Commentary: Emerging markets need our help to facilitate clean energy generation

The following commentary was sent our way by Dan Shugar, CEO of NEXTracker.

With 27 GW of solar deployed in the U.S. alone, PV has arrived – making headway in the race to be a mainstream power resource. It’s rapidly outpacing coal as a source of new generation; it could become the world’s single source of electricity by 2050 (per IEA). This impressive growth coincides with plummeting PV costs. It now costs 75 percent less to deploy a utility-scale PV plant than it did eight years ago; ITC extension assures continuing market growth.

USVI RFP Project Photo

USVI Solar I in the Virgin Islands, our Ground-Mount Project of the Year last year, is a prime example.

The U.S. coal industry is rapidly declining, with most planned projects canceled. Since 2010, 42GW of polluting coal-fired operations have been retired. There hasn’t been a single nuclear power plant commissioned in the U.S. in over 25 years; prohibitive costs and safety concerns mean that resurgence is highly unlikely. New coal and nuclear power in the US –historically mainstays of the power sector landscape– are over. Before the solar industry takes a victory lap, we need to recognize that coal and nuclear are growing overseas at record rates, and combined with fracking, present daunting challenges.

While we’re excited that Brazil, China, India and South Africa have committed to accelerated solar deployment, there are some unknowns as to how this will occur. We’re in an urgent race against coal in these markets. In China, which has embraced solar, there’s continuing construction of new coal-fired power plants. Disturbingly, solar plants operations have been curtailed in some cases to enable coal-fired transmission on constrained power lines, creating uncertainty for investors. China’s skies in the central and eastern part of the country are too polluted to enable productive solar, so unimpeded grid access for PV development in the northwest must be facilitated.

RELATED: Ground-Mount Project of the Year: USVI Solar I 

India’s skies are still predominantly clear in much of the country – but we’re in a furious race against dirty fossil fuels there. There’s great opportunity in Brazil, as vast hydropower plants are operating at a fraction of capacity due to extended droughts. Brazil requires significant use of locally-made materials, so adding PV manufacturing capacity is a top priority.

South Africa and India instituted rolling blackouts. PV can alleviate power constraints; streamlining regulatory approvals and financing is crucial. Solar ensures reliable clean generation that enhances our health and safety; facilitating greater PV use in emerging markets is vital. Emerging markets must turn away from dirty coal – and do their utmost to harness the power of the sun.

There’s incredible promise for accelerated solar deployment –achievable with savvy investment and sound policies. As we confront the specter of global climate change, drought, and resource depletion, we must re-double our efforts in these emerging markets. NEXTracker, with support from its parent company Flex, is doing its part to serve emerging overseas solar customers that need power. There’s genuine urgency: solar must become the #1 form of new power worldwide.

— Solar Builder magazine

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