It’s been said that ISA has become a significant foreign policy tool for India and is viewed as a counter to China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Also, France has termed ISA as a political project. Your views.
ISA’s goals are political. What is the goal? To help change the way of thinking of investors—whether they are electricity generating companies, or whether they are you and I in moving towards solar. This needs political dynamism. This has not been created for a broad purpose. This has been created for one single cause and this is a very directed political cause. You want solar to be the energy source of choice for people. So, I completely agree that this is a politically-led agenda.
What about ISA being compared to China’ Belt and Road project?
This is about getting all the countries of the world together into making solar a preferred option. It is about solidarity. It is about all countries of the world coming together to help provide whatever it takes. Whether it is experience, expertise, resources, or the ability to adopt the solar technology. Whatever it takes, we do this together. So, this is a global alliance. It is an alliance that is driven by common global goal of moving towards solar.
Would you approve ISA and BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) being compared?
What I am saying is what ISA is? ISA is a global alliance towards the political goal of bringing solar as a preferred option across the world.
Given that any United Nations member can be a member of ISA, are China and Pakistan eligible to apply and will they be then given ISA’s membership?
The answers to both (questions) is yes. They are eligible to apply and as ISA we will be delighted to have them join this grouping. We are reaching out to almost all countries and we will continue to reach out to them. At the moment the number of ISA members who have signed and ratified is 73 countries. Obviously, we would like to reach out to all the 193 countries in the world.
Including China and Pakistan?
Absolutely, to everybody.
Will ISA announce the setting up of a World Solar Bank and plans for One Sun One World One Grid (OSOWOG) at COP26 in Glasgow in November?
As far as OSOWOG is concerned, we clearly want the countries to consider how solar power generation in one country and the demand in another country can be met. So, in general we would like green grids to be an area in which countries pay attention and they become a priority. To that extent, we will certainly be wanting to get the political buy-in at COP26.
Will Pakistan be a part of OSOWOG?
There is now a study that has been given out to consortium led by EDF (Électricité de France) and we expect the first report in June, and a more detailed report about the countries who will become the first partners towards the end of the year. It is a little premature to say which countries will or will not be a part, but obviously we are investigating that where is it that it makes sense to develop this grid.
Where are we on the World Solar Bank?
The huge challenge is that in the financial arena, what is it that is preventing money from flowing into solar investments? And I think that the World Solar Bank will look at addressing those kinds of challenges. This is again a work in progress because we would like to make sure that whether it is risk management, policy management, coordination of the financial investments, development of DPRs (detailed project reports) that are bankable, and wherever the problems are get addressed. And it is quite possible that they will be different things in different countries. The goal is to draw money into the solar sector.
Mint had earlier reported about Germany expressing interest in joining ISA. When is that happening?
Germany is one of those countries that are at an advanced process of considering signing and ratification. It is very difficult for me to say on which date they will do it.
Apart from Germany which other developed economy is at the stage of becoming a member?
We believe that among the countries at an advanced stage includes Netherlands and Denmark. We are also looking at some of the other European countries to be our early members. We have not given up on the US. We would like to see that the US becomes our member, particularly with the change in administration that has happened.
Inadequate funding for ISA has been in the news. What is the way forward?
As far as resources is concerned, the countries put in money when they have confidence in our plans. And one of the things that we are going to do over the next few weeks is detail out our programmes. How are we implementing them? Where is this money being spent? We are going to create trust funds into which the countries can put in money for a particular programme and so on. So, they are also comfortable that it is not going into a black hole. The other thing that we are considering is contribution by members, which is voluntary. So, with these initiatives, I hope we will be going towards a more stable financial status by reducing our dependence on India alone.
What are the new ISA initiatives that you are planning to launch?
We are looking at different kinds of things in different countries. So, what makes sense for say Mali may not make sense for Indonesia or some other country. So, one thing is that our programmes will be driven by bottom-up needs. We will look at ways in which solar electricity can be used. We will want to see how we can provide the kind of service that is needed in terms of access to finance, and we would like to keep on top of the advancements that occur on a daily basis; as far as technology, investments and markets are concerned in the solar space and will focus on capacity building.
Given that coal as a fuel will remain the mainstay of India’s electricity generation, what has been your impression in your initial meetings with the Indian government?
As far as the ISA is concerned, our emphasis is on making solar the energy source of choice and that is what we are focusing on. So, in as many places as possible, how do we make solar the preferred option? Solar at ₹1.99 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in India is already the cheapest source of electricity during the day. Solar plus batteries are already the cheapest source of providing electricity as compared to other fuel sources. I think what we would like to see is solar being the preferred option.
In this quest for rock-bottom tariffs, the power purchase agreements (PPAs) for already awarded solar projects are pending. As an organization solely dedicated towards solar, isn’t that a cause of concern for ISA?
What we do note is that that the total amount of solar in all our member countries including India is increasing. Now, we are also clear that in all countries, this represents a fundamental change in the way electricity is obtained. So, we expect that this will go through a process of learning to move from one system to the other. And there will be delays, but what we are seeing is that there is a movement ahead in every geography bar none.
Indian state-run firms such as NTPC Ltd, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd, and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd became corporate partners to ISA. How is that trajectory looking?
Our view is that these mainstream energy companies have the linkages with you and me as energy users, and we need to help them and hold their hands in moving towards a future which is zero carbon, that is solar. Clearly state-owned enterprises in the energy sector are major energy suppliers in many-many parts of the world and it makes sense for the ISA to be involved with them. I think this is an avenue and approach that makes imminent sense, and we shall move in that direction.