Coming straight to the nub of the matter, let me start scribbling my pen by first and foremost pointing out that the inaugural summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in New Delhi on March 11 with 40 heads of state in attendance was an impressive showcase for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership of the global renewable energy agenda which also reiterated India’s firm and full commitment to it. ISA is an alliance of 121 countries located between Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. Invitations had been sent to 50 signatories including 21 countries that have ratified the ISA treaty.
How ISA Evolved?
To put things in perspective, the ISA is an outcome of an idea which PM Narendra Modi presented officially at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 and which envisages the direct and active involvement of 121 countries that were situated either fully or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn which is essentially Earth’s sunbelt. Along with 121 countries there are organizations from Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe which are directly and actively involved in it. India and France are thee co-founders of the alliance to promote solar energy.
It must be mentioned here that between 2008 and 2010, Narendra Modi who was the then Gujarat Chief Minister had approached the then Prime Minister of India – Dr Manmohan Singh with a concept called Sun-Son. It would be a group of Asia Pacific country researching and developing solar energy which has many benefits. But Centre led by Dr Manmohan did not take up this idea then. But now we see how it has evolved and it needs no rocket scientist to conclude that ISA is inspired by Sun-Son.
To recapitulate, the ISA was established on December 6, 2017. On 11 March 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the Founding Conference of the ISA in New Delhi during which the participating States adopted the Delhi Solar Agenda. In his speech at the conference, PM Modi outlined a ten point agenda in terms of way forward and in particular called for making the ISA Secretariat strong and professional.
ISA was signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 in an effort to curb global greenhouse gas emission and limit global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius. In November 2017, Syria signed the deal leaving the US as the only country in the world not to support the framework deal to combat greenhouse gas emissions.
Object of ISA
It must be underscored that the key object of ISA is to make available solar energy at an affordable rate, create solar grids and establish solar credit mechanism. This was revealed by officials to media. According to the ISA’s working draft, its aim is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.” The ISA also aims to substantially increase the share of renewable energy globally by 2030.
It must be underlined here that the ISA framework very explicitly says that, “Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technology and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology.” Also, a statement from the ISA Secretariat clearly reads as follows: “The vision and mission of the International Solar Alliance is to provide a dedicated platform for cooperation among solar resource rich countries where the global community, including bilateral and multilateral organizations, corporate, industry, and other stakeholders, can make a positive contribution to assist and help achieve the common goals of increasing the use of solar energy in meeting energy needs of prospective ISA member countries in a safe, convenient, affordable, equitable and sustainable manner.” The ISA Secretariat is based in Gurgaon where PM Narendra Modi and the then French President Francois Hollande had laid the foundation stone in 2016.
Upendra Tripathy who is interim Director General of ISA while mentioning the key aims of the summit elucidates that, “The summit celebrates ISA’s birth. It aims to bring together member countries, to mobilize more than $1000 billion by 2030. The ISA will generate a trillion dollar global solar market. The summit will generate political support for solar road maps of member countries in areas of demand aggregation, innovation, standards, quality control, research and development, and capacity building.” India has set an ambitious target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy, including 100 GW from solar by 2020 as announced by PM Modi at the joint launch of the ISA with then French President Francois Hollande on November 30, 2015. The ISA’s major objectives include global deployment of over 1,000 GW of solar generation capacity and mobilization of investment of over $ 1 trillion into solar energy by 2030.
Truth be told, India will contribute $27 million to the ISA to create a corpus, build infrastructure and for recurring expenditure over five years (FY17 to FY21). The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) and the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency have contributed $1 million each to create the ISA corpus. India’s Ministry of External Affairs, through its Development Partnership Administration program, has set aside $1.5-2 billion, as a line of credit facility to undertake solar projects in African countries that have signed and ratified the ISA Framework Agreement.
As a part of its climate change commitments, India has said that by 2020, 40 percent of its energy will come from renewable resources. India will do whatever it can to contribute fully to the ISA which is the brainchild of none other than the PM Narendra Modi himself. India has reiterated this time and again before the world community and by its acts has demonstrated also its firm and full commitment to it. Modi also announced a Solar Technology Mission that will look at the various aspects of technology development and innovation in the area of solar energy.
