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Solar energy: A strategic imperative for market access and sustainability

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OPINION | AS global markets become more integrated, businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of sustainability, says Ahmed Motara, business development lead at Solana Energy.

This shift isn’t just about being eco-friendly; it’s about staying competitive in a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. One of the most impactful developments on the horizon is the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), set to take effect in 2026. This upcoming regulation could significantly influence how businesses approach their energy strategies, making it crucial to consider renewable energy solutions like solar power.

Understanding the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)

The CBAM is an innovative policy tool designed by the European Union to address carbon leakage and support the EU’s ambitious climate goals. Essentially, it will impose import charges on products such as steel, cement, and electricity based on the carbon dioxide emissions embedded in their production. By levying these charges, the EU aims to level the playing field between domestic producers, who are subject to strict carbon regulations, and foreign producers, who may not face similar constraints. For businesses aiming to export to the EU, this means that reducing carbon emissions is no longer optional — it’s a strategic imperative.

Implications of CBAM for businesses

The implementation of CBAM carries significant implications for businesses worldwide, particularly those exporting to the EU. The South African Reserve Bank’s April 2024 report highlights that the current version of CBAM could lead to a 4% reduction in total exports to the EU by 2030, translating to a 0.02% reduction in GDP relative to a baseline with no CBAM. This potential reduction underscores the importance of mitigating carbon emissions to maintain competitive access to the EU market.

For exporters, the cost implications of CBAM are twofold. Firstly, the direct cost of the carbon charges could make products more expensive and less competitive compared to those produced with lower emissions. Secondly, there is the cost of compliance — businesses will need to invest in systems to measure and report the carbon content of their products accurately. Failing to do so could result in penalties and a further loss of market share.

Sectors Impacted by CBAM

The CBAM will significantly affect sectors like chemicals and manufacturing. Industries that rely heavily on carbon-intensive processes will face higher costs and more stringent compliance requirements. For instance, the South African chemical sector, a substantial exporter to the EU, will need to adopt greener practices to avoid punitive charges and retain market access.

Why solar energy makes sense

  1. Reduce carbon emissions: By investing in solar energy, businesses can significantly lower their carbon footprint. Solar power is a clean, renewable energy source that produces no direct carbon emissions, helping companies meet stringent environmental standards and avoid hefty CBAM charges. Studies show that companies implementing renewable energy solutions reduce their carbon emissions by up to 30%.
  2. Cost savings: Although the initial investment in solar energy systems can be substantial, the long-term savings are considerable. Solar power reduces reliance on fossil fuels and can lower energy costs over time. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy has decreased significantly in recent years. From 2010 to 2021, the global weighted average cost of electricity (LCOE) from utility-scale solar PV declined by 89%, reaching approximately USD 0.03 per kWh in 2021. This makes solar energy an increasingly viable option for businesses. Additionally, various tax incentives and financing options, such as those under Section 12BA of the Income Tax Act, can help offset the initial investment.
  3. Market competitiveness: Companies that adopt sustainable practices, such as utilising solar energy, can significantly enhance their market reputation and appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and partners. This is particularly crucial in regions like the EU, where sustainability plays a pivotal role in consumer purchasing decisions. According to Accenture and the World Economic Forum’s report titled “Profit vs Sustainability: Reconciling the Sustainable Transformation Myth,” 70% of executives consider it imperative to redefine the business landscape to effectively develop and adopt new sustainable business models.
  4. Compliance and risk management: Installing solar energy systems helps businesses comply with existing and upcoming environmental regulations, reducing the risk of non-compliance penalties. As global regulatory landscapes evolve towards more stringent carbon reduction policies, being proactive can safeguard businesses from future liabilities. The Profit vs Sustainability: Reconciling the Sustainable Transformation Myth report notes that businesses that integrate sustainable practices are more likely to thrive in the future regulatory environment: “Companies that embed sustainability into their operations are not just mitigating risk but positioning themselves for long-term success.”

Broader market implications

While the focus is on the EU, other regions are also moving towards stricter carbon regulations. The United States, for instance, has introduced various initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, and similar mechanisms to CBAM could be adopted in the future. By investing in solar energy now, businesses can future-proof their operations and remain competitive in a globally shifting regulatory environment.

In the face of new regulatory challenges like the EU’s CBAM, businesses must adopt sustainable practices to remain competitive. Short-term reductions in loadshedding should not lead to complacency in energy transition efforts. Solar energy presents a viable and strategic solution to reduce carbon emissions, cut costs and comply with international standards. As the global market continues to prioritise sustainability, investing in solar energy is not just an environmental decision but a smart business strategy to secure access to markets.

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