zone is not between the tropics but in Jammu and Kashmir. There is no dust there. There are places in Leh which are very conducive to production of solar electricity, but the costs of evacuation are prohibitively high,” Tripathy said.
The ISA seeks to do three things to bring down the costs of technology as well as the costs of finance needed for a solar project. It is aimed at boosting global demand by aggregating the demands in all the member countries. It seeks to promote standardisation in the use of equipments and processes for generating electricity, and it also aims to boost research and development, particularly in areas of efficient storage systems.
Tripathy said even India should invest in research on storage systems like batteries that can store electricity produced by solar energy and utilise it as and when required. “I believe India should have a new ‘storage mission’ just dedicated to this research. It will bring transformative changes in the way electricity is produced and consumed. Developing efficient storage would be the key to provide energy access to all,” he said.