At the inauguration of the first assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), the Global Renewable Energy Investment and Expo and the second Indian Ocean Rim Association Meet on October 2, 2018, the Indian prime minister spoke about the government’s mission and plans in the renewable energy space. The key highlight of the speech, which became the talking point for clean energy enthusiasts, was his vision for a One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG). The fundamental idea behind this vision was to harness solar power round the clock across the world, the rationale being that the sun never sets and is shining at some geographical location at any point in time.
To help make this vision a reality, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued a request for proposal (RfP) for developing a long-term implementation plan, a roadmap and an institutional framework for OSOWOG. After a hiatus, the ambitious plan is in the news again with the MNRE extending the deadlines for the RfP owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. The deadline for the pre-bid meeting was extended from June 5, 2020 to June 22, 2020, and for the submission of proposals from July 6, 2020 to July 22, 2020.
The plan envisages the creation of a framework for facilitating global cooperation to build an ecosystem of interconnected renewable energy resources (but focusing more on solar energy) that can be shared by all. With India at the centre, the global grid is to be divided into two broad zones – countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia in the Far East and countries in the Middle East and African region in the Far West.
The plan will be implemented in three phases. The first phase will focus on the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia and will involve the connection of the Indian grid with the grids of these regions. As part of the first phase, an assessment of the renewable energy potential of all the countries in these regions will be made and a study carried out to find ways to share the renewable energy resources. The objective would be to ensure that electricity demand is met and tariffs are rationalised. The second phase focuses on the connection of the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia grid with African power plants. The initial plan also involves setting up an undersea link to connect with Oman. The third phase envisages global interconnection.
It is expected that the proposed integration will lead to a reduction in project costs, higher efficiency and an increase in asset utilisation for all the participating countries. Only incremental investments would be needed as the existing grids would be used and there would be no requirement for parallel grid infrastructure, thus allaying the cost concerns of participating countries. In addition, the participating countries would be assisted in attracting investments for renewable energy development. A broader benefit of the plan is poverty alleviation and economic well-being. For India, it will allow national renewable energy management centres to be upgraded to regional and global management centres.
Despite these benefits, the push for the OSOWOG plan seems to be more influenced by geopolitics. There is a growing concern in the global community that China will fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate deal. The OSOWOG plan could help counter the growing influence of China’s controversial One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative under which the Chinese government plans to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids, across Asia, Africa and Europe. The OSOWOG plan could offer a better alternative to countries in Asia and Africa that are concerned about the debt implications of the OBOR initiative.
The OSOWOG plan is, moreover, expected to see India emerge as one of the leading advocates of climate change. It will also help the Indian government realise the full potential of the ISA and position it as a strong international organisation. Meanwhile, with its membership growing, the ISA plans to set up a World Solar Bank with a capital of $10 billion, which will compete with other development banks and funding institutions. It is also in line with India’s Act East and Neighbourhood First policy.
However, it is still early days and the OSOWOG plan does seem a little ambitious as of now. What is needed is a clear roadmap, a cohesive implementation plan and an institutional framework to make this vision a reality. All said, it has certainly given hope to clean energy enthusiasts that the sun will never set on the global power grid.
By Sarthak Takyar