In addition, the PM presented 10 action points, including making affordable solar technology available to all nations, raising the share of electricity generated from photovoltaic cells in the energy mix and framing regulations and standards to support the initiative. The PM also announced that 500 training slots will be created for member countries to lead research and development.
Lauding India for taking lead in scaling up its solar power generation capacity, French President Emmanuel Macron said renewable capacity has within two years gone up from 39 GW to 63 GW, while that of solar energy has soared by 140 percent. Macron while hailing India’s contribution said that, “India proves that it is possible. What you are in the process of succeeding in doing is being watched by the entire world. You are attracting investment, you are supporting them, you are training young people and so this is what we shall be doing. This is what 121 countries of the alliance in Asia, Africa, Latin America shall be doing.”
Jibe At America
In an indirect reference to the United States President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of thee Paris Climate Agreement, Macron said that while some countries quit the historic Paris Climate agreement, the ISA nations have come together to “deliver complete results”. He further added that, “They (ISA member nations) started to act and to deliver complete results. They didn’t wait, they didn’t stop because few countries decided to just leave the floor and the Paris agreement. Because they decided it was good for them, their children and grandchildren and they decided to act and keep acting.”
India To Help 15 Nations Tap Sun
In what can unquestionably be termed as India’s biggest proof of its commitment to ISA is Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledging to fund 27 solar projects worth $1.4 billion in 15 countries through Lines of Credit. This is in addition to the projects worth $143 million that are already under implementation in 13 countries. India will be helping these countries, most of which are in Africa, in rural electrification, mini-grid and off-grid usage, irrigation, street lighting etc.
ISI A True Game Changer
What truly makes ISI a true game-changer is that it is a partnership of countries lying fully, or partially, between the tropics, mostly developing countries, which despite being endowed with excellent solar insolation, are among the most energy poor. It is here that ISI will help these countries in tapping their energy potential to the maximum possible extent. In coming together, these countries can work together to find locally appropriate solutions, aggregate demand to suitably modified technology that is affordable and access financial resources necessary for large-scale deployment. In that direction, ISA encapsulates the spirit of Paris Agreement: what every country can do and how we can do better together. Not only is the ISA alliance the most concrete outcome of the Paris Agreement, it is also key to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In ensuring the deployment of solar applications, ISA can certainly usher in transformational change which is a shift to more sustainable systems of production and consumption while simultaneously also bringing millions of those unserved by modern energy and economic systems into the fold.
ISA Leaders In Delhi Declaration
In the Delhi Declaration, the leaders of the founding States of the ISA emphasized on the need for sensitization and awareness building on the advantages and opportunities for promoting alternative energy at all levels as reflected in the ISA’s Framework Agreement. The ISA member States also agreed to increase their efforts to pursue an increased share of solar energy in the final energy consumption in their respective national energy mix, as a means of tackling global challenges of climate change and as a cost effective solution by supporting and implementing policy initiatives. They committed to facilitate affordable finance, access to appropriate, clean and environment friendly technology and undertake capacity building, including forging partnerships with international institutions and financial institutions for the benefit of developing countries.
Priorities Outlined By France
The French President Emmanuel Macron said three primary things need to be done. Firstly, identify solar energy potential in each country, their projects and financing requirement. Secondly, mobilize available finance and thirdly, to provide a favourable framework. Needless to say, all the ISA countries will now certainly strive in this direction to see that these three primary things that have been outlined by Macron are done at the earliest.
Countries That Have Signed, Ratified ISA
Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cote d’ Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, Fiji, France, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, India, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Nauru, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Togo Tuvalau, Uganda, UAE, Venezuela (32)
Countries Which Have Signed But Not Ratified ISA
Algeria, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Suriname, Tanzania, Tonga, Vanuatu, Yemen (30)
Big Diplomatic Achievement For India
It is beyond an iota of doubt that the establishment of ISA marks an emphatic, big and crucial diplomatic achievement for India. It is India’s PM Narendra Modi who is the real originator of the idea of ISA. India has demonstrated how the world can be presented with an alternative model of development, one that is collaborative, equitable, practical, transformative and sustainable. No doubt, it is India’s golden chance to provide global leadership to address the biggest challenges confronting humanity: poverty and climate change.
