RFP - Standards for the Life-Cycle of Solar Energy Infrastructure

RFP - Standards for the Life-Cycle of Solar Energy Infrastructure

Organization: UNDP

Apply By: 21 Jun 2023

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About the Organization

UNDP works in about 170 countries and territories, helping to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and exclusion, and build resilience so countries can sustain progress. As the UN’s development agency, UNDP plays a critical role in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

About the Proposal

At the recent COP 27, the adoption of measures to address loss and damage, was an admission from the international community on the prevalent and devastating threats from the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement continues to convene countries to define international mechanisms and national ambitions to address existential threat posed.

India has made significant strides towards the achievement of its NDC targets on emission intensity and India has made significant strides towards the achievement of its NDC targets on emission intensity and non-fossil fuel-based energy installations. As a result of its progress on solar energy deployment, India houses the Secretariat of the International Solar Alliance. (ISA) – an alliance of countries to mobilize US$1000 billion to invest in solar energy by 2030, inter-alia through reducing the cost of finance and improving access to technology, in the solar rich countries which are often in the global south. Despite this evident progress and ambition, India like other countries of the global south face similar challenges on unavailability of climate finance, which exacerbates the challenge towards achievement of NDCs and SDGs.

Devised in the context of supporting the collective climate action, the Japan Supplementary Budget 2021 has extended a global grant to 23 Countries to both enhance and implement Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) to achieve net-zero emission and climateresilient development, in response to the climate emergency. Under this grant, UNDP India in partnership with Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) at the Ministry of Earth Sciences is implementing a project titled Leveraging Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve Net-Zero emissions and Climate-Resilient Development.

Nationally, the project implementing large portfolio of activities in over 10 Indian states.

  • while increasing diffusion of cutting-edge climate technology in its transition to low carbon pathways; and (ii) while building adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities to cope with climate change.

In addition, UNDP India will leverage a portion of this grant to enhance partnerships and develop knowledge products, with the aim to multiply gains in similar developmental contexts. ISA is a one such critical partner, in the context of achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 on Access to Clean and Affordable Energy. To this end, a global study will be developed to understand the technical standards, circularity guidelines and ESG directives for solar life cycle.

Rationale for the study: Led by technology improvements and decreasing costs, solar electricity generation has multiplied exponentially, reaching a total of 821 terawatt-hour (TWh) by 2021. Today, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is both the lowest-cost option and increasingly, a preferred source for electricity generation. In India, for instance, national solar energy auctions have witnessed rates as low as $0.028/kWh. Even globally over the past five years, Lazard estimates to a compounded annual decline of 8% in the average levelized cost of utility-scale solar energy.

However, the true potential of solar energy lies in its decentralized form, which has found applications for a plethora of purposes, ranging from productive loads such as water pumps and agri-processing, to power essential services such as health and educational facilities for rural and remote communities. Further, with new modalities for deployment, financing and ownership, the distributed solar energy market has increased the relevance of the technology and opened new consumer segments. Projections for growth indicate that an additional capacity of 162 GW of solar energy will be installed in 20225 , and it will continue to grow to reach a total 2,840 GW by 2030, and to 8,519 GW by 2050.

Even as the demand for technology expands to new geographies and for varied applications, the solar supply chain remains heavily skewed. The supply chain begins with refining of polysilicon, which is melted to grow silicon ingots, and subsequently sliced into thin silicon wafers, before cells and modules are produced. Today, driven by tax rebates and large government subsidies7 , China dominates manufacturing segment (see image below8 ). A handful Asian countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan, in addition to the US and EU9 . Together the latter account for less than 30% of cell and module manufacturing, however with encouraged by dedicated incentives for indigenous technology. However, despite the transcontinental transportation costs and delivery risks, these suppliers have managed to limit costs and continue to be competitive in the global markets. The sector is increasingly cognizant of the social and environmental cost of these low-costs and hasty growth.

As a widely available source of energy, solar technologies will be an important link in the imminent Energy Transition. Unfortunately, the growing sector is plagued by persistent news of sub-standard solar PV systems and unsustainable production practices. Defective goods which fail to conform to the specified standards, are often shipped and sold to poorer countries, with limited or no governing standards and testing requirements. In African countries, where local markets have not yet realized cost-competitiveness, vulnerable customers are often swayed to purchase cheap products with defects ranging from cracks in solar panels to low-efficiency equipment10. Rejected or counterfeit products in new markets can have a negative impact on technology perception and therefore stunt market growth. It is therefore no surprise that governments including in the USA and India, have resorted to stringent standards and anti-dumping regulations.

