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Economy

India and France lead efforts to boost solar power generation

Modi's government unveils 27 solar projects in 15 countries at cost of $1.4 billion

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron at the inauguration of a solar power plant at Mirzapur in northern Uttar Pradesh state on March 12. (Photo courtesy of Press Information Bureau of India)

NEW DELHI -- India and France have joined hands to spearhead a global "solar revolution" with an aim to generate one terawatt of energy by 2030, an ambitious goal that requires $1 trillion in funds.

"There are financial and regulation hurdles and capacity hurdles," said visiting French President Emmanuel Macron at the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance here on Sunday. He added the private and public sectors and society needed to come together to overcome these challenges.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chief architect of the ISA that he launched with then French President Francois Hollande in Paris in November 2015 during a convention on climate change.

The alliance involves 121 prospective member-countries that fall between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and are exposed to the "maximum solar intensity of over 300 days a year," acording to a bureaucrat at the Indian external affairs ministry.

The ISA aims to facilitate the large-scale deployment of solar energy in those countries, that are home to 73% of the world's population -- by aggregating the demand for funding, technology and innovation.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron with other participants at the first conference of the International Solar Alliance in New Delhi on March 11. (Photo courtesy of Press Information Bureau of India)

So far, 62 countries have signed the ISA framework agreement, out of which 32 have already ratified it. Australia, Bangladesh, Cuba, France, Ghana, India, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Togo, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela are among those that have ratified the agreement.

These nations, Macron said, have 138 gigawatt of solar power potential over the next five years. "Depending on the countries, 20-50% of population does not have access to electricity," he said, pointing to the pent-up demand.

During the summit, New Delhi also announced 27 solar projects under the Indian government's credit lines in 15 countries, including Bangladesh, Chad, Congo, Ghana, Mali, Rwanda and Sri Lanka. The estimated cost of these projects is $1.4 billion.

Separately, Macron and Modi on Monday inaugurated a 100-megawatt solar power plant built by French firm ENGIE in northern Uttar Pradesh state's Mirzapur area, a key step in meeting the target of 100 gigawatt of electricity in India from solar energy by 2022.

Macron applauded India's efforts in expanding renewable energy capacity within two years, from 39GW to 63GW, with solar energy growing up by 140%. "You [India] attracted investment, you supported them, you are training your own people. This is what the alliance of 121 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania shall be doing," Macron said Sunday.

France, Macron said, has already met its 2015 pledge of providing 300 million euros ($369 million) to ISA member countries, and the French development agency will allocate an additional 700 million euros to its solar energy commitments by 2022.

Referring to "solar mamas," a group of African women trained as solar engineers under an Indian government program, Macron said these women "didn't wait and didn't stop because some countries decided to just leave the floor and leave the Paris agreement." They kept on moving "because they decided it's good for them, their children and grandchildren. They decided to act and keep acting," he said.

Macron's comment was an oblique reference to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement reached in 2015 with an aim to curb global carbon emissions and slow rising temperatures.

For his part, Modi pointed out that India has started the world's largest renewable energy expansion program. "We will generate 175GW of electricity from renewables by 2022, of which 100GW of power will be from solar energy."

For the ISA, he presented an action plan that includes affordable solar technology for all, low-risk finance and an increased ratio of solar power in the energy mix.

"We have to ensure that a better and affordable solar technology is easily accessible to everyone," he said. "We will have to provide concessional and low-risk financing for solar projects, and develop regulatory aspects and standards to [find solutions]," he said, adding consultancy support would be required for "bankable solar projects" in developing countries.

Macron's 4-day India visit concludes on Monday.

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