Interview with ISA’s Upendra Tripathy

Director General, International Solar Alliance

Upendra Tripathy, Director General, International Solar Alliance

“The ISA will become a grass-roots level organisation”

The International Solar Alliance (ISA), which now has 77 signatories, was jointly launched by the Indian prime minister and the French president in 2015, for countries located fully or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is currently going through a transition phase as the ISA plans to allow membership even to countries outside the tropics. In an interview with Renewable Watch, Upendra Tripathy, director general, ISA, shared his vision for the alliance, the need for a World Solar Bank and the progress that the ISA has made since its first assembly in October 2018. Excerpts…

What is your vision for the ISA in the next five years?

Many countries that face issues related to energy access and affordability are also rich in solar resources. ISA was conceived as a dedicated organisation for such countries to address their energy access issues through large-scale deployment of solar power. ISA provides a platform for increasing cooperation among industries, governments, bilateral organisations and other stakeholders of member countries. The vision of this alliance is to assist member countries in achieving their common goal of global energy security through greater solar power uptake in an affordable and sustainable manner.

Currently, we have 54 member countries and 77 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement. Five years down the line, we will have 194 members. We may plan a signing ceremony with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy on October 2, 2019 to add 23 more countries, which will take the membership to 100. ISA is also planning to permit countries outside the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn to become ISA members. In fact, we also expect to have all the United Nations countries as ISA members in the near future. In addition, we are proposing to set up a World Solar Bank, but it needs to be decided by the ISA assembly.

How did the ISA come up with the idea of having a World Solar Bank?

This is not a question of ideas but of necessities. The ISA Framework Agreement talks about mobilising $1,000 billion of investment by 2030. The hard fact is that there is no shortage of money, but does it reach the countries which need it the most? To the island nations which, in fact, will be the first to sink with water levels going up due to climate change? To other least developed and developing countries? The question of climate justice needs to be taken into account. To address all these issues, the bank will help channelise the money to targeted countries through customised projects.

A peculiar trait of solar energy is that it can be used for a diverse set of decentralised applications, which can help in the development of villages. It is more reachable and the cost has also come down.

First, we talked about solar reaching grid parity. Now that it has been achieved there are talks about solar reaching kerosene parity so that poor people can afford solar as well. The ISA’s vision is to make solar energy available 24×7 at near-zero cost. Looking at the broad developments, as storage costs are coming down, we will also move ahead with energy security.

The bank is necessary to ensure energy security of over 800 million people who do not have access to electricity today. It is also needed because we have about 2 billion women with no access to clean energy and clean cooking sources. These people are the poorest, and the toughest thing for them is to get money.

So we need to have a bank that develops new business model, for the benefit of these underprivileged people and focuses on universal energy access by 2025 or 2030. Achieving universal energy access will help in demand aggregation. If with 310 million LED bulbs India can bring down the cost, the ISA with 1 billion street lights, home lighting systems and solar cookers can help reduce the cost of solar-based decentralised applications and also help with energy access.

This bank will cater to three needs. One, the distribution of investments to various countries and projects that need funds the most. Two, it will focus on those 3 billion people who do not have access to clean cooking mediums or lighting. And three, it will also talk about capital security. The location of the bank will be decided by the member states, but will be subject to some kind of competition. We have got good feedback from the member countries for this idea. Many countries support this idea because of clarity of the bank’s objective. The next ISA assembly is in October 2019 and we will take up the proposal there.

The bank will be run by professionals who understand the solar energy segment. Moreover, we will not have any membership fees. Also, there may be some kind of a provision wherein 50 per cent of the bank’s profits go to the ISA. However, these decisions are subject to approvals from the member countries.

How much progress has the ISA made in one year?

We have trained around 200 engineers from different countries at the National Institute of Solar Energy. Currently, we have officers from over 18 countries at IIT Delhi, where they will study for two years. After studying the solar mission of India and other countries, these officers will go back to their respective countries to prepare their respective solar missions.

We have also got minigrid and rooftop projects worth $5 billion. Water pumps have been set up in 26 countries while minigrid and rooftop projects have been set up in over 20 countries. Our experts also go to different countries and interact with ministers to discuss the kind of solar pumps that can be used, maintenance of pumps, and education and awareness of the farmers. These experts also discuss ways to link backward and forward linkages. We have also persuaded various countries to open star centres. And now ISA has 63 such centres have been opened. The people we train here go back to the star centres to teach and train more people.

But the challenge is of money. This is the reason we requested India to invest $1 billion in the solar pumps segment, apart from the $2 billion that has been assigned for various solar projects. The World Bank has invested half a million dollars, the Asian Development Bank is going to provide $2 million, and the European Union has given Euro 300,000 to develop an infopedia which will act as a communication platform for all countries and it will be launched in the next assembly. We have also persuaded the World Bank to launch rural electrification programmes in 22 African countries and $373 million has been allocated for it.

Till now, five new partners have joined ISA since the last assembly, which was held in October 2018. We are working towards strengthening these partnerships by coming up with 10 action points, which will be implemented in the next two years. A key achievement has been the creation of a good governance structure.

We have also started with a new brand event, Sun World, which will be organised every year, in the southern and northern hemispheres consecutively. The first such event is being held in Lima, Peru. In fact, the country has declared this as an event of national importance. Next year, it will take place in Kenya and then in Indonesia. We will also launch the Sun World X, which will be held every year on March 21 (an equinox) and will be based on the World Mobile Congress. We are in talks with the India Trade Promotion Organisation regarding this.

We are also planning to have about 35 state-level awards on different themes. Karnataka has named the award after Visvesvaraya, who in 1902 built the first hydropower dam in India. So, the Karnataka award is for floating solar. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have named the award after Vinoba Bhave and Kalpana Chawla respectively. The chief ministers of the states will be giving away the awards at international events. Moreover, officials will give a presentation on the investment opportunities in their respective states.

Ideas that were raised in the first assembly are now being translated into action and I am sure, going forward, the ISA will become a grass-roots level organisation.

“The ISA’s vision is to make solar energy available 24×7 at near-zero cost.”

“Till now, five new partners have joined ISA since the last assembly, which was held in October 2018. We are working towards strengthening these partnerships by coming up with 10 action points, which will be implemented in the next two years. A key achievement has been the creation of a good governance structure.”

 

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