Global Grid Plan

Under the aegis of the ISA, India has proposed a global plan to distribute solar power generated in one country to meet the electricity demands of other nations.

Background

Indian PM Narendra Modi and former French President Francois Hollande revealed the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015. This project was launched to combine the efforts of both countries to work against climate change, replacing the use of fossil fuels, and adopt renewable energy.

The Vision of ISA is to provide a platform for cooperation among solar resource-rich countries where global community including multilateral and bilateral organizations, corporates, industry, and stakeholders can make a positive contribution to the common goals of increasing utilization of solar energy in meeting energy needs of ISA member countries in a convenient, safe, affordable, sustainable and equitable manner.

India has already initiated consultations with the World Bank to implement an ambitious global electricity grid architecture mooted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had exhorted countries to turn to the Sun to power the future. The vision that he embodied is 'one world, one sun and one grid'. He further added that convergence between ecology, energy and economy would define the future. 

ISA envisaged sunshine countries situated between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as its members but later proposed to make all United Nations members eligible for ISA membership. As of now, 83 states have signed its framework agreement (including Australia, Japan, UK, Netherlands, Egypt, 31 African countries, 7 Pacific states, 9 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean and three from South Asia).

Analysis 

With almost 300 sunny and clear days in a year, the calculated solar energy incidence on India's land area is about 5000 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year (or 5 EWh/yr). The solar energy available in a single year exceeds the possible energy output of all of the fossil fuel energy reserves in India. So long as it is harnessed well, it has the potential to generate a significant amount of energy. India has the geographical advantage of receiving enormous amounts of solar radiation up to 3000 hours of sunshine. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, India is producing the world's cheapest solar energy. 

Speaking at the 25thsession of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Indian Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar stated that five years ago, India had only 3 GW of solar energy. This has grown to 33 GW, and India wishes to achieve 100 GW by 2022. 

India is already engaged in energy infrastructure development in the ASEAN region, particularly in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. These countries are yet to become a signatory of the ISA along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Brunei. The alliance's drive to co-opt countries from South East Asia faced diplomatic hurdles with some countries holding back because of New Delhi's decision not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal. India has pitched ISA as a counterbalance to the Vienna based Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA). 

Desertec was an ambitious project formed by an international consortium of companies and developed by the Trans – Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation. It aimed at creating a global renewable energy plan based on the concept of harnessing sustainable solar power from the Middle East and North African regions where renewable sources of energy are more abundant. The idea was to transfer power through high voltage direct current transmission to consumption centres in Europe. But as of 2019, the project is described as largely stalled and failed.

There are three factors that continue to block the rapid scale-up of solar energy - financing is still too expensive for developers; solar-related plans and policies are often incoherent and increase risks for developers and investors, and finally, there is insufficient research and development (R&D) investment in solar. 

Assessment

  • ISA's mission to take solar from developed world markets to developing countries is laudable. It is currently being designed to bring together countries with rich solar potential to aggregate demand for solar across member countries, creating a global buyers' market for solar energy, thereby reducing prices.
  • Solar technology is a sustainable, safe, and clean way of harvesting energy—but it's only collected during daylight hours and is susceptible to weather conditions. Renewable energy cannot completely replace fossil-based energy generation. Solar generation is unpredictable and technological innovations yet to develop an efficient storage solution.
  • Bio engineering-focused solutions tend to present climate change as a shared problem with no political or socio-economic context. 
  • Large projects involving transnationals tend to take a top-down approach, increasing the risk of relocation, pollution and land grabbing. With the absence of community involvement, there is no guarantee that such schemes will help with the alleviation of unemployment, poverty or preserving a safe environment. 
  • Scaling up renewable power in India before going global is crucial. It is the world's third-largest emitter of CO2 and home to 13 of the world's 20 most polluted cities. A quarter of the population is deprived of access to grid electricity.
  • Unlike conventional power, the generation of renewable energy is intermittent, and the Power Grid Corporation of India has to cope up with this huge challenge of intermittent power. 
  • The abundant solar energy available in space could make a significant contribution to the world's electricity requirements, at some future date.

 

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