Solar Alliance targets access to technology at climate change conference

Prime minister of India seeks to unite 110 countries on acquiring solar technology

 Narendra Modi: originated the concept of ‘climate justice’. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Narendra Modi: originated the concept of ‘climate justice’. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/Reuters

 

The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, began his launch of the “Solar Alliance” at the COP21 climate change conference with a paean to the sun.

“The sun god is the soul of all beings,” Mr Modi told a crowded press room, in the presence of the French president and ministers for foreign affairs and the environment, and the secretary general of the United Nations.

“Many in India begin their day with a prayer to the sun,” Mr Modi said. “The world must turn to the sun to power the future.”

The Solar Alliance seeks to unite 110 countries, situated between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, which enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine a year, for the purpose of obtaining solar technology cheaply from the US, Germany and Japan, the leaders in photovoltaic panels.

India’s institute for solar energy will contribute $30 million (€28.4 million) to establishing a secretariat for the alliance. It will be in Gurgaon, a city near Delhi that focuses on information technology.

Tensions between developed and developing countries have for decades blocked an agreement such as the one that is hoped for in Paris. Mr Modi originated the concept of “climate justice”, which he defines thus: “It means advanced countries have to leave developing countries enough carbon space to grow.”

“Carbon space is what it’s all about,” said Raj Chengappa, a former member of the government’s climate change council and editorial director of the India Today group. “You’ve done all the damage, and now you tell us we can’t use fossil fuels,” he said. “So give us the finance and technology.”

Antagonism is giving way to understanding. President François Hollande repeatedly used the term climate justice yesterday. “We can no longer accept the paradox that countries with the most sun have the least energy. Climate justice also means reducing costs to right this,” he told the launch of the Solar Alliance.

India, the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the second most populous country, was long viewed as an obstruction to an agreement. Indian leaders note that, on a per capita basis, their emissions are far below the world average.

Although India has promised to produce 40 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, it is nonetheless determined to double coal production over the next five years. Mr Modi said that one quarter of India’s 1.2 billion citizens have no electricity at all, while another quarter have electricity only one hour a day.

Access to electricity

The French organisers of the conference are pleased that Mr Modi has assumed a constructive role with the Solar Alliance. Laurent Fabius, foreign minister and president of the conference, visited Mr Modi in Delhi last Friday.

China has long voiced the demands of developing and emerging countries, but is seen to have defected, said Mr Chengappa. “India is now the champion of all the countries who say, ‘You’ve got to pay’.”

At present, a megawatt of solar power in India costs three times more than a megawatt of coal-generated electricity.

“We are looking for breakthrough technology, in particular better batteries to store solar energy and smart grid management,” Mr Chengappa said.

At present, renewable energy is used to top up polluting thermal energy during peak hours. India wants the technology to establish a “green corridor” which would ensure that grids switch immediately to renewable energy each time it becomes available.