Solar power boosts food production & fights poverty

We all know that solar power offers myriad health and environmental benefits over traditional energy sources — including reduced emissions and improved air quality — but the social benefits it offers are perhaps less well known. A new paper from IRENA, launched today at InterSolar Europe in Munich, highlights the way solar technology is being used to power food production and empower communities to escape poverty.

Solar Pumping for Irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability, details how solar technology is being used to improve farming efficiency and agricultural output, highlighting successful examples from across Africa and Asia.

A growing need for change

According to the United Nations, more than 40% of the world’s population makes a living in the agriculture sector — many of whom live in poverty. Socio-economic development is strongly linked to agricultural productivity, and as climate change continues to disrupt rainfall patterns, developing irrigation is becoming a vital tool to combat poverty. Given that only 5% of sub-Saharan African farmland is irrigated, and that the continent is home to one of the fastest growing populations on the planet, the need to produce more food and energy is becoming critical.

Some countries are now exploring solar-based solutions (e.g. water pumps powered by solar panels), which provide reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable energy for decentralized irrigation services. These solutions are even cost-competitive with diesel powered pumps in many cases.

For example, Solar Pumping for Irrigation highlights a case in India, where diesel-powered water pumps on salt-pan farms were replaced with solar-powered pumps. The change resulted in a life-changing 161% increase in annual monetary savings for the farmers, in addition to reduced air pollution and CO2 emissions.

Solar-pumps and other solar technologies are proven to positively affect the lives of both men and women. For example, the installation of three solar-powered drip-irrigation systems in the Kalale district of northern Benin helped a co-operative of 35-45 women free themselves from four hours of labor a day. The increased time and more reliable income from the irrigation system, helps the women to feed, educate, and provide medical care for their families.

Produce in Solar Market Gardens in Benin (Photograph: SELF)

Adopting a ‘Nexus Approach’

Water, energy, and food are intimately interlinked. Within this nexus, actions taken in any areas affects the others. In Solar Pumping for Irrigation, IRENA calls for a holistic approach with regards to policy, which recommends to:

  • foster innovation and flexibility when delivering solar pumping solutions;
  • take into account target groups and the long-term sustainability of markets when considering financial instruments to support solar pumping;
  • focus on after-sales support and capacity building: providing support for regular operation and maintenance;
  • package energy and water-efficient solutions in water-stressed areas;
  • assess the direct and indirect impacts on water resources;
  • monitor performance and gather data;
  • consider the influence of availability and cost of energy on the choice of crops grown;
  • and adopt an integrated approach to programme design: solar pumps can also bring electricity to poorly connected communities and contribute to the achievement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

For more information on the role of renewable energy in the water, energy, and food nexus, check out Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy, & Food Nexus.

(Header photo: IWMI/Prashanth Vishwanathan)

Solar Energy Could Power 13% of the World by 2030

Less than 2% of today’s global electricity is generated by solar photovoltaics (PV), but this is set to change. According to an IRENA report released today at InterSolar Europe, this figure could grow to 13% by 2030. Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System finds the solar industry is poised for massive expansion, driven primarily by cost reductions. It estimates that solar PV capacity could reach between 1,760 and 2,500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, up from 227 GW today.

“Recent analysis from IRENA finds that cost reductions for solar will continue into the future, with further declines of up to 59% possible in the next ten years. This comprehensive overview of the solar industry finds that these cost reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, can create a dramatic expansion of solar power globally. The renewable energy transition is well underway, with solar playing a central role.” IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin

Focusing on technology, economics, applications, infrastructure, policy and impacts, the report gives an overview of the global solar PV industry and its prospects for the future. It includes data and statistics on:

