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India hits back at critics with solar alliance

India launched the International Solar Alliance on the first day of COP21 as an answer to criticisms of its energy policies
<p>Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande at launch of the International Solar Alliance, during the COP21 Summit, in Paris [image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India]</p>

Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande at launch of the International Solar Alliance, during the COP21 Summit, in Paris [image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India]

Calling it “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness”, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a global alliance to expand solar power in tropical countries.  The launch – in the presence of French President Francois Hollande on the first day of the Paris climate summit – was aimed at answering critics of India’s position during negotiations for a Paris deal.

Rich nations are unhappy with India’s insistence on maintaining differentiation between developed and developing countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. India has also been leading the countries seeking a clear roadmap to the USD 100 billion per year promised by rich nations by 2020. In the opening days of the Paris summit, this unhappiness has been expressed largely through NGO and media networks. The main point of criticism has been about India’s plan to continue using coal for power generation.

Anticipating this, the Indian government had decided to make a big splash with the launch of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Details of what the alliance will do have not been worked out yet. Modi told journalists at the launch, “The dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real. This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century.”

Over 120 countries, mostly those between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, are members of the new alliance, which aims to push solar power generation. India already has a plan to produce 100 GW of electricity through solar energy by 2022, making it the world’s largest programme of its kind.

The working paper on ISA by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) says, “The overarching objective is to create a collaborative platform for increased deployment of solar energy technologies to enhance energy security and sustainable development; improve access to energy and opportunities for better livelihoods in rural and remote areas and to increase the standard of living.”

The paper says that currently “there is no specific body in place to address the specific solar technology deployment needs of the solar resource rich countries located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Most of these countries are geographically located for optimal absorption of the sun’s rays. There is a great amount of sunlight year-round which can lead to cost effective solar power and other end uses with high insolation of almost 300 sunny days in a year. Most of the countries have large agrarian populations. Many countries face gaps in the potential solar energy manufacturing eco-system.”

Enthusiastic welcome

Indian climate activists and experts have welcomed the move. Srinivas Krishnaswamy, founder of the New Delhi-based think tank Vasudha Foundation, told thethirdpole.net, “India’s proposal to create the International Agency for Solar Technologies and Application (INSTA) is extremely promising and meets the need of the hour. The solar club takes forward the ambitious renewable energy targets which India has set for itself. It is my belief that INSTA can foster technology development that will ensure a faster scale up of solar systems in various economies, particularly promoting improvement in storage technologies. It will ensure that the energy access and energy scarcity situation – which India and a number of developing countries are grappling with – is being addressed on a war footing.”

Krishnaswamy thought India’s announcement could potentially help reach a strong agreement in Paris to combat climate change.

Krishna Pallassana, Executive Director-India of The Climate group told thethirdpole.net, “I think it is a fabulous move simply because it makes a lot of sense for those countries who are developing and are underdeveloped.”

Pallassana thought the launch of the solar alliance would help push investments to the solar energy generation sector.

No detail yet

Two days after the launch, Indian officials still do not know the details of what the alliance will do. There has been a first round of consultations, with delegates from 22 countries. Their recommendations are still being considered.

Ajay Mathur, spokesperson of the Indian delegation at the summit, told thethirdpole.net, “This is an alliance and every country which is a part of this is an equal partner. What we have started off with is a meeting of steering committee. This is a self-selected group of countries, who have provided strong views on what the alliance should do, what its activities should be, and its goals. The alliance will be developed on the basis of that framework, and that will be discussed at the next meeting of the steering committee, which has been scheduled in Abu Dhabi.”

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