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Global Solar Council boss: 'I want to destroy utility-scale PV'

Large-scale PV 'inefficient' and wind set to play secondary role, says head of global solar body

The chairman of the Global Solar Council (GSC) wants to “destroy” utility-scale PV and believes that rooftop solar will provide more than half the world’s energy by 2050.

In an exclusive interview with Recharge, Pranav Mehta also declared that he would be happy for China to have a global monopoly on the production of solar cells, and that wind power is destined to become little more than a “complementary player” to PV.

The softly spoken Indian, who was appointed to the role in January, initially told Recharge that “you cannot avoid large plants” and that he had no objections to them. But he then went on to castigate solar farms, saying that they were inefficient, with 25% energy losses between their PV panels and people’s homes.

"Recharge has been asked to make it clear that this is Mehta's personal opinion and not the official position of the GSC."

“Energy must be generated where it is consumed — not large grids [and] large projects,” he said before adding that countries new to solar, such as in Africa, should not make the same mistakes as the likes of Germany and China by pushing utility-scale solar.

“I’m not a money man, I’m not an industrialist, I’m an independent intellectual thinker. So my influence comes from intellect,” he told Recharge.

Mehta described himself as part of a thought leader trio — along with US clean-tech investor and author Tony Seba and former Green party member of the German parliament, Hans-Josef Fell, who wrote the original draft of the 2000 Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) that kick-started Germany’s renewables boom.

“We are disruptors,” Mehta said. “We want utility-scale [solar] to die.”

“Whether it’s cheaper or not, I don’t care, because of how inefficient it is. Cheaper is only a perception.”

Mehta, who is also founder and chairman of the National Solar Federation of India, added: “We as a trio are determined to do this. We are here to destroy the utility-scale, however much you love it.”

Recharge has been asked to make it clear that this is Mehta's personal opinion and not the official position of the GSC.

Wind faces up to a solar-powered future

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Mehta agrees with the analysis of Fell’s group, Energy Watch, which, he says, forecasts that 100% clean energy will be achieved by 2050 — with 69% of power coming from solar and 18% from wind, with the balance coming from biomass and other sources.

He added that 80-90% of solar power in 2050 will come from rooftop PV — which equates to about 55-62% of the global energy mix.

This is in stark contrast to a recent report from DNV GL, which said that solar will be the world’s largest power source by 2050, providing 40% of all electricity globally — but with two thirds of that coming from utility-scale plants.

“Your house and my house [will receive] all the power it needs from [your] solar panel and battery,” said Mehta, adding that upcoming grid-flexibility technologies, such as smart EV charging and demand response, will not be required.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that solar is going to be a much larger proportion [than wind],” he stated.

"Solar is a cheaper, more widespread option than wind."

“Solar is certainly cheaper, there is no doubt on that. Solar is [a] more widespread [option] than wind. At the same time, I do not consider wind as a competitor, wind is a complementary player, like biomass. You need biomass, you need wind, you need solar.”

And solar’s levelised cost of energy will continue to fall at a faster rate than wind, he added.

“There is a lot of scope for technological improvements... For instance, 20% [energy] efficiency now that we have, just imagine if it goes to 40%, what happens [then]?”

He explained that 40% efficiency has already been achieved at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado using triple-junction polysilicon cells.

“Solar will have exponential growth, it will continue. For that, I have a sentence: ‘Solar energy is marching ahead globally despite the roadblocks’.”

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