The clash of civilisations has veritably defined world history since the ancient to the modern times. Ownership, control, domination and exploitation of resources across economic value chains has been at the heart of that clash. The driving force behind technological advancements, scientific discoveries and inventions has singularly remained the urge to achieve world-domination by colonial nation-states and corporations. The quest for energy has undeniably been the foremost example of such conflicts. Oil, nuclear power and hydropower have been embedded at the intersection of that quest and those global conflicts, in the post Second World War geopolitical regime. Renewable sources of energy have become the newest weapon in the arsenal of global energy domination.
Furthermore, developed nations have invested heavily in renewable energy technology making the developing countries, particularly India, dependent on the developed countries. India and USA have fought at least one international case on the issue of domestic content in the solar projects in India. Simultaneously, with the North-South divide, there is a South-South divide as well. China has followed a strategy of mass production at mammoth scales with the help of cheap labour, thus outpricing the developed countries on the cost of solar photovoltaic systems. This has raised eyebrows and prompted protectionist measures by other nations. In countries like India, it has led to the hemming in of the local solar PV market as the developers split between developed countries solar PV technology for high quality on the one side and China for cheap PVs on the other.
The debate on climate change has also split the developed countries from within as evidenced in the exit of USA from the Paris Accord under Republican President Donald Trump. This move didn’t last long and was undone by the Democrat President Joe Biden in January 2021 on securing victory.
But, things are about to change. A new organisation called the International Solar Alliance (ISA), without much ado, endeavors to upend that global dynamic of conflict and alter the equation towards global energy cooperation and unification. ISA has an idea that would be a pioneering affirmation to the evolution of the human race itself, no less. They call it ‘One Sun, One World, One Grid.’
India’s non-fossil-based installed energy capacity at 157.32 GW
At COP 21, as part of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), India had committed to achieving 40 per cent of its installed electricity capacity from non-fossil energy sources by 2030. The country has achieved this target in November 2021 itself. The country’s installed Renewable Energy (RE) capacity stands at 150.54 GW (solar: 48.55 GW, wind: 40.03 GW, Small hydro Power: 4.83, Bio-power: 10.62, Large Hydro: 46.51 GW) as on 30.11.2021 while its nuclear energy based installed electricity capacity stands at 6.78 GW. This brings the total non-fossil based installed energy capacity to 157.32 GW which is 40.1 per cent of the total installed electricity capacity of 392.01 GW. In line with the Prime Minister’s announcement at the recently concluded COP26, the Government is committed to achieving 500 GW of installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by the year 2030.
During the last 7.5 years, India has witnessed the fastest rate of growth in renewable energy capacity addition among all large economies, with renewable energy capacity (including large hydro) growing 1.97 times and solar energy expanding over 18 times.
The idea of ISA has been widely and undisputedly acknowledged as being the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Not just the ISA itself but one of ISA’s most ambitious ideas of OSOWOG is also Narendra Modi’s hypothesis. It cannot be that the prospective success of ISA doesn’t rub off on the persona of Narendra Modi himself as a global statesman. It’d be worth pondering what that impact might be and how sizable it might be in the foreseeable future. A good orientating peak would be to evaluate this puzzle from the perspective of equal exemplars that might exist in human history of statesmen and world leaders and global experiences of their own vehicles equivalent of ISA that they might have created or inspired in one form or the other, say the institution of the Nobel Prize itself that was established by Alfred Nobel to award scientists for scientific breakthroughs. However, one cannot bring to mind a single statesman who might have birthed an idea in spite of being unlettered in the scientific body of knowledge of the area to which the idea belonged.
