Insights into Editorial: International Solar Alliance could be the climate change game-changer
Less than a year after it proposed a unique coalition of sunlight-rich countries to fight climate change through deployment of renewable energy, India has been able to make the International Solar Alliance (ISA) a reality. More than 20 countries recently signed a Framework Agreement on International Solar Alliance which will take the shape of a separate international treaty once it is operationalised.
- ISA was proposed at the Paris climate conference last year and has become a reality at the Marrakesh meeting now, thus getting closely linked with the UN climate process.
About International Solar Alliance (ISA):
India launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the CoP21 Climate Conference in Paris. The alliance brings together developed and developing countries, governments and industries, laboratories and institutions in a common enterprise.
What is it for?
Among the tasks that the Alliance would pursue are, cooperation in training, building institutions, regulatory issues, common standards, and investment including joint ventures.
Aims of ISA: The main aims of ISA include reducing financial risk across a larger global market, encouraging cooperation on technology, building capacity, and increasing energy access.
Significance of ISA:
More than 120 countries are geographically located in the tropics, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, either fully or partially. These places get ample sunlight throughout the year, making solar energy an easily available resources.
- These countries also happen to be ones where maximum growth in energy demand is expected in the coming years, considering that these are areas where current production is woefully short of requirement.
- The ISA is an effort to ensure that as these countries rapidly ramp up their electricity production, they should predominantly use solar energy and avoid fossil fuels.
The ISA seeks to do three things to bring down the costs of technology as well as the costs of finance needed for a solar project:
- It seeks to boost global demands which will result in further reduction in prices of solar energy deployment.
- It seeks to promote standardisation in the use of equipments and processes for generating electricity. Standardisation will make the manufacturing of equipments and other hardware cheaper.
- It seeks to boost research and development, particularly in areas of efficient storage systems.
India and the ISA:
The secretariat of the ISA is to be located in India. India will also host a meeting of ISA assembly every year.
- India has promised to contribute $27 million for creating building infrastructure and recurring expenditure for five years, till 2020-21. A part of this money will also go towards creating a corpus fund of $16 million that will generate revenues for the budget of ISA.
- Two public sector undertakings, the Solar Energy Corporation of India and the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, have also promised $1 million each for the corpus fund.
Despite its promise, ISA faces two real dangers.
- The longer-term one is whether it devolves into a bloated bureaucracy. Although conceived as an intergovernmental institution, ISA is not intended to be a typical international bureaucracy. Its extremely lean Secretariat (possibly smaller than any other international agency) could leverage networks and create tangible opportunities for manufacturers, developers, financiers and innovators. A tight budget and a direct link to the private sector would hold ISA accountable to real action on the ground.
- The more proximate danger is that 121 potential member countries get caught up in a battle over legal form, membership rights, and giving precedence to procedure over pragmatism. This would violate the very ethic of a dynamic international organisation for the 21st century, where action is rewarded and initiatives judged by the effectiveness of their execution.
For the alliance to be successful, it is necessary to consider implementing the following steps:
Select a permanent director general (DG): A dynamic and permanent DG can draw attention to the alliance, build relationships with member states and other international institutions, interact with the media regularly, and develop a strategic plan.
Create a core ISA coordination group: Since its launch, the ministries of new and renewable energy, external affairs and other agencies have been discussing informally and working together to keep the ISA wheels moving. However, since the world is looking at how this evolves, a dedicated inter-ministerial group will be needed to distribute the workload, allocate funds, maintain contact with member states, and prepare related documents.
Issue a white paper on ISA governance: ISA is an inclusive multilateral institution but there is as yet lack of clarity on its governance structure. A paper outlining alternative governance models would draw in ideas from member states and other stakeholders and inform deliberations in subsequent meetings.
Assess all proposals through a “value-add” lens: A number of ideas are beginning to come forward on what other institutions (private, public and inter-governmental) could do to shape ISA’s agenda, such as mobilising investments or deploying projects in member countries. It is important that ISA activities do not overlap unnecessarily with those of other organisations. A “value-add” perspective – and measuring each initiative against stated aims – would help ISA specify its unique proposition for the benefit of members and investors.
Kick-start bold initiatives: It would be useful to launch one or two bold initiatives, which could capture the imagination of ISA members. This could trigger interest from innovators, project developers, bankers and other investors.
Establish formal links with private sector platforms: many other renewable energy-focused organisations do not have strong links to the private sector. ISA can distinguish itself by giving private sector consortia observer or associate member status, encouraging them to design and implement ISA programmes, and build relationships for targeted investments.
Announce an ISA summit and expo: An annual or biennial summit and expo would draw further interest.
Why solar energy is gaining momentum in recent times?
The total installed capacity of solar energy across the globe has risen by almost eight times during the last six-seven years.
- The revolution in the deployment of solar energy in this period has been made possible by a sharp drop in the costs of production of electricity through solar cells.
- The costs have come down by 80-85% in the last seven years, thanks to a rapidly growing demand as countries look to move away from fossil fuels on climate change concerns.
- This has made solar energy very competitive in comparison to the more traditional sources of electricity generation like coal-fired thermal power plants.
The signing now has to be followed by ratifications by countries. The agreement will become operational after at least 15 countries have ratified it.
Now, it is important that the key backers of ISA start speaking loudly, clearly and frequently about ISA’s vision, activities and their added value.
International Solar Alliance is one among many multilateral and plurilateral initiatives, which have been launched in recent years. Other initiatives include the International Renewable Energy Agency, Renewable Energy Policy Network, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, Global Green Growth Institute, and so on. As the newest inter-governmental institution in the world, it is imperative that ISA carves a niche for itself and demonstrates genuine value to its members. The ISA also gives India an opportunity to take global leadership in the fight against climate change.