China was welcome to be part of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), as the membership of the 116-country compact was open to all, R.K. Singh, Minister for Power and Renewable Energy, said at the inaugural session of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Assembly here on Tuesday.
“The membership of the International Solar Alliance is open to all member states of the United Nations and everyone is welcome to join,” Mr. Singh, who’s also Co-President, ISA Assembly, said in response to a question from The Hindu on why China, despite being the largest producer and supplier of solar panels globally, wasn’t a member of the group which was formed in 2015 under the leadership of India and France.
“It is true that 80% of the manufacturing capacity, polysilicon wafers and above, is in China. However, there is a need to diversify manufacturing and this was particularly apparent during the pandemic. So most countries have now set up their own manufacturing facilities,” Mr. Singh said.
The ISA was set up following a decision at the historic 21st meeting of the United Nations Conference of Parties in Paris, that resulted in the ‘Paris Agreement’, where countries committed to keep temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius and “as far as possible” below 1.5 degrees Celsius. While there have been feelers, since 2018, of China possibly joining the ISA, nothing has materialised and the freeze in diplomatic relations between India and China has further stalled progress, sources told The Hindu.
The ISA, which has its Secretariat in Gurugram, Haryana, aims to mobilise $1,000 billion in solar energy solutions by 2030 while delivering energy access to a billion people by installing 1,000 gigawatt (1 gigawatt or GW is 1000 megawatt or MW). This the organisation estimates would cut a billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Its key thrust, as part of this goal, is to expand solar panel installations in Africa. “Last year, of the $310 billion invested in solar power, less than 3% was invested in Africa. For this reason, much of the efforts are to increase investment in big solar plants as well as small solar micro-grids, rooftop solar, solar cold storages, etc. In the past year, we have invested in 20 solar start-ups in Africa,” Ajay Mathur, Director-General, ISA, said.
In several African countries, the dominant investor and developer of clean energy projects is China. South Africa, for instance, quadrupled its imports of solar panels from China in the first half of 2023 and Africa, overall, has doubled its imports of Chinese solar panels. Panel exports from the country grew 34% over the previous year to 114 GW, more than the total installed solar capacity of the United States of 113 GW, a 2023 report from U.K. research firm Ember said. However, African imports pale in comparison to the 66GW imported by Europe and the 9.5GW by Brazil.
India, once a significant importer of panels from China, has stepped up domestic manufacturing and reduced such imports. In 2023, it imported only 2.3GW worth of panels compared to the 9.8GW in 2022. It has, however, stepped up imports of solar cells to make its own panels and export.