India armed with ISA under its belt is situated advantageously to play a leadership role in the negotiations on climate change by using ISA as a pivot to take the developing, LDC and SIDS countries under its fold and strengthening its bargaining power at the high table
Talking to a group of people at his PM’s residence at 10, Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi on June 8, 2014, PM Narendra Modi had first spoken about the “Saffron Revolution”. Quick to quip that he was aware that the mere mention of the word “Saffron” raises eyebrows, he further revealed that the color “saffron” represents the energy of the Sun. He contextually mentioned that energy security needs to be strengthened. He observed that the issues of global warming and increased energy requirements were on a collision path. He stated that we need to find answers to the quest of sustainable energy fulfillment. He said that India is blessed with abundance of solar energy potential as evidenced in the solar radiation footprint. He asked why India had failed to take advantage of the latent solar energy potential? He asserted that India would have to make swift and long strides in renewable energy proliferation. He gave the example of the United States and how it was historically dependent on the Gulf region for its energy needs but had recently made significant progress in becoming self-sufficient in the area.
India armed with ISA under its belt is situated advantageously to play a leadership role in the negotiations on climate change by using ISA as a pivot to take the developing, LDC and SIDS countries under its fold and strengthening its bargaining power at the high table.
Out of 100 quintillion (10^20) stars and 1 septillion (10^24) planets in the observable universe, astrophysicists have managed to locate just one pair of a star and a planet that revolves around the former such that the former sustains the most intelligent thriving life known to mankind on the latter. The star is the saffron Sun and the planet is Earth. Needless to say, the intelligent life is humankind itself.
One Sun. One World
Hitting the Earth with about 600 Exajoules of energy in less than two hours, the Sun offers energy equivalent to the entire energy consumption by the whole world from all sources in an entire year. However, humans produce and consume just 2 Exajoules of solar energy in a whole year. This number has grown at a rate of 50 per cent each year over the last 13 years. If we relax technological and logistical constraints and continue growing at this rate, the human race would take 37 years to be able to match the rate at which the Sun supplies energy to Earth with solar energy production on Earth. No wonder, Elon Musk recently said that the Sun can power all of civilisation. It’s possible.
Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea is quietly taking us from the outer realms of the possible to the central zone of the probable. The future of tapping into the free fusion reactor levitating in the wilderness of the vast cosmos, at a scale unimaginable till now, is closer and brighter than ever before. The transformative leadership of that Solar Superman started a few years ago with the declared vision of initiating a global “Saffron revolution”. The vision has led to the formation of an organisation seeking to unify the world with the ubiquitous energy of the Sun, that paints the sky saffron as it rises and sets.
Investment in Renewable
India’s renewable energy programme is driven by private sector investment. As per REN21 Renewables 2020 Global status Report, during the period 2014-2019 renewable energy programmes and projects in India attracted an investment of US$ 64.4 billion. In the year 2019 alone, US$ 11.2 billion were invested. New opportunities have emerged, and altogether new business space has been created. Indian companies have begun to explore foreign stock exchanges as a source of funds. India is progressively becoming a favored destination for investment in renewables.
As per Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) data Cell, DPIIT, the Indian ‘Non-Conventional Energy’ sector received approximately US$ 7.27 billion as FDI from the year 2014-15 upto June 2021. Of this, FDI of US$ 797.21 million was attracted during 2020-21. Liberal foreign investment policy allows the foreign investors to enter into joint ventures with an Indian partner for financial and/or technical collaboration and for setting up of renewable energy-based power generation projects. Up to 100 per cent foreign investment as equity qualifies for automatic approval, under the extant FDI policy of the Government.
PM Modi is the unlikeliest of characters to be placed anywhere in a script of such potentially path breaking proportions as the ISA, let alone him being the scriptwriter himself. He is not an inventor like Elon Musk or a scientist or even an energy magnate like Howard Hughes.
Headquartered in India, the International Solar Alliance (ISA) seeks to do what no organisation has done or thought before. It endeavors to unify the world in one mega, smart Solar SuperGrid and build a global, unified solar energy economy through an aggregated network of all nations in the world through a Whole-of-World (WoW) approach. ISA’s ambition is to herald the world’s biggest and first unified cooperative solar energy market in the entire existence of the human race, ever.
