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Solar is the most abundant renewable energy resource in many developing countries. A combination of competitive costs and accessible technology can make the deployment of solar technologies a game-changer in many resource-constrained settings. As a result, solar photovoltaics (PV) has been identified as one of the technologies with the most significant potential to transform markets, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help countries to achieve the targets for SDG 7. 

Many countries have created solar parks to harness their solar energy potential. These parks with large-scale, ground-mounted, and grid-connected solar PVs provide a much-needed solution in some settings. However, in places where the land is insufficient or land acquisition is challenging, other solutions are needed to implement solar energy projects. These solutions include distributed solar, such as solar installed on rooftops or solar floating on water surfaces. Additional challenges associated with grid-scale solar deployment in developing countries is the variability of solar resource due to passage of clouds and absence of solar at night. This issue can be resolved with the hybridization of solar with other sources, which helps decrease variability, but it also increases resilience and uses land more efficiently.

ESMAP’s Innovative Solar Program was created under the FY21-24 Business Plan, and it builds on the initial work carried out in the Solar Scale-up program under ESMAP’s previous business plan. The Program aims to enlarge the scope of solar deployment beyond typical large-scale, ground-mounted solar PV projects. It supports client countries in the awareness, adoption, and deployment of innovative grid-tied solar concepts and business models.

The program is currently focused on the following three main workstreams:

  • Support to distributed solar deployment, which provides solar energy by placing energy technologies in proximity to the end-users (such as rooftop PV) in land-constrained settings. The program explores use cases and business models that alleviate challenges, such as quality of service, energy security, and costs of power systems.
  • Support to floating solar deployment, which allows mounting solar panels on a structure that floats on a body of water, in places where land is scarce (such as island states) or land acquisition, is a significant obstacle to solar development. Building on previous knowledge work under the report series Where Sun Meets Water, the program focuses on artificial water bodies, such as hydropower dams and on near-shore marine floating solar.
  • Support the hybridization of solar power with other technologies to decrease its variability, and enhance utilization of grid infrastructures such as power lines and substations.  Examples of such work include hybridizing hydropower plants with solar power plants (whether land-based or floating), and hybridizing solar power generation with different forms of energy storage. The program supports technical studies for these complex projects and studies of options for institutional structuring.

Other areas of interest for the Innovative Solar Program include solar-based water pumping for agricultural purposes, the solarization of water utilities, solar-based desalination, and solar heat applications.

Our Work

From its inception, the Innovative Solar Program has operated under pandemic conditions. Yet, despite these challenges, in FY21, the Program approved seven technical assistance grants to support:

  • Distributed solar PV in Bangladesh, Grenada, Nigeria, and Peru
  • The global program on development of policies in agriculture fostering the uptake of distributed solar replacing diesel generators for water pumping in irrigation systems
  • The development of floating solar installations on hydropower reservoirs in Sri Lanka and Tajikistan.

The program also provided financial grants to two additional countries. In India, to support innovative solar water pumping for agriculture and in the Maldives for site selection, marine measurements, and data collection for tender preparation for future near-shore marine floating solar projects.

In FY21, the team prepared several knowledge products scheduled for publication in FY22. These include a three-report series dedicated to distributed solar and entitled “From Sun to Roof to Grid.” The reports provide information can be helpful for policymakers, regulators, utilities, and grid operators such as a menu of ideas, approaches, and examples to resolve challenges associated with the deployment of distributed solar and realize the benefits.

The team also collaborates with the Hydropower Development Facility to produce a publication on hydropower-solar hybrids.

The program finalized the hydro-connected solar layer in the Global Solar Atlas enabling users to assess the technical potential for floating solar installations in artificial reservoirs.

A collaboration with the Energy Data program enabled the team to develop a methodology and perform pilot assessments of the technical potential for rooftop solar installations in 14 cities in developing countries.

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