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. On Tuesday, more than 20 countries signed a Framework Agreement on International Solar Alliance which will take the shape of a separate international treaty once it is operationalised.
The framework agreement is not only the most concrete deliverable coming out of the Marrakesh Climate Change Conference, it could also prove to be the game-changer in the global fight against climate change depending on the number of countries that eventually join it.
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Strictly speaking, the ISA agreement is separate from the United Nations-mandated climate change talks that are held every year. But it was proposed at the Paris Climate Conference last year, and has become a reality at the Marrakesh meeting now, in the process getting linked closely with the UN climate process.
The revolution in the deployment of solar energy over the last several years 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% over the last 7 years, thanks to a rapidly growing demand as countries, concerned over climate change, look to move away from fossil fuels. This has made solar energy very competitive compared to more traditional sources of electricity generation such as coal-fired thermal power plants. The total installed capacity of solar energy across the world has risen by almost 8 times during the same time.
The International Solar Alliance, proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Paris conference last year, is an attempt to accelerate this process further by boosting the global demand for solar energy. 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 resource.
These countries also happen to be the ones in which the most growth in energy demand is expected in the years to come, 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. However, this can happen only if the costs of solar energy are competitive as compared to the traditional sources of power.
The ISA seeks to do three things to bring down the costs of technology as well as of finance needed for a solar project.
It seeks to boost global demand, which will result in further reduction in the prices of solar energy deployment. It seeks to promote standardisation in the use of equipment and processes for generating electricity. Standardisation will make the manufacturing of equipment and other hardware cheaper. And it seeks to boost research and development, particularly in areas of efficient storage systems.
The number of countries that signed the ISA agreement in Marrakesh on Tuesday was far less than India’s expectation of at least 50, but that was partly due to the fact that the signing ceremony coincided with a lunch that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI had arranged for all visiting Heads of State and Ministers, and that the venue of the ceremony was some distance away from the conference venue. The ISA has, over the last year, received solid support from a large number of countries, including many like France and the United States, which are not exactly tropical countries. The US has repeatedly expressed its desire to join the Alliance, and France actually did so on Tuesday.
More countries are likely to sign up during the remaining days of the conference, and also later. The signing has to be followed by ratifications by the signatory countries. The agreement will become operational after at least 15 countries have ratified it.
The framework agreement says that the members of ISA would take coordinated actions through programmes and activities that will aggregate the demands for solar finance, solar technologies, innovation, research and development, and capacity building.
The ISA gives India an opportunity to take a global leadership role in the fight against climate change. The secretariat of the ISA is to be located in India. It 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, until 2020-21. A part of this money will 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 promised $ 1 million each for the corpus fund.