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One Sun One World One Grid
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Every conscious person would be aware that fossil fuels, namely coal, petroleum and natural gas are the most abundantly used energy resources in the world today and together they account for more than eighty percent of the total energy consumption. To make modern living easier and more comfortable, the consumption of these exhaustible fuels has increased many folds during the last few decades. The process of the formation of the fossil fuels under the deep layers of the earth crust is very long and tardy but the fact to remember is that they are not renewable energy sources and unless there is a significant reduction through their optimized consumption, the world will quickly run out of their existing reserves. This thought has been constantly bothering many nationalities; hence there is a consideration worldwide to find alternative renewable energy resources as a long-term solution for human energy needs. It is in this context that India, largely through the vision of the incumbent Prime Minister (PM), has put forth an optimistic and ambitious solution with the nomenclature One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG).
What is OSOWOG?
On the sidelines of the UN Climate Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, the Indian PM Narendra Modi and British PM Boris Jhonson have jointly launched a transnational grid initiative OSOWO in November 2021, which is considered as a significant step in harnessing and promoting solar energy as a future viable substitute of the world’s current fossil fuel-based energy requirements. The COP26 represents the 26th conference on climate change hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy. It was originally scheduled for November 2020 in Glasgow but was postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While announcing the stated launch, Narendra Modi stressed that the time for One Sun One World One Grid and Green Grids Initiative is now if the world is to move for the clean and green future. For the future energy needs of the world nations on shared basis, the interconnected transnational grids will serve as critical solution during the coming years. In short, OSOWOG could be defined as under:
“One Sun, One World, One Grid will be the first international network of global interconnected solar power grid which will combine large-scale solar power stations, wind farms and grids with rooftop solar and community grids to ensure a reliable, resilient and affordable supply of clean energy for all.”
The project envisages India and United Kingdom spearheading it in partnership with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the World Bank Group, which will gradually evolve and expand a global coalition of the participating national governments, international financial and technical institutions, power system operators, and know-how pioneers and leaders in an endeavour to strengthen the existing infrastructure and build new as required for the world powered and driven by clean energy initiatives. The concept of the single solar grid was first floated by the Indian premier way back in 2018 during the first assembly of the ISA and OSOWOG envisages the development and scaling of the inter-regional energy grids for solar energy sharing, leveraging the gaps of time zones, climate/season, resources and pricing among the countries and regions.
As per the concept paper on OSOWOG by the ISA, the world solar grid is likely to be completed in three phases. In the initial (first) phase, the Indian solar grid shall be interconnected with the South Asia, Southeast Asia and Middle East for the sharing of solar energy as also other renewable energies for meeting the electricity requirements of the participating countries. During the next (second) phase, the African power pool shall be connected and synchronized with the aforesaid regional grids. The final (third) phase would cater for the global connectivity through the unified power transmission grid. This ambitious project has an ultimate target of the interconnected capacity up to 2600 GW by the end of 2050.
International Solar Alliance
The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is an assembly of some 124 member nations formed at the initiative of India; the most of these countries are the sunshine countries by virtue of being located either fully or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Indian PM Narendra Modi spoke of this concept for the first time in November 2015 in UK addressing these countries as “Suryaputra (Sons of the Sun)”. This alliance is an inter-governmental organization bound under a treaty with the provision that the countries not falling between two Tropics can also join and utilize associated benefits with the exception of the voting rights. For the record sake, it is the largest grouping of the countries world-wide with a common cause only next to the United Nations. Since the concept and treaty was floated, the membership has expanded now to nearly 200 countries.
The ISA headquarters is located in Gurugram, India, the foundation stone for which was jointly laid down by the Indian prime minister and French president in January 2016. The main objective of the alliance is a focused development and utilization of the solar energy for the use of the member countries on the shared basis. Besides, it also represents the sincere commitment of the developing countries towards meeting the objectives of the climate change and pursuing a low carbon growth path. The area located between the two Tropics is often referred to as the tropical or torrid zone, where sun appears directly overhead with sun rays carrying maximum intensity. The sunniest countries belong to the African continent from Somalia to Niger in the east and Egypt in the northwest. Important signatories of the alliance include India, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, nearly all African countries, and countries from other continents making to a total of 124 members in the stated alliance.
