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Modi’s Global Solar Alliance: Will cynics find darkness here too?


Effective and efficient deployment of solar power could prove to be major catalyst for empowerment of those on the wrong side of socio-economic divide. Prime Minister Modi described “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness, for mornings and evening filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun”.

This dream is not just for India; but for all humanity – that was the message from the Indian Prime Minister as he launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) with French President Francois Hollande late last year in Paris ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA)

The ISA is an alliance of 121 countries that lie between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, including the USA and China, and receive around 300 days of sunshine to proliferate solar power globally. The goal is to raise $500 billion (USD) from public finances matched by another $500 billion from the private sector to have 1000 GW global capacity of solar power by 2030. Some of the companies that have already signed up to the project include Tata, Areva, HSBC France, Engie among others.

“What we are putting in place is an avant-garde of countries that believe in renewable energies,” the French President told reporters pointing out that the ISA with it’s approach to “sharing technology and mobilising financial resources” is the right model to tackle global challenges such as climate change, for common good.

President Hollande went on to say that the alliance was indeed India’s gift to the world that is struggling to mitigate climate change.

India will host the international headquarters of the ISA and provide $30 million (USD) to build & fund the secretariat infrastructure for the first five years. In addition, it would serve as the test case of all innovation and experiments as it seeks to develop and sustainably deliver 100GW of solar power by 2021.

However, the ISA is also a gift to India; and that too of a strategic nature.

The ISA Impact on India.

Prime Minister Modi’s key campaign promise at the 2014 general elections was “sabka sath sabka vikas” which translated means inclusive development with opportunities for all. In the 21st century, it is impossible to empower people with the necessary skills and opportunities without electricity.

And the 100 GW solar capacity is crucial to deliver the promise of 24 hours electricity for each and every Indian around the year – but that would require advancements in technology in both capturing, storing as well as transmitting solar power to remote parts of India.

New Delhi believes high level focused research with committed international funding and collaboration among the best minds of the globe in this sector, the challenges of increasing efficiency and longevity of PV cells to storing the power among various others could be addressed successfully in a relatively short span of time.

Secondly, the experience of successfully creating a sustainable solar power economy will create substantial knowledge in the Indian ecosystem that could be exported to other developing nations. The Modi Government, through its flagship Atal Innovation Mission, has made it clear that India seeks to be the global leader in social innovation enabled by technology. Solar could play a big role in delivering a large chunk of the envisioned $500 billion innovation market cap and be another strong outbound performer such as IT and Pharmaceuticals.

The ISA and the network within could provide opportunities for Indian companies ranging from PV manufacturers, to plant manufacturers to companies involved in generating, storing and transmitting solar power along with financiers and business advisors.

Finally, the ISA enables India to take global leadership of a key plank in the UN sustainable development agenda, thus entrenching its position further as a global strategic player shaping and influencing events by primarily exercising its “soft power”.

This is another marker in a resurgent India’s evolving foreign policy that seeks collaboration and common good in its engagement with the world from a position of strength of resources and knowledge. This approach is polar opposite to the almost zero-sum Chinese approach of dumping, price wars and forceful expansionist policies.

Prime Minister Modi’s activation of the 20m strong global Indians community as an article of his foreign policy could have a significant impact here. They are widely respected and fully integrated with their countries of residence and can if supported properly be of immense help in pushing the Indian narratives of “economic diplomacy” & “soft power” in the corridors of powers in all parts of the world. The latest battleground for these two contrasting approaches lies in the hearts & minds of developing nations around the globe but especially in Africa.

However, there is a “leap of faith” in all this.

Achieving the 100 GW and 1000 GW in the next 5 and 15 years respectively would undoubtedly be daunting. But then it surely cannot be more difficult than splitting the atom, splicing the gene or navigating through the dangers of space – and like all truly gifted leaders PM Modi is betting on that human excellence, resilience and curiosity to deliver solutions for common good.

Modi has undoubtedly been aided by his energetic Energy Minister, Piyush Goyal, has by all accounts be a great game-changer, who stands on the verge of probably being India’s best energy minister ever.

And India believes and Modi has clearly articulated his vision that the fruits of this labour should be used for the benefit of all humanity. The ISA and it’s output could be a true game changer in bringing opportunities and improved quality of lives to hundreds of millions, if not billions of people globally. The devil as always will be in the detail to ensure that the opportunity, especially by the private sector and progressive nations is seized, and Modi’s grand scheme is not derailed by his perennial cynics, who would much rather the see the back of him, than light in the homes and hearts of the world’s poor.

Manoj Ladwa is the founder of India Inc. and chief executive of MLS Chase Group @manojladwa