One Sun. One World. One Grid. Or, OSOWOG
I call it the “SuperGrid '' and it’s the most powerful global unification idea after the internet itself. ISA is not just a paradigm shift. It’s a quantum leap, simply as an idea in its theoretical construct. If applied with purpose and might, it can prove to be a wormhole to travel at warp speed into an evolutionary higher plane of human existence. The parallel world that it seeks to plunge 7 trillion people into, promises the best of all the worlds with which we are familiar. Energy security. World peace. Technological revolutions, possibly born of serendipity (who knows what the SuperGrid might lead to, as goes the law of unintended consequences). The mere grasp of the possibilities can cause geostrategic tectonic shifts in the way the idea of ‘nationhood’ itself is perceived.
Imagine energy produced in the Thar desert in India during the day transmitted to power the homes in uptown Manhattan, in real time, where the Sun would have yet not arisen. Unthinkable as it is right now, this unprecedented achievement would itself pale into insignificance when juxtaposed to the distant but real possibilities of weaving the world into a fabric that thus far might have been knitted by scientists and geostrategic experts. Even so – such theoretical constructs have been presented only sparsely by electrical engineers in technical scientific papers or by geostrategic thinkers in their think tanks as games of interdependence, co-existence and cooperation. Let it be known that the world has been more familiar with wars of domination and conflict when it comes to the sharing of resources, energy most of all.
In this context, the ISA presents an idea that’s refreshing and provides an opportunity to reset and reboot the modern civilizational tussle over resources and remodel and re-channel it into a truly renewable relationship.
ISA is unique for many reasons. It’s the first Inter-governmental organisation that is headquartered in India. There is no parallel of a similar UN-treaty based IGO headquartered anywhere in the world where the purpose is the propagation and adoption of a technology and, as a logical corollary, of a market, in this case solar energy. Furthermore, and more importantly, the central idea, as also witnessed by the stated intent of the organisation is not the aggrandizement and control of the technology but the universal promotion of it, such that it becomes ever more affordable and simpler to deploy and use. This is very unlike, say OPEC, which is a cabal that controls the supply and thereby the price of oil. It is also very unlike OBOR that’s promoted by China, which surpasses the intent of mere market access, supply and price control and charts a fresh territory of predatory ‘debt-diplomacy’ based international relations. What’s more, it is a purely voluntary organisation with no obligations or strings attached for any of the member countries.
France and India are the co-founders of ISA with the permanent secretariat established in India. India’s role as a leader in all aspects till now has been a foregone conclusion. France has taken deep interest in partnering with India in key initiatives of the ISA. The footprint of ISA has expanded to 101 countries and counting. Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and USA are the latest entrants.
Of course, while ISA has come into being as a manifestation of the thought of PM Modi, it has seen very deft commandeering in its infancy by its first Director General Upendra Tripathy, whose work has been critical in the past as Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, under whose tenure, India’s renewable energy sector grew exponentially and solar power tariffs witnessed democratisation and met ‘grid parity’ levels.
Government’s Renewable Push
Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM): To provide energy and water security, de-dieselise the farm sector and also generate additional income for farmers by producing solar power, Government launched PM-KUSUM Scheme for farmers. The Scheme consists of three components:
The Scheme aims to add 30.8 GW of solar capacity with central financial support of over Rs 34,000 crore. Based on the learning during first year, business models for feeder level solarisation was included as new variant under Component-C. Convergence of Scheme with PM-KSY and Agriculture Infrastructure Fund also accomplished. For ease of availability of finance the Reserve Bank of India has included the three components of the Scheme under Priority Sector Lending Guidelines. Cumulatively, about 5000 MW capacity of small solar power plants under component-A, 3.6 lakh standalone solar pumps under component-B and solarisation of over 10 lakh grid connected pumps under the two variants of component-C have been allocated in various States. After restrictions on COVID-19 pandemic were relaxed, installation has picked up and as on 30.11.2021, over 75000 stand-alone solar pumps have been installed under the Component-B, total 20 MW capacity solar power plants installed under Component-A and over 1000 pumps reported solarised under individual pump solarisation variant of Component-C. Implementation of feeder level solarisation variant under Component-C, which was introduced in December, 2020 has also started in a number of States.t
Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme: On 28.04.2021, the Government introduced, Production Linked Incentive Scheme “National Programme on High Efficiency Solar PV Modules” with an outlay of Rs. 4500 crores to support and promote manufacturing of high efficiency solar PV modules, including the upstage vertical components like cells, wafers, ingots and polysilicon in India and thus reduce the import dependence in Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) sector. In pursuance of the decision, a tender for invitation of bids for manufacture of high efficiency solar PV modules was issued. The tender received very encouraging response wherein 18 bids were received which could add another around 55 GW of solar PV module manufacturing to present solar PV module manufacturing capacity of around 11 GW. Letter of Awards have been issued by IREDA on 11.11.2021/02.12.2021 to three successful bidders for setting up 8737 MW capacity of fully integrated solar PV manufacturing units.