Why OSOWOG is Relevant to COP26!
COP stands for the “Conference of the Parties” and the currently such conference being organized in Glasgow from 31st October to 12th November 2021 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (brief term COP26). As stated, originally scheduled in 2020, it has been delayed for a year due to Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. The conference gains added importance because it is for the first time after COP21 that the participating countries would be expected to commit an enhanced ambition (target) towards the mitigation of the climatic change. The COP21, popularly known as the Paris agreement, organized in 2015 was a landmark accord under the aegis of the UN on the climatic change mitigation, adaptation and finance negotiated by 196 parties. Subsequently, the agreement was opened for signature on the Earth Day, the 22 April 2016, which was ratified by all but 3-4 countries. One of the major emitter, the US had decided to walk out of the treaty in 2020 but decided to rejoin in 2021.
The Paris Agreement called for a long-term goal to keep the rise in the mean global temperature to well below 2.0 Degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, preferably restricting it in the limit of 1.5 Degree Celsius with a view to substantially minimize the adverse effects of the climatic change. Under the COP21, the countries had decided to evaluate and set goal by themselves to extent they will reduce their emissions by a certain year in the form of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Currently, majority of the countries meet their energy needs by a high percentage of the consumption of the fossil fuels. In that context, maximizing the use of non-exhaustible energy consumption utilizing the clean and green renewable energy sources with corresponding reduction in use of the exhaustible fossil fuels is important and is in focus. Among such resources available in abundance, such as sun, water, wind, atomic energy, and so on, the solar energy is one that can be conveniently and abundantly tapped by many countries; hence the Indian initiative of OSOWOG, which is getting enhanced acceptance by many countries, even endorsed by many affluent countries of the Western Europe.
Key Points of Modi’s Glasgow Address
At COP26, PM Modi made following key points during his address to the assembly: During the event, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was present all the time, who praised Modi stating that he is among those who understand very well how to tackle climate change. Points made by him below are not verbatim but in essence same.
OSOWOG Further Decoded
Although there has not been much publicity or enthusiasm worldwide about the project so for but the OSOWOG is, undoubtedly, very ambitious initiative taken by India with an aim of global reach and global participation with viable accrued benefits to all member countries. To begin with, it has been undertaken as a technical assistance programme of the World Bank leveraging it with the ISA, which would necessitate a large investment, cooperation and contribution of other countries as well, particularly the more affluent Western countries. Perhaps this is reason why the Indian prime minister has endeavoured to take the French president and British prime minister in loop on crucial occasions. The philosophy behind the initiative is based on the vision that the earth is a part of the solar system where the sun never sets and one or the other region of the globe constantly remains illuminated under the sun rays.
This Indian initiative could be easily categorized as one of the most ambitious projects in the world ever undertaken by any single country having global importance and reach in terms of sharing socio-economic benefits. Among the countries falling under two Tropics, India is almost in the middle and accordingly the solar spectrum has been broadly divided into two zones viz. Far East including the countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Taiwan etc., and Far West that takes into account the countries in the Middle East and the Africa region. A passing reference of the planned three phases has also been made in the foregoing paragraphs.
As already mentioned, the solar connectivity is envisaged for the Middle East, South Asia and South-East Asia in the first phase. India is a firm believer of the concept of the “neighbourhood first” in all matters and, accordingly, fostering the cross-border energy trade is also set as an important milestone in the first phase. As part of regional cooperation under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), India had forged bilateral cooperation with Bhutan long back and is also supplying electricity to Nepal and Bangladesh to meet the regional energy demands. These links will be further strengthened among SAARC countries, minus Pakistan due to its continued non-cooperation and enemy-like conduct, including setting up of an under-sea link to Oman in the Middle East. Many more details including concrete plan and viable funding aspects for the project are yet to be worked out but the second and third phases cater for the connectivity with the African power pools and global interconnection, respectively.