As countries expand domestic production and new markets build local supply chains, it is essential to build a global database of good practices and standards for the solar value chain. Several international standard development organizations (SDOs) publish codes and standards for solar photovoltaics (PV11). However, country subscription of these standards remains low because of the limited capacities for standard enforcement and testing in most countries. Therefore, globally accepted/adopted standards for module and performance parameters are necessary to ensure the technical quality, efficiency, and safety of products, particularly in new and emerging markets. But it will be just as crucial to establish standards/certifications for training of technically skilled testing capacity.

However, this alone will not be sufficient to ensure the growth in the sector is aligned to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In light of this, the scope of the study will encompass various facets of the solar life-cycle, including but not limited to standards on sustainable sourcing/mining, technical quality and efficiency, governance systems, social impacts, environmental impacts, end of life management etc.


Under the overarching aim to set a global baseline for truly inclusive and sustainable investment in new clean energy infrastructure, the study will aim to address the following questions:

  • What are the key quality issues that may require standardization at different stages of life cycle?
  • What are the current standards at different stages of the life cycle?
  • Where are such standards being developed and where are they being applied?
  • What are the processes for the development of the standards and who is involved in the development of these standards?
  • What are the globally available frameworks and procedures for disclosure/reporting?
  • What are the gaps and how can these gaps be overcome?

Scope of Work

Scope of Work Detailed scope of work is outlined as below:

Task 1: Conduct Systematic Review of International Literature for solar life cycle, to be presented as drivers, barriers, and enablers

  • Based on secondary research, summarize forecast projections for solar energy applications, including installation and waste trends, in line with achievement of Net Zero Emissions by 2050., while accounting for technology innovations and efficiency improvements,
  • Conduct a material flow analysis (considering used, reused and lost) to identify top 10 markets in terms of supply and demand.
  • Study the primary (top 10) geographic hubs for mining (raw materials, including rare earth metals and high-value ingredients), manufacturing, and new solar installations. Note on opportunities for value chain diversification, (top 10) countries that have unexplored potential to contribute to various stages on the solar life cycle.
  • Study the primary (top 10) geographic hubs for mining, manufacturing, and new solar installations. Note on opportunities for value chain diversification, (top 10) countries that have unexplored potential to contribute to various stages on the solar life cycle.
  • 5. Collate and analyze globally adopted technical and performance standards for solar life cycle, including technology efficiency, standard operating procedures for testing and end of life measures. 6. Country Case Studies on good practices for recycling, recovery, and other implementable circular-design principles.

 Task 2: Stakeholder consultations and baseline surveys on ESG practices in the solar life cycle, in top 10 markets.

  • Assess the environmental impact of achieving the solar installation projections, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, water and air quality, impact on natural resources and biodiversity, waste generation, etc
  • Assess labour practices and workforce vulnerability (gender disaggregated), in terms of human rights, property rights, health, and safety, access to basic services, social security, displacement and migration etc
  • Conduct a gender analysis, mapping direct and indirect implications on women in terms of employment, income, access to services, quality of life etc.
  • Assess the implications and risks of inefficient governance, including on complaint redressal, community-engagement, diversity, inclusion, transparency, and disclosures.
  • Compile environmental, social and governance (ESG) compliance standards, regulatory frameworks and traceability protocols adopted for the solar value chain - point and process of origin; diversity in development of standards, application and implementational challenges; bottlenecks to global adoption etc.
  • ESG Case Studies on best practices for ESG reporting or standards in the solar life cycle, adopted by either countries or companies

Task 3:

 Develop Summary Findings and Recommendations

  • Key takeaways from literature reviews and stakeholder surveys - gaps and risks to achieve the twin agenda of the Paris Agreement and SDGs
  • Recommendations for developing, implementing, and reporting on environment, social and governance (ESG) practices.

How to Apply

Proposals may be submitted on or before the deadline indicated by UNDP in the e-tendering system. Proposals must be submitted in the online e-tendering system in the following link: https://etendering.partneragencies.org

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