Climate change talks incomplete sans green energy focus: ISA’s Ajay Mathur

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India’s pitch in the climate talks is largely centered around promoting renewable energy and controlling emissions through energy transition. In an interview with Jyoti Mukul & Shreya Jai, International Solar Alliance (ISA) Director-General (D-G) Ajay Mathur says India and the UK have combined their green grid initiatives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to launch Green Grids Initiative-One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG) on Tuesday. Edited excerpts:

How central is renewable power to the climate change discussions?

The need for combating climate change is more urgent than ever, as all developed and developing economies are witnessing rampant negative impacts. It is a fact that most of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. Thus, the need is a massive shift towards renewable energy, and as soon as possible. Climate change discussions are incomplete without talking about renewable energy. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the share of renewables in electricity generation globally needs to increase from 29 per cent in 2020 to over 60 per cent in 2030 and nearly 90 per cent in 2050. The annual investment in energy needs to scale up from $2 trillion annually to about $5 trillion by 2030 and $4.5 trillion thereafter.

How crucial is grid connectivity for renewable power, especially for transnational electricity trade?

While installing renewable energy capacity infrastructure on an individual level and smaller scales is simpler than large scale installations, grid connectivity is essential if renewable energy is to be widespread. The purpose of transnational trade is not limited to maintaining and strengthening diplomatic relations, but also to bring in additional revenue; the same applies for transnational electricity trade. To create a strong system of sustainable electricity, infrastructure consisting of high cross-border connectivity is required.

Will OSOWOG run through the conventional grid, or will it have a separate grid system?

The essence of the OSOWOG is that the ‘sun never sets’ and make solar power available round-the-clock to all. A conventional grid cannot be used for a global connectivity system because it only has limited capacity. Networked cross-border grid systems will need to be put in place. While technicalities of the project are being worked out, it will be an ecosystem of interconnected green grids required to meet the needs of 140 countries.

Which countries have agreed to the OSOWOG project and which agencies are funding it?

The OSOWOG initiative was presented at the fourth assembly of the ISA, and as a key enabler of energy transition, the UK and India decided to join hands and merge the GGI and OSOWOG into GGI-OSOWOG. This is part of the bilateral cooperation, formalised during the UK-India Virtual Summit earlier this year. The UK and India have also agreed to jointly launch GGI-OSOWOG at the COP26. GGI-OSOWOG will bring together a global coalition to accelerate construction of infrastructure needed for a world powered by clean energy. At the fourth assembly of ISA, 80 member countries endorsed a political declaration, ‘One Sun Declaration’, for the launch of GGI-OSOWOG at COP26 in Glasgow. It is expected that Prime Minister Modi will launch GGI-OSOWOG on November 2 at the World Leaders’ Summit of COP 26.

Do you think it is easier for smaller countries to adopt a renewable agenda unlike India and China that are still largely dependent on coal power?

A country’s size does come into play but it works both ways. The problems are big in larger countries, and in smaller ones, the ticket size is so small that big investors choose not to invest. Many smaller countries are struggling with energy access.

How different is ISA’s experience in smaller countries in Africa and Asia?

We have received a positive response from our member countries, especially the least developed countries (LDCs); smaller states in Africa and the Pacific, Caribbean, and other island states. They were the first to join, ratify and submit their project demands to ISA. So, the demand of 4.5 Gw solar capacity that we have has largely come from LDCs. India has also gone through similar experiences and there are lessons to be learnt.

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