Against the fervent protests of global coal lobbyists, Norway is considering divesting from coal while doubling down on investments in renewable energy and sustainable development internationally. These unprecedented initiatives could unleash billions in investments in renewable energy around the globe. This is great news, but we can’t forget that how we get people access to solar and other clean energy is just as important as whether we deploy them at all. That’s why Norway should include a commitment to transition energy access investment away from large-scale, centralized energy projects to small-scale, distributed clean energy like off-grid solar that turns on the lights while benefitting local economies.
No country is better placed to take advantage of these resources than India. Current estimates peg the Indian off-grid solar market at three gigawatts. That’s enough to get 75 million off-grid homes powered with basic services like lighting, mobile phone charging, and fans. But right now, Indian banks have a cap on investments to the power sector, limiting the solar industry’s access to finance because it’s all going to the struggling coal sector. It’s hard for the solar industry as a whole to get finance from public institutions compared to other energy sources, and it’s particularly hard for off-grid companies, given the banks’ current predisposition to support large-scale, centralized solar arrays.
That’s why Norway could soon be in a position to help India’s off-grid solar sector. If high-profile calls from leading solar entrepreneurs like Jigar Shah, founder of solar technology manufacturer SunEdison, are heeded, Norway could make $500 million available to off-grid renewables around the world. If this money is used in a strategic way, as loan guarantees that unlock billions more, we could see this sector explode like the mobile phone business in the early years.