Time For Action
The time for talk is over and the time for action starts. To borrow French President Emmanuel Macron’s words: Now let’s get to work. France too is cooperating with India in all its endeavours which is quite ostensible! India has set a very ambitious target for itself of achieving 100Gw of solar power by 2022 which is only five years from now. In order to achieve this target, technology will undoubtedly play a key role. India understands this fully and now is the time for action to achieve the ambitious target that India has set for itself!
Centre Signs Pact With ISA
Centre on March 26, 2018 signed ‘The Headquarters Agreement’ with the ISA. The agreement was signed by Minister of State for Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Gen (Retd) VK Singh on behalf of the Indian government and by Upendra Tripathy who is Interim Director General of ISA. The agreement has provisions covering definition; interpretation and objectives; legal status, headquarters, other premises for temporary use; the ISA Secretariat property funds and assets; communication facility for the implementation of the ISA Secretariat activity; settlement of disputes; supplemental agreements; general provisions for the functioning of the ISA.
MEA said in a statement that, “Accordingly, Government of India recognizes the international legal personality of the ISA. The ISA Secretariat shall enjoy independence and freedom of action in the furtherance of its official functions and shall have the rights to display its logo, flag and other identifiers, on its programs, premises and vehicles. Government of India shall provide support of Rs 125 crore to ISA for creating corpus, building infrastructure and recurring expenditure over five years duration from 2016-17 to 2020-21.”
ISA’s Joint Declaration With Banks
Four multilateral banks – Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank and the GCF of the UN climate body signed a joint declaration on March 10 partnering with the ISA in its efforts to mobilize fund for solar projects across the globe. At present, three multilateral banks – World Bank, European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are partners of the ISA to mobilize finance to develop and deploy affordable solar energy in solar rich countries.
A good beginning has been made and the groundwork has been initiated. It is beyond a straw of doubt that if ISA succeeds in its aims of making solar energy available at an affordable rate, creating solar grids and establishing solar credit mechanisms, it will certainly serve to increase the global confidence in India’s capacities. Shyam Saran who is former Foreign Secretary rightly points out in his editorial titled “Powering India’s Growth Story” in Business Standard dated 14 March 2018 that, “While welcoming the launch of the alliance one must be conscious of the major challenges that lie ahead. Solar energy is available in daylight hours and even then its availability is variable depending upon weather and cloud conditions. Technological innovation has to focus on cost effective, compact, reliable and environmentally sound storage in order to make solar power a stable and credible alternative to conventional power. Solar power requires space for laying out solar panels and in a densely populated country like India space is at a premium. Nevertheless, despite these challenges there are already multiple applications of solar power which are already economically viable, in particular, in decentralised deployments. India has an unprecedented opportunity to develop solar industry because like China, it offers scale which is critical to reducing costs and to stimulate innovation. The success of the International Solar Alliance rests on the success India is able to achieve in its own ambitious National Solar Mission.”
Shyam Saran further goes on to rightly say in the same enlightening editorial that, “The National Solar Mission recognized the need to not only expand the use of solar power, but also to chart a technology pathway to resolve some of the challenges referred to. It was agreed that a major research and development (R&D) effort must be launched to find power storage solutions aiming for 6-8 hours storage to make solar power comparable to conventional grid power. The proposal was to invite consortiums of research institutions, such as IITs, to submit bids for developing storage systems with specifications laid down by a team of experts. Similarly, in order to reduce the space requirement per megawatt of solar power, nano-technology applications were envisaged and these too could be part of the consortium approach. Finally, it was also agreed that in order to deal with the instability and variability of solar power, hybrid solutions should be explored, such as coupling solar power with gas, bio-mass and even thermal power. In order to do this the mission had envisaged a few pilot projects to demonstrate technical and economic viability. I believe that in taking the initiative forward the government should revisit the technology pathway spelt out in the original mission but never seriously pursued. India must be a technology leader in this sector. China is already laying claim to this position and investing heavily in research and development.”
India has a lot to gain by paying heed to what Shyam Saran has said so eloquently about ISA and the direction to pursue it! India has certainly made a very good beginning. It now only needs to take forward this excellent endeavour along with ISA member countries and strive to bring other countries also into the fold like the China, Germany and the US which are not signatories and Japan has not yet signed the Paris accord! An uphill task but not impossible!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh