The broad and stated purpose of International Solar Alliance (ISA) has been to add a terawatt of solar energy and raise a trillion dollars to fund that addition. ISA has recently roped in Indo-French organizations to study the feasibility of the concept of the SuperGrid and find credible pathways of implementing the pioneering and path-breaking idea, one that could be a giant leap in knitting the people of this planet into a happy solar community that would be a wonderful example of global cooperation. The SuperGrid would be to humanity, approximating and mimicking that which the Sun is to the planet Earth itself – a resource that brings light to the entire planet.
Clearly, ISA’s aim in its most puritan form, read linearly, is to usher in a world of global energy security where mutual cooperation and interdependence would be embedded in its design. However, we know from the study of international geopolitics that such a unique global theater is seldom allowed to or able to play to its own devices. There are always multifarious geo-political and geo-strategic influences at play that are unlikely to always play a game of cooperation. A game of competition and conflict has mostly been the state of equilibrium under which such theaters evolve.
The obvious implication might be that various legitimate state and non-state actors would soon vie to take pole position in the coliseum of ISA to gain maximum leverage in or through it. It’d be interesting to chart out the various scenarios ranging from certain cooperation to certain competition and conflict and understand what the likely outcomes might be, depending on the current and expected ‘balance of power’ equations at the world stage.
There are always multifarious geo-political and geo-strategic influences at play that are unlikely to always play a game of cooperation. A game of competition and conflict has mostly been the state of equilibrium under which such theaters evolve
ISA, even for the increasing attention that it has gathered, is taking baby steps yet – walking if not crawling. It is an achievement no less, though, that it has been able to establish itself with a working and performing secretariat, gathered more members, presented credible theoretical meaningful perspectives of the shape that it can take and begun to execute various projects aimed at achieving those theoretical perspectives.
However, the idea of emerging as a successful brand is yet a bridge too far. It’d be far too premature to say with a degree of certainty beyond reasonable doubt that the organisation shall definitely achieve the goals for which it has set out. It is necessary to investigate ISA’s concrete achievements in the space of propagation of solar energy projects, the solar energy technology itself, its adoption by entrepreneurs, SIDS and LDCs. It is even more important to investigate and evaluate, at the early stage of ISA’s hopefully perpetual, productive and meaningful life cycle, the shape of solar energy projects to come. Much of this progression would be dictated by the state of the solar energy technology especially when evaluated in contrast to other renewable energy technologies commercially available in the market as also those that are not but are at various stages of experimentation in research laboratories of leading corporations and renowned global universities.
ISA’s current role is defined by the immediate needs of its member states, especially the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the space of sustainable energy security. This implies that ISA must focus on a portfolio of scalable projects that can be replicated across nations in key sectors. The benefits of scalability are manifold – to begin with, it lowers cost of projects by aggregation. The need-based division of ISA’s current projects is as follows:
- Scaling solar applications for agricultural use
- Affordable finance at scale
- Scaling rooftop
- Solar e-mobility and storage
- Solar mini-grids
- Solar park
- Solar heating and cooling systems
The delivery of the aforementioned programmes is made possible by leveraging on a nexus of symbiotic relationships with the UN, Multilateral Development Banks, Development Financial Institutions, international and regional organizations, foundations spread across the world and private sector players including developers, investors, manufacturers and consultants spread across the value chain.
The roles played by ISA within those programmess may metamorphosise into any one or a combination of the following:
- Enabler: institutionalising the training of trainers of skilled manpower for highly technical jobs in solar project deployment
- Facilitator: arranging the funding required for the projects
- Incubator: nurturing initiatives such as Solar Risk Mitigation Initiative
- Accelerator: developing tools to aggregate demand for solar projects
ISA has a target of arranging USD 1,000 billion and installing 1000 GW of solar projects by the year 2030. The progression of the execution of that goal would be a key part of the study. The expansion of that goal, both by size and shape, would be inevitable at a certain point, when the achievement of the current goals nears the horizon.
In order to succeed, ISA would need to follow a ‘Whole-of-World’ (WoW) approach of global sustainable energy cooperation and connectedness.
New and developed nations are making tentative moves towards ISA. USA, which had been observing the developments in and around ISA with keenness until now, is one of the latest members. They might play an active role in the ISA or may remain dormant. Besides, nations such as China and Pakistan have been welcomed by Dr. Ajay Mathur, the current DG, ISA. The relationships between nations outside the boundaries of ISA would have an impact on their role inside it. For instance, China might predicate its posturing on the ISA vis-à-vis developments in the “Indo-Pacific” as evidenced by formation of the QUAD and its border tensions with India and diplomatic tussle with USA. The contribution of the developed nations, the interplay of many of these nations and their likely influence on ISA would be a very interesting matter of predictive analysis.
The history of industrial evolution tells us that technology is the main driver behind their commercial deployment in industries. Technology defines speed and scale of deployment, need for skills and finance required, standardisations, operations, maintenance, monitoring and evaluation processes. The solar technology space is no anathema to this law.
The solar power industry was polarised around two main technologies, namely, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) based thermal solar power and Photovoltaic-based solar power technology, until around a decade or two ago. The latter has now clearly emerged as the solar power technology leader. The PV solar power technology itself has seen a quantum jump in terms of the conversion of the solar energy potential to actual output, over the last few decades. The ease of deployment of the solar projects determined by the shape and size of the PV panels has also seen an expansion. Aided by the manufacture of PVs at huge scale, the cost of generation of solar power has witnessed a collapse in geometrical progression. This spiraling collapse has, in turn, encouraged a wider adoption of solar projects; thus, forming a benign circle.