  • Capacity: Solar PV is the most widely owned electricity source in the world in terms of number of installations, and its uptake is accelerating. It accounted for 20 per cent of all new power generation capacity in 2015. In the last five years, global installed capacity has grown from 40 GW to 227 GW. By comparison, the entire generation capacity of Africa is 175 GW.
  • Costs: Solar PV regularly costs just 5 to 10 US cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in Europe, China, India, South Africa and the United States. In 2015, record low prices were set in the United Arab Emirates (5.84 cents/kWh), Peru (4.8 cents/kWh) and Mexico (4.8 cents/kWh). In May 2016, a solar PV auction in Dubai attracted a bid of 3 cents/kWh. These record lows indicate a continued trend and potential for further cost reduction.
  • Investment: Solar PV now represents more than half of all investment in the renewable energy sector. In 2015, global investment reached USD 67 billion for rooftop solar PV, USD 92 billion for utility-scale systems, and USD 267 million for off-grid applications.
  • Jobs: The solar PV value chain today employs 2.8 million people in manufacturing, installation and maintenance, the largest number of any renewable energy.
  • Environment: Solar PV generation has already reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 300 million tonnes per year. This can increase to up to three gigatonnes of CO2 per year in 2030.


Reaching a 13% share of global electricity by 2030 will require average annual capacity additions to more than double for the next 14 years. The report highlights five recommendations that can help achieve this increase including: updated policies based on the latest innovations; government support of continued research and development activities; creation of a global standards framework; market structure changes; and the adoption of enabling technologies like smart grids and storage.

Letting in the Light is the third solar-focused publication released by IRENA this summer. Last week, IRENA released The Power to Change, which predicts that average costs for electricity generated by solar and wind technologies could decrease by between 26 and 59 per cent by 2025. Earlier this week, IRENA released End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic, which found that the technical potential of materials recovered from retired solar PV panels could exceed $15 billion by 2050, presenting a compelling business opportunity.

New Initiative to Boost Solar Energy Development

Today at InterSolar Europe in Munich, leaders in energy, finance and law met to scale up solar energy under a new initiative. The Solar Energy Standardisation Initiative, led by IRENA and the Terrawatt Initiative, aims to spur global solar development by standardising contracts to streamline the development and finance of solar projects.

Country commitments submitted under the Paris Agreement entail roughly $1.2 trillion in solar energy investment by 2030. To reach this target, governments must implement efficient regulatory schemes that enable massive development of solar projects – with minimal risk – and allow private investors to enter the market at scale. There is also a need to reduce transaction costs so solar power can penetrate more markets across the globe.

“High transaction costs for some solar projects are due, in large part, to the complexity of the contractual documents supporting the projects,” said Henning Wuester, Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre. “Simplifying the negotiation of these contractual documents will help reduce transaction costs, and allow investment in solar PV to advance more rapidly in more markets worldwide. That is what this initiative hopes to achieve.”

“This initiative aims to create a common industry language across all the assets, contracts or markets that are needed to develop renewable energy projects,” added Jean-Pascal Pham-Ba, Secretary General of the Terrawatt Initiative. “This will help quickly increase investment to the levels required to achieve global sustainable development and climate goals.”

The Initiative will bring together public and private sector stakeholders to define and agree on a standard template for solar project documents that are effective and acceptable by finance institutions.

The first meeting of the Initiative will be held today, on the sidelines of Intersolar Europe in Munich, with stakeholders including Agence Française de Développement, Chadbourne & Parks, CITI, the Climate Bonds Initiative, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Eversheds, Gide Loyrette Nouel, Global Solar Power, Herbert Smiths Freehills, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, Norton Rose Fulbright, Simmons & Simmons, Trilegal, the United Nations Development Programme, and Watson Farley & Williams.

The initiative aims to share templates and standard documentation by COP 22 in November 2016.

Follow more solar news on social media via #SummerofSolar

Solar PV Waste Offers Significant Business Opportunity

The solar industry is booming. There was 227 gigawatts of installed solar PV capacity in 2015 and this figure is expected to reach 4,500 by 2050 – a more than 1,800% increase.

This staggering deployment means good things for the world’s climate, economy and society, but it will also result in a huge amount of electronic waste as solar panels reach the end of their roughly 30-year life span.

But with this waste, comes new opportunity.

A new report released today by IRENA and IEA-PVPS, End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, provides the first-ever projection of future solar PV panel waste volumes. It estimates that by 2050, solar PV panel waste (comprised mostly of glass) could total 78 million tonnes. If fully injected back into the economy, the value of the recovered glass and other raw materials could exceed $15 billion by 2050. This potential material influx could produce 2 billion new panels or be sold into global commodity markets.

“With the right policies and enabling frameworks in place, new industries that recycle and re-purpose old solar PV panels will drive considerable economic value creation and will be an important element in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future. This brings about new business opportunities to ‘close the loop’ for solar PV panels at the end of their lifetime.” – IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin

The opportunity at hand is impressive, but the report urges that preparations for the surge in end-of-life PV panels must begin now. The report suggests that addressing growing solar PV waste, and spurring the establishment of an industry to handle it, would require: the adoption of effective, PV-specific waste regulation; the expansion of existing waste management infrastructure to include end-of-life treatment of PV panels, and; the promotion of ongoing innovation in panel waste management.

Some countries, like the European Union, are already moving in the right direction. EU was the first to adopt PV-specific waste regulations, which include PV-specific collection, recovery, and recycling targets. EU’s directive requires all panel producers that supply PV panels to the EU market (wherever they may be based) to finance the costs of collecting and recycling end-of-life PV panels put on the market in Europe.

End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, is the second of several solar-focused publications IRENA is releasing this summer. Last week, IRENA released The Power to Change, which predicts average costs for electricity generated by solar and wind technologies could decrease by between 26% and 59% by 2025.

Later this week, IRENA will release Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System – which provides a comprehensive overview of solar PV across the globe and its prospects for the future.



IRENA’s Summer of Solar at InterSolar Europe

This week, IRENA joins thousands of energy enthusiasts in Munich, Germany at InterSolar Europe, the world’s leading solar industry trade exhibition. Linked this year to EU PVSEC, the world’s largest conference in the field of solar photovoltaics (PV), the event will bring together an unprecedented range of solar stakeholders to further the already impressive growth of the industry in recent years.

Over the course of the week, IRENA will lead and participate in 10+ side events, launch three solar-focused publications, launch one new solar initiative, and staff the IRENA booth (B3.572) in the exhibition hall.

InterSolar Europe marks the beginning of IRENA’s Summer of Solar (#SummerofSolar) campaign, which aims to highlight the key role of solar energy in the ongoing energy transition. Last week, the Agency released its latest renewable energy costing figures, which found that average electricity costs for solar photovoltaics (PV) could decrease up to 59% by 2025.

Here’s a quick overview of what to expect next from IRENA over the coming week:


  • IRENA, in conjunction with the Terrawatt Initiative, will launch a new effort to boost solar energy deployment worldwide. The Solar Energy Standardisation Initiative aims to spur global solar development in support of the Paris Agreement by standardising contracts to streamline the development and finance of solar projects.
  • IRENA, in conjunction with IEA-PVPS, will release the report End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, the first-ever projection of PV panel waste volumes to 2050. It highlights that recycling or re-purposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifetime can unlock a large stock of raw materials and other valuable components. More details on the End-of-Life Management panel at InterSolar Europe.


  • IRENA will launch the report Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System. Focusing on technology, economics, applications, infrastructure, policy and impacts, the report gives an overview of the global solar PV industry and its prospects for the future. It includes data and statistics on capacity, costs, investment,  jobs and the environment.
  • IRENA will participate and speak at the Off-Grid Power Forum to highlight the importance of expanding solar development for off-grid applications and the role of the private sector in this area. IRENA will tease the upcoming 3rd edition of the International Off-grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition (IOREC), taking place in Nairobi, Kenya from 30 September to 1 October, 2016. Registration will be available soon on the event website.
  • IRENA will lead an invitation-only session on PV costs and markets in Africa. It will provide a sneak-peak of the report, Solar PV and  Markets in Africa, launching to a broader public next month.


  • IRENA will release the paper Solar Pumping for Irrigation: Improving Livelihoods and Sustainability, which provides an overview of effective ways to deploy solar pumping technology for irrigation.

Stay tuned to the newsroom for more information on each of the above launches. For more information on InterSolar Europe, visit the event website.

