Stretching thousands of kilometres, across mountains and deserts, the Silk Road holds a special place in history. Traversed by Marco Polo and named after one of its most precious goods, the trade route facilitated an exchange of ideas, technology, and animals between East and West, Asia, Europe and Africa. Though its relevance waned with the opening of sea routes between Asia and Europe, the rebirth of China’s economic power and ambitions over the last decade has rejuvenated the once dormant route.

No longer a winding caravan trail, China’s new Belt and Road Initiative aims to interconnect and bring development, stability, and resource security across 60 countries. At the centre of powering this economic ambition is renewable energy.

“China is at the forefront of the energy revolution. Thanks to its long-term policy framework and its huge manufacturing capacity, China has become the principal market for renewable energy worldwide,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin, during the Infrastructure Connectivity session of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. He was among 70 international organisation heads and 30 heads of state at the two-day gathering that took place in Beijing, China, on 14 and 15 May 2017.

Speaking about the Belt and Road Initiative’s potential to boost the transition to renewable energy and push global energy development into a new phase, Mr Amin said, “The Initiative can not only help to interconnect electricity grids and deploy more renewable energy, but it can also expand electricity markets to countries with extremely high renewable energy potential, including those in Central Asia. China has the technology and the resources, and it can help to achieve these goals by building partnerships and cooperation.”

One Road, One Belt

Introduced in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative is a pan-regional co-operation framework that facilitates implementing existing infrastructure projects, and initiates new projects. The initiative combines China’s different foreign and domestic policies with existing and new political and financial cooperation mechanisms, to prioritise thematic areas of cooperation, including energy infrastructure development.

“As the energy transition progresses, power grid infrastructure interconnections will be key to facilitate larger and flexible electricity markets that can integrate higher shares of variable renewable energy. As much as 2,000 GW of interconnection capacity will be required by 2050 in order for enough renewables to be deployed to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” the Director-General told the plenary.

“The Belt-and-Road Initiative can provide a promising platform to help meet the need for infrastructural interconnections between countries, particularly if it has greater focus on low-carbon growth and sustainable energy,” the Director-General added.

To meet its aims, the Initiative established the Silk Road Fund. With investments totaling USD 40 billion from the Chinese government and banks, the Fund provides medium to long-term investment in development, primarily through equity investment, to support infrastructure, resources and energy development, industrial capacity co-operation, and financial co-operation in countries and regions involved in the Initiative.

Planning to power

In Central Asia, China has developed a pipeline of renewable energy projects focusing on hydropower, solar, wind and biomass energy, and has been active in the strategic planning and preparations of projects. The country is also looking beyond Asia, and has been investing in African renewables and collaborating with Middle East developers to achieve record low prices for solar energy. These development partnerships are exemplified in Egypt, where a Chinese renewable energy company has committed to build a one gigawatt solar PV project and a factory for silicon solar panels.

“The scale of such undertakings requires careful, long-term planning and financing. Grids must not only be connected, but must integrate technologies that allow for flexibility, distributed generation and smart management, and must be laid out to allow access for areas rich in renewable energy resources. At the same time, markets and business models must adapt,” Mr Amin said.

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PV power plant projects are long-time investments that operators, owners and investors must be able to rely on. Only if the calculated yields are achieved the investment is a success. Emphasis is not only on energy yield but also on availability. In our interview Boris Wolff, Executive Vice President Business Unit Utility at SMA, explains how availability rates, OPEX and 1500V technology contribute to successful utility-scale PV projects.

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India has journeyed a long way gaining global recognition as a major solar player. As of now, the country has 12 GW of cumulative solar energy generation capacity, with 14 GW under construction and 6 GW to be auctioned. Considering the fact that India has doubled its capacity within a bit more than a year (5 GW in 2015 to 12 GW in 2017), the mammoth milestone of reaching 100 GW by 2022 seems possible with private players and Government coming into an alliance. Undoubtedly, Indian market is showing an incredible growth rate, but we are still nowhere near the countries (China, US) that already dominate huge parts of the solar product supply chain. And it is important to contend with these countries to claim a larger part of the industry, cashing in on the growing green energy scene to initiate socio-economic reform in the country.

How to Compete?

Through manufacturing of course! As countries like China, US, Canada are backed by decade long industrial growth that have fashioned deep roots to penetrate solar industry, they can mass produce solar components, controlling the price of the products. For example, Chinese modules are still 8-10 per cent cheaper than domestically manufactured modules (Chinese modules cost $0.33-$0.36 cents/per Watt p, while domestic modules cost $0.35-$0.40 cents/per Watt p). This has created an influx of foreign modules in Indian industry, claiming demand (8 out of top 10 module suppliers in the Indian market are Chinese) that would have given domestic manufacturers a leg up and allowed India to bring in revenue selling domestically manufactured modules.

Therefore, it is important for Indian solar industry to become cost competitive with the countries dominating the sector. And in order to do that, domestic manufacturing is the right way to go.

Initiatives Taken

In hopes of helping domestic players to grow and to build industrial reliance, Indian Government opted to impose DCR. And although, WTO swatted it down, Government has done a great job keeping DCR quota for Government based energy development projects. Besides that, Policies on- easy financing, ‘Solar Park’ development, offering long tenure loans, net metering, viability gap funding, mandating solar installation in Government buildings, and initiatives like International Solar Alliance and Make in India have helped domestic solar manufacturers to find a better footing in the industry.

Challenges Remain

Although, progress is being made, there are challenges to be handled. Offering flexible incentives and financing options, Slow net metering implementation time frame, Imposing anti-dumping on foreign solar modules (India spent $1.3 billion in 2015-16 in imports), Consistent decrease in announcement and awarding DCR projects, Enforcing solar installations on buildings, Establishing more module assessment labs (currently India has 5 MNRE accredited labs), Delay in Awarding Contracts 9 out of 12 GW of bids conducted in the FY 2016-17 so far, only 4 GW has been awarded), Delay in new manufacturing policy implementation, Continuously falling discount in tariffs, lack of solar skill development etc need prompt response from Government to bring comprehensive socio-economic growth in the country through solar development.

Possible Way Forward

To make India globally competitive, Indian solar industry needs to develop a larger policy framework than the one already exists to support domestic manufacturing plans. We have already explained how domestic manufacturing can help India control the solar supply value chain, bringing revenue within country, and profitably manufacture solar modules. Therefore, it is important to make sure that new policies address manufacturing issues concerning transport, infrastructure, taxation, labor laws, and power outages. Bridging the gap between having policies and implementing them aggressively is also another area Indian Government needs to show vigilance in.

Introducing solar manufacturing in National Skill Development Mission training plans can help in creating skilled workforce, strengthening Indian solar industry and its employment rate significantly. Support to large scale projects and fully integrated manufacturing plants can also be effective additions to the ‘Make in India’ policies in the future. Making Indian solar globally competitive has to be our primary concern as every other priorities cling on its individual success. Therefore, more focus at challenges and better efforts at increasing domestic manufacturing capacity can work wonders for the industry.

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Nous avons interrogé Virgile Suavet, Président d’Alaska Energies, distributeur spécialiste du bâtiment à énergie positive, sur l’évolution du marché photovoltaïque en France.

Quelles tendances observez-vous sur le marché photovoltaïc français?

Nous sommes spécialisés sur le marché du résidentiel, petit tertiaire et plus particulièrement dans la vente de kits photovoltaïque dédiés à l’autoconsommation. Ce segment de marché est en pleine transition et les professionnels du secteur qui vendaient depuis toujours des installations dédiées à la revente d’électricité s’intéressent de plus en plus à ce nouveau modèle. Nous observons aussi l’arrivée de nouvelles sociétés sur ce marché de l’autoconsommation, aujourd’hui plus simple à appréhender et avec moins de contraintes techniques, comme l’intégration des modules en toiture ou la diminution des frais de raccordements.

D’autre part, la communication autour du photovoltaïque pour de l’autoconsommation est beaucoup plus positive que par le passé et cela commence à avoir un impact sur les ventes de systèmes. Ceci est aussi vrai pour l’utilisateur final qui est très favorable au principe de produire et consommer sa propre énergie.

Les indicateurs de ce nouveau marché sont bons mais il est encore trop jeune pour que les volumes installés soient significatifs au niveau national. Nous pensons que 2017 sera une année charnière et que les volumes de ce type d’installation devraient croitre rapidement ces prochaines années.

Quelles sont les principales clés de réussite par rapport à ces évolutions?

Nous sommes partiellement tributaires des évolutions de la réglementation ce qui rajoute une complexité pour établir notre stratégie commerciale et notre politique d’achat. La clé pour réussir dans ce marché volatil est de garder une très bonne capacité d’adaptation car il est difficile d’anticiper précisément ses évolutions et son planning.

Notre réussite réside dans notre capacité à proposer à nos clients de nouvelles solutions matérielles en phase avec les nouveaux besoins du marché, tout en nous assurant de la qualité du matériel vendu.

L’accompagnement de nos clients installateurs dans l’appréhension de ces évolutions de marchés et d’offres passe également par l’organisation régulière de formations avec nos fournisseurs.

Pourquoi distribuer les produits et solutions SMA?

SMA est le leader mondial de la fabrication d’onduleurs centralisés et propose une gamme de produits très large. Travailler avec SMA nous permet de répondre à tout type d’installation photovoltaïque avec un gage de très bonne qualité. D’autre part, ses orientations haut de gamme et la robustesse de ses produits correspond parfaitement au positionnement d’Alaska Energies : nous sélectionnons nos partenaires de manière à apporter des solutions performantes et fiables à nos clients, ce qui leur assure une bien meilleure rentabilité dans le temps.

SMA nous montre aussi, avec la sortie du Sunny Boy Storage et la possibilité de garantir un zéro injection sur sa gamme d’onduleurs, son intérêt pour l’autoconsommation.

J’ajouterais qu’il y a un très bon relationnel avec l’équipe SMA France et cela nous permet de construire un partenariat pérenne.

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