India’s wind power potential at hub height of 120 meters is 695 GW. The wind power installed capacity has grown 1.9 times during past 7.5 years to about 40 GW and 9.67 GW of projects are at various stages of commissioning (as on 30.11 2021). India has the 4th largest wind power capacity in the world.
The wind energy sector is led by the indigenous wind power industry with a strong project ecosystem, operation capabilities and a manufacturing base of about 12 GW per annum. All the major global players of Wind Turbine Manufacturing field have their presence in the country and over 35 different models of wind turbines are being manufactured by more than 15 different companies, through joint ventures under licensed production, subsidiaries of foreign companies, and Indian companies with their own technology. The unit size of wind turbine in India has gone up to 3.6 MW.
Government of India has notified the offshore Wind Energy Policy to harness the potential of offshore wind energy along India’s coastline. Ministry is developing strategy and roadmap for installation of offshore wind projects off the coast of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
The Ministry has notified the wind solar hybrid policy, providing a framework for promotion of large grid connected wind-solar PV hybrid projects for optimal and efficient utilization of transmission infrastructure and land, reducing the variability in renewable power generation and achieving better grid stability. As on 30.11.2021, capacity of 3.75 GW of wind-solar hybrid projects have been awarded, out of which 0.2 GW capacity is already commissioned. In addition, capacity of 1.7 GW wind-solar hybrid projects are at various stages of bidding.
Off-Grid Solar PV Applications Programme Phase III: Phase-III of the Off-Grid Solar PV Applications Programme for Solar Street Lights, Solar Study Lamps and Solar Power Packs was available as on 31.03.2021. As on 30.11.2021 over 1.45 lakh solar street lights installed, 9.03 lakh solar study lamps distributed and 2.5 MW solar power packs have been set-up as reported by State Nodal agencies (SNAs).
Atal Jyoti Yojana (AJAY) Phase-II: The AJAY Ph-II Scheme for installation of solar street lights with 25% fund contribution from MPLAD Funds was discontinued from 1 April 2020 as the Government decided to suspend the MPLAD Funds for next two years i.e. 2020-21 and 2021-22. However, installation of 1.5 lakh solar street lights sanctioned under the scheme till March 2020 was under progress and as on 30.11.2021 around 1.21 lakh solar street lights have reportedly been installed and balance are targeted to be completed by December 2021.
Green Energy Corridor: In order to facilitate renewable power evacuation and reshaping the grid for future requirements, the Green Energy Corridor (GEC) projects have been initiated. The first component of the scheme, Inter-state GEC with target capacity of 3200 circuit kilometer (ckm) transmission lines and 17,000 MVA capacity sub-stations, was completed in March 2020. The second component – Intra-state GEC with a target capacity of 9700 ckm transmission lines and 22,600 MVA capacity sub-stations is expected to be completed by June 2022. As on 30.11.2021, 8434 ckm of intra-state transmission lines have been constructed and 15268 MVA intra-state substations have been charged.
There is absolutely no reason to believe, therefore, that the solar energy landscape won’t be jolted by similar upheavals in technology. Infact, that would be the general expectation. Consequently, ISA would reverberate with those shifts in technological transformations. Leaps in the solar technology space can’t be ruled out. As is in the case of war, so it is in the space of technology – to the victor go the spoils of victory. ISA would soon realise that either by being a leader or by being a follower in the game of technological leadership. The former would make the realisation a sweet experience and the latter is likely to be bitter. The influence of countries and organisations that lead in solar technology could grow within ISA. How exactly that interplay might proceed would be the subject of research.
A major impediment in upscaling of solar power has been energy storage and conversion efficiency – known as the Capacity Utilisation Factor (CUF) in the solar industry. Energy storage is an industry imperative, given that solar energy is variable. Sometimes the Sun is shining bright while at other times, it hides behind the clouds. Some nations are abundant in solar energy while others are not. The topography of some nations is more conducive to deployment of solar energy than that of others. This makes energy storage and the SuperGrid an important bridge to link geographies in the remote vicinity of solar power generation.
Companies like Elon Musk’s Tesla are investing heavily in energy storage. There are yet others, companies and research institutions alike, that are competing to innovate on the design and material used in the development of PVs that would make them more efficient and easier to deploy, respectively
Companies like Elon Musk’s Tesla are investing heavily in energy storage. There are yet others, companies and research institutions alike, that are competing to innovate on the design and material used in the development of PVs that would make them more efficient and easier to deploy, respectively. Then, there are moonshot technologies such as New Zealand based energy startup Emrod that’s trying to bring Nikolas Tesla’s idea of transmitting electricity wirelessly, to reality. These technologies if and when realised would certainly provide an exponential impetus to the propagation of solar energy.
Other renewables for power generation
The following Bio-energy schemes were under implementation by the Ministry:
Further, a SuperGrid would inevitably need predictability and trustworthiness to operate seamlessly within a transparent and rules-based-system. Technologies such as Blockchain and AI could play a key role in achieving that goal. Infact, there already are a few corporations, startups and behemoths alike, that are taking baby steps in deploying blockchain technology in creating solar energy trading markets that would be based on the cornerstone of trustworthiness between players, big and small.
It would be fascinating to come to grips with and understand the gradient of the slope of the technological evolution in the solar energy sector and how the ISA would impact it and be impacted by it. ISA’s ability to influence, lead and define the solar industry and indeed its survival might all depend on it.
ISA’s unusual design and unique construct is based on a premise of voluntary cooperation and has seldom been attempted in the history of global or regional alliances, at least since the Second World War. ISA does not fall into any of the classifications of alliances that one can possibly think of. One can think of trade pacts like WTO, geo strategic alliances like the G7, military pacts like the NATO, regional associations like the BIMSTEC, global financial institutions such as the IMF, global health bodies such as the WHO or even global technology-oriented groups such as the NSG and ISA is very different than all of them.