Join the conversation on social media via hashtag #SummerofSolar

Renewables Can Supply Nearly 100% of Samoa’s Electricity Needs

Like many island nations, Samoa possesses enough renewable energy potential to meet nearly 100% of its electricity demand in a sustainable, affordable way. According to a new study conducted by IRENA, a combination of hydro, solar and wind power can supply up to 93% of the island’s electricity demand if a few measures are incorporated into the existing power system and if water supply remains steady.

More than 20% of Samoa’s power needs are met with renewables. The rest is met with imported diesel fuels, which have a negative effect on domestic energy security and energy prices. IRENA’s study finds that a significant increase in renewable energy capacity is possible – including 14 megawatts (MW) of solar PV and an additional 5 MW of hydro – and can reduce the island nation’s dependence on costly fossil fuels, while helping achieve the government target of 100% renewables by 2017. If an additional 8 megawatts (MW) of biogas projects are implemented, then 100% renewable energy electricity would be achieved.

Somoa Solar

Since hydro power offers the most renewable energy potential on the island, the final share of renewables will depend heavily on the availability of water. Solar PV and wind generation would contribute as well, meeting roughly 18% of total electricity demand. Ridding the island of its dependence on imported diesel will also require extensions to the current infrastructure. As such, the report recommends a series of measures, including battery energy storage and voltage control systems to close the gap.

The integration of variable renewable energy resources often requires the use of additional technologies to ensure the safe, reliable and economical operation of electrical networks. A grid integration study is therefore crucial to assess the capacity and possible need to expand existing power grid infrastructure.

IRENA’s grid integration studies are undertaken in close cooperation with local stakeholders to assist policy makers, energy authorities and power system operators in islands. The agency has recently completed grid studies for the Cook Islands and Antigua and Barbuda, including step-by-step guidance on planning, expansion and operation measures needed to host the target shares of variable renewable energy. As a result, a better understanding and deeper knowledge of the technical challenges found will be provided to local stakeholders and the international community.

If you wish to engage in the grid integration assessment process, please contact Mr. Francisco Gafaro at



Dramatic Price Drops For Solar & Wind Electricity Set To Continue

The dramatic cost reductions we’ve seen in recent years for solar and wind electricity will continue well into the future, according to a new report released today by IRENA. It finds that by 2025 – with the right regulatory and policy frameworks in place – average electricity costs could decrease 59% for solar photovoltaics (PV), 35% for offshore wind, 26% for onshore wind, and up to 43% for concentrated solar power compared to 2015.

IRENA’s Director-General Adnan Z. Amin commented that “We have already seen dramatic cost decreases in solar and wind in recent years and this report shows that prices will continue to drop. Given that solar and wind are already the cheapest source of new generation capacity in many markets around the world, this further cost reduction will broaden that trend and strengthen the compelling business case to switch from fossil fuels to renewables.”


Since 2009, prices for solar PV modules and wind turbines have fallen 80% and 30-40% respectively. With every doubling of cumulative installed capacity, solar PV module prices drop 20% and the cost of electricity from wind farms drops 12%, due to economies of scale and technology improvements.

Importantly for policy makers, cost reductions to 2025 will depend increasingly on balance of system costs (e.g. inverters, racking and mounting systems, civil works, etc.), technology innovations, operations and maintenance costs and quality project management. The focus in many countries must therefore shift to adopting policies that can reduce costs in these areas.

“Historically, cost has been cited as one of the primary barriers to switching from fossil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources, but the narrative has now changed. To continue driving the energy transition, we must now shift policy focus to support areas that will result in even greater cost declines and thus maximise the tremendous economic opportunity at hand.” – IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin


The Power to Change: Solar and Wind Cost Reduction Potential to 2025, is the first of several solar-focused publications IRENA will release this summer. Future reports include Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System – which provides a comprehensive overview of solar PV across the globe and its prospects for the future – and a report on end-of-life management for solar PV panels. Both reports will launch at InterSolar Europe, taking place in Munich, 21-24 June.



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