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Macron, Modi seek finance at International Solar Alliance launch

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron to the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in New Delhi AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Mondi cohosted the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in New Delhi, where the new international body has its headquarters, on Sunday. Macron is on a four-day state visit to India.


Encouraging his solar-power-friendly cochair, Macron said, “Mr Prime Minister you made a dream and we did it.”

Modi announced his intention to set up the alliance at the Cop21 2015 climate change conference in Paris.

Some 25 other heads of state attended the one-day event. Among them was Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo, the west African country whose economic growth is expected “to become the highest in the world within two years”, the president said.

Many developing countries have a cheap, alternative energy source available, the sun. The ISA aims to produce one terawatt of solar power among its current 58 members, and to get all 121 states located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn on board.

Participants need to be “obsessed” about reaching the alliance’s goals, Macron said. “We need concrete action not talk. Gandhi said one ounce of action is worth a ton of words. We need to be obsessed about solar power projects.”

India sets solar power example

India is setting an example as the energy-hungry orchestrator of the ISA, initiated at the Cop21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015.

It has the biggest solar farm in the world in the state of Tamil Nadu and the first entirely solar-powered airport in Kerala.

On Monday Macron will attend the inauguration of a new solar plant near Modi’s constituency, Varanasi. It will be the biggest in the most densely populated Indian state, Uttar Pradesh and French firm Engie Solar was involved in the project. The new plant will contribute to India reaching a target of 100 GW of solar energy by 2022, officials say.

Island states in danger

The conference’s afternoon session was devoted to discussing member states' plans and the means of financing solar projects.

Each head of state told the meeting about their country’s commitment to furthering the use of solar power in their energy mix, and laid out their specific needs or contributions. For example, Australia, which is one of the supporting member countries at this stage, is going to establish a centre of excellence to help train solar engineers.

Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga concluded on a poignant note, given the extra-vulnerable position of small island states to rising sea levels due to climate change, invited all those attending the plenary to visit Tuvalu, “but not all at once, because we will sink!”.

Solar energy is a win, win, win, win, win, win proposition,” UN environment programme chief Erik Solheim told the conference. “It provides cheap energy so that young children can learn to read and write in light, so that farmers can pump water, and to create jobs … and, by the way, many more jobs of women, and it’s very important answer to climate change. Let’s just use the win, win, win, win technology.”

Find the finance

Winning requires money on the table, however.

Soldheim was lucid, and had an answer, one that Macron also suggested.

“There’s no lack of money in the world,” he pointed out. “The technology is available. But how can we bundle many small solar programmes being off-grid, providing villages with electricity? How we can connect that with the big capital? The upfront cost of solar tend to be higher but the lifelong costs are much lower. It’s about how to use aid money so it takes some of the risk premium out of the private sector. We can solve these issues if we take solar to an enormous scale.”

Soldheim, like Macron, insisted on the need for regulatory guarantees for private investors to harness not only solar capacity, but financing capacity.

The conference kicked off with a reminder of the overriding reason to find cheap and clean energy solutions.

A group of about 15 women from places as far apart as Guatemala and Uganda, but also including India, have just spent six months being trained by India’s Barefoot College to become solar engineers.

One “Solar Mama” (solar engineer) from Côte d’Ivoire said that when she gets a solar panel on her roof and electricity in her village, her children will be able to study while she does the cooking. For now, they just have one battery-fed lamp.

“Our Solar Mamas didn’t wait for us, they started to deliver concrete results,” Macron said in his opening remarks. “They didn’t stop because some countries just decided to leave the Paris agreement. They kept acting because they decided it was good for their children and grandchildren.”

During the conference he Macron said France would extend an extra 700 million euros through loans and donations by 2022 for solar projects in emerging economies, on top of the 250 million euros it had already pledged.