Solar Parks Scheme: To facilitate large scale grid connected solar power projects, a scheme for “Development of Solar Parks and Ultra Mega Solar Power Projects” is under implementation with a target capacity of 40 GW capacity by March 2022. Solar parks provide solar power developers with a plug and play model, by facilitating necessary infrastructure like land, power evacuation facilities, road connectivity, water facility etc. along with all statutory clearances. As on 30.11.2021, 52 solar parks have been sanctioned with a cumulative capacity of 37.92 GW in 14 states. Solar power projects of an aggregate capacity of around 9.2 GW have already been commissioned in these parks.
Roof Top Solar Programme Phase-II: Roof Top Solar programme Phase-II for accelerated deployment of solar roof top systems with a target of 40 GW installed capacity by the year 2021-22, is also under implementation. The scheme provides for financial assistance of upto 4 GW of solar roof top capacity to residential sector and there is a provision to incentivise the distribution companies for incremental achievement over the previous year. For residential sector use of domestically manufactured solar cells and modules have been mandated. This scheme is expected to act as catalyst for adding solar cell and module manufacturing capacity in India. As on 30.11.2021, a cumulative 5.7 GW solar roof top projects have been set up in the country. Against the target of 4GW for Residential sector under Rooftop Solar programme Phase-II, allocation of 3.4 GW already made to various states/ UTs and 1.07 GW already installed.
Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSU) Scheme: A scheme for setting up 12 GW Grid- Connected Solar PV Power Projects by Central Public Sector Undertakings with domestic cells and modules is under implementation. Viability Gap Funding support is provided under this scheme. Apart from adding solar capacity, the scheme will also create demand for domestically manufactured solar cells/modules, and thus help domestic manufacturing. Under this scheme, Government has sanctioned around 8.2 GW of projects, as on 30.11.2021.
Launching the International Solar Alliance on November 30, 2015 in Paris at the COP 21 Climate Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the importance of the Sun in ancient, pre-colonial, pre-Islamic, Hindu traditions and said:
“Since ancient times, different civilisations have given a special place to Sun. In the Indian tradition, Sun is the source of all forms of energy. As Rig Veda says, Sun God is the Soul of all beings, moving and non-moving. Many in India begin their day with a prayer to the Sun.”
He articulated the importance of the International Solar Alliance, by saying:
“Today, when the energy sources and excesses of our industrial age have put our planet in peril, the world must turn to the Sun to power our future. As the developing world lifts billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planet rests on a bold global initiative. It will mean advanced countries leaving enough carbon space for developing countries to grow. That is natural climate justice. It also means a growth path with a lighter carbon footprint. So, convergence between economy, ecology and energy should define our future. The vast majority of humanity is blessed with generous sunlight round the year. Yet, many are also without any source of power. This is why this alliance is so important.”
Thus, the ISA was born. International Solar Alliance (ISA), an intergovernmental organisation (IGO) was co-founded by India and France about six years ago. ISA has witnessed a continuously rising gradient of significantly and incrementally increased attention not just amongst the community of scientists and scholar studying the subject of climate change or the independent power producers in the economic sector of renewable energy but also by international geo-strategists working both in national governments and in academia, as also by experts in international law. Few, if any at all, similar entities have entertained greater interest across continents, except perhaps China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR).