|Case for Solar Energy Investments (World Bank, 1996)|
After summarizing the technical and economic prospects for solar energy technologies, the paper outlines a two-part program that would help to commercialize solar energy use in developing countries.
The first part of the program is to establish a "pipeline" of investments drawing on financial resources that are already available for well-prepared investments - the multinational development banks, commercial banks, the Global Environment Facility, and direct investment by electric utilities, private investors, and others. Because solar energy technologies are in their infancy, establishing a pipeline of such investments will require much work to bring them to maturity. And it will be exacting work in all phases of the "project cycle," not least during implementation, requiring the efforts of many people in industry, government, finance, management organizations, and the research community. It will require education and training, dissemination of information in the industry on technical progress and costs, and surveys of the solar resource. Once the technical skills are available and the opportunities are better known, work will also be required to identify specific investment opportunities and to undertake technical and financial feasibility studies, including plans to avoid new environmental problems, from which renewable energy sources are not immune. Finally, the development process for solar energy will require preparing and appraising projects, supervising progress, and ensuring that maintenance and post investment services are in place so that the projects function well after they are installed (this last point is particularly important, as failure to follow up has been a frequent problem in renewable energy projects to date).
The second part concerns the need to expand public research and development at the national and international levels in support of private initiative. Public R&D programs are quite small and unfortunately have waned at precisely the time when solar energy is becoming an attractive prospect on economic and environmental grounds. Solar technologies are a fertile area for R&D, and because they are modular and can be quickly built and tested, they would require quite modest expenditures for R&D relative to those in all other energy fields. It is argued that R&D merits expansion in both industrial and developing countries and that an international R&D program would facilitate co-operation and technology transfer between countries.