After the optimism generated at Paris last year, the 22nd Conference of Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh in Morocco has been a rather gloomy affair. The election of climate-sceptic Donald Trump has cast a shadow over the meet and countries have hardened their positions on issues of financial aid and technology transfer. But on Tuesday, the sun shone over the climate meet. More than 20 countries came together to sign a framework agreement on the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The alliance will take the shape of an international treaty once its rules are worked out. The ISA’s secretariat will be located in Gurgaon — a recognition of India’s leading role in forging the alliance.
For India, however, the ISA’s significance extends beyond this symbolism. India plans to generate 100 gigawatt (GW) of energy by 2022 — an extremely ambitious target considering its installed solar energy capacity is less than 6 GW and the world’s total installed solar power capacity is less than 200 GW. The costs of solar power have come down drastically from Rs 10.5 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2012 to less than Rs 4.5 per kWh in 2015. Even then, it is not on an even keel with thermal power given that coal-fired power providers sell energy to state distribution companies for Rs 2.25 kWH to Rs 3 kWh. India receives more than 300 days of sunshine every year. But solar power cannot be created during night time, or when inclement weather or air pollution obscure the sun. The country requires technology to store solar energy when the sun is not shining or is obscured. India could draw on its leadership of the alliance to find solutions to some of these problems. The ISA aims to develop cost-efficient solar technologies and applications. It is also expected to mobilise $1 trillion for funding solar energy projects by 2030.
Raising such a large amount of money is going to be a tall order given that developed countries have historically been stingy in funding renewable energy projects in developing countries. Even at the best of times, such a large sum cannot be raised from public sources alone. The ISA will have to devise mechanisms to mobilise private finances. The new alliance will also have to work in tandem with other bodies such as the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership. These issues could be sorted out when the rules giving shape to this alliance are framed. India’s role in this endeavour will be crucial.