To kick start the project, and attract participation and funding by countries and financial institutions for this ambitious project, India has expedited ISA’s plan to set up the World Solar Bank (WSB) with an initial capital of US $10 billion, which aims to also compete with other relatively newly created financing institutions like Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank(AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB). The project appears to be also relevant and important in the backdrop of the United States’ earlier withdrawing and reservations about the Paris Agreement, an important international treaty adopted in 2015 on climate change. As OSOWOG will provide clean and green energy through renewable sources, it will assist the member countries in mitigating harmful effects of carbon and other emissions on climate and thereby considerably meeting their obligations towards reducing the existing trend of the global warming. According to some experts on international polity, the project is also a good move to provide a strategic rebalance in favour of India and democratic world, as it might considerably check and mitigate the exploitative tendencies of the People’s Republic of China under its One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme.
Envisioned Key Benefits
Many policy experts believe that the OSOWOG project is a good futuristic move for the renewable-energy based power systems at the global level as the interconnected regional and international green grids can be of great mutual use and benefit by sharing and balancing of the renewable energy across the globe. Besides, it may also allow quick exchange and sharing of technological developments and energy resources among the member countries which will ultimately lead to the reduction of the global carbon footprint and to a certain extent also help in insulating societies from future pandemics. Some other envisioned key benefits would be as under:
Challenges and Threats to OSOWOG
The OSOWOG is indeed a very optimistic and ambitious project which would require a strong leadership with commitment for a considerably long period to mobilize continued political support and capital investment from various countries and financial institution for setting up necessary infrastructure and long transmission lines on as required basis. Besides, transmission of electricity over the large distances itself may pose many challenges including cost and technical issues. However, the silver lining is that as first step solar power transfer is planned between the friendly neighbouring countries of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal, with whom India already shares energy transmission capacity across borders; the same infrastructure can further be expanded for the transfer and sharing of solar power between these countries. So, the project may not face much difficulty at the initial stage.
The ISA has commissioned a feasibility study of the OSOWOG project, which is likely to make assessment on a country-by-country basis keeping in view the projected power demand, supply and renewable energy resources potential. The experts opine that this is a very grand and ambitious project but at the same time agree that a new energy sector paradigm is needed to steer clear the huge inflexion point in electricity generation and consumption worldwide. In view of the envisaged scale of energy access, reduction of carbon emissions, minimizing cost and improving living standards, India would need a strong support and coalition of international partners to fructify envisioned goals. Hence next 2-3 years will be crucial in evolving a workable roadmap and modus operandi for the actual execution of the OSOWOG project.
Apart from mobilizing the necessary political support and funding internationally, the biggest threat to cope with is the continued domestic opposition of Narendra Modi government and their every initiative and action by the opposition parties. In fact, the frustration of many opposition leaders has reached to a point where at times they resort to such moves that even go against the national interests. Therefore, political stability at home in the coming years would be key to the smooth working and success for the initiatives like OSOWOG taken at such an ambitious and grand scale. The next general election are due in India in the beginning of 2024 and further continuance and success of initiatives being taken by this government would largely depend upon the same political dispensation returning to political power again.
India has achieved more than the initially set targets for the development of the renewable energy in the country during the last 5-6 years. During the same period, the Modi government has taken such initiatives like the International Solar Alliance, One Sun One World One Grid and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The last initiative was launched by the same Indian Prime Minister at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019, which aims at the promotion of the disaster resilient infrastructure globally with the participation of the UN agencies, multilateral development banks, private sector and academic institutions. Both the ISA and CDRI have so far received wide support from the developing as well as developed countries. The two initiatives along with the OSOWOG constitute a novel solar alliance in India’s endeavour of evolving a long-term strategy for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions through gradual reduction of fossil fuel consumption by adopting the solar energy and other feasible inexhaustible and renewable energy sources.
Images (c) istock.com
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