The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was a guest international organisation for India’s G20 Presidency (2022–2023).[i] ISA established the Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre (GHIC) at the initiative of India’s G20 Presidency on 22nd July 2023.[ii] The GHIC promotes and advances clean and sustainable energy technologies, specifically green hydrogen, in line with the ‘G20 High-Level Voluntary Principles on Hydrogen’[iii] and India’s ‘National Green Hydrogen Mission’.[iv] Hydrogen is widely recognised as a pivotal technology in the battle against climate change and in pursuing net-zero carbon emissions. It can unlock the green energy transition, even in challenging and hard-to-decarbonise sectors like refineries, fertilisers, steel, cement, heavy-duty transportation, aviation, and reliable backup power. A ‘Report on Roadmap of Solar Energy for Universal Energy Access’ was also prepared by the ISA during India’s G20 Presidency in collaboration with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) of the Government of India.[v] The report discusses the role of solar energy in expanding energy access.
The ISA is the brainchild of India and France “to mobilise efforts against climate change through the deployment of solar energy solutions”. It was launched at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris, in 2015.[vi] It is a cooperation between solar-rich countries located entirely or partially in the torrid zone, i.e. the tropical region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn latitudes, where the most sunlight is received. However, the ISA Framework Agreement, introduced at CoP 22 in Marrakesh on 15 November 2016, with a limited membership of tropical countries,[vii] was universalised by an amendment to the ISA’s Framework Agreement ratified by its First General Assembly on 3 October 2018. The amendment broadened the scope of ISA’s membership to include all United Nations member states.[viii] At present, 116 countries are signatories to it, of which 94 countries have submitted the necessary instruments of ratification to become full members of the ISA.[ix]
Tropical countries have a relatively higher incidence of Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI),[x] leading to a lower Levelised Cost of Energy (LCoE),[xi] therefore having the potential to yield higher amounts of cost-effective solar energy in torrid zone countries. The Alliance also took shape at a time when solar has become remarkably cheaper than non-renewable and other renewable energy sources, economically incentivising the transition to solar energy while addressing global warming and the resulting climate change.[xii]
The continuing crisis in Eastern Europe and recent developments in the Levant have again reminded the world of the volatile nature of energy markets that affect any given country's economic growth as well as developmental goals. Solar integration not only provides a cheaper way for the green transition but also promises localisation of energy production, relative value chain stability and balance between the energy trilemma of affordability, reliability and sustainability.[xiii] ISA’s relevance at this juncture of global politics and change becomes all the more critical.
The United Nations General Assembly granted observer status to the ISA on 9 December 2021. It is helping the ISA and the United Nations cooperate to benefit global energy growth and development by contributing to Sustainable Development Goal 7 of “ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.[xiv] The ISA is the first full-fledged treaty-based international intergovernmental organisation headquartered in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi first propounded the Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG) – at ISA’s first assembly in October 2018. It is arguably the only energy security cooperation that caters not only to a sustainable but also an equitable green energy transition for the whole world, which is in line with India’s G20 Presidency motto, ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam – One Earth, One Family, One Future’. The GGI-OSOWOG initiative aims to establish a shared grid connecting various regional grids, enabling the efficient transfer of renewable energy, particularly solar, and unlocking the full potential of renewables in line with the “Sun never sets” vision. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, launched the GGI-OSOWOG initiative together at COP26 on 2 November 2021. Along with India, France and the United Kingdom, the steering group member countries of GGI-OSOWOG also include the United States of America and Australia. The ‘One Sun Declaration’, endorsed by the Fourth Assembly of ISA, was also introduced on the same day.[xv]
The Alliance’s ‘Towards 1000’ policy’ aims to mobilise 1000 billion USD by 2030 to install 1000 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy capacity to provide energy access for 1000 million people. A working paper on ‘Our Solar Future: Roadmap to Mobilise USD 1 Trillion by 2030’ was released at CoP 27 in November 2022 in partnership with the World Resources Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The ISA is acting towards green energy transition and security through solar in terms of technology transfer, mobilising finance and capacity building for low-carbon development in Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) through partnerships with various Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), Development Financial Institutions (DFIs), other international institutions and private and public sector organisations.[xvi]
Significant work has been done under the programmes introduced until 2018 and the projects, with India steering the helm of the ISA. There are nine programmes that focus on three priority areas: analytics and advocacy, capacity building and programmatic support. The programmes include:
Five projects run by India and France promote capacity building for scaling up solar energy and finance. The projects include the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Scheme, the ISA Solar Fellowship for Mid-Career Professionals, Solar Technology Application Resource Centres (STAR C), Infopedia and Global Solar Facility (GSF).
These programmes and projects have begun in Africa, which has the highest potential for solar energy but accounts for negligible global installed solar capacity. Additionally, Africa has a significant population without access to electricity, making it an ideal region for implementation. After Africa, they will be rolled out in other regions, such as South America and Asia, customised to suit the needs of each region.[xvii]
India’s leading ISA can be seen in the context of it being the voice of the Global South.[xviii] The challenges of affordability and accessibility that India faced in significantly achieving the goals of its National Solar Mission (70 GW installed capacity as of September 2023)[xix] are similar to those of the rest of the solar-rich Global South. India has been sharing its experiences of capacity building with ISA LDC and SID member states and financially supporting ISA in implementing its programmes and projects. India is playing a crucial role primarily in promoting energy security and supporting sustainable livelihoods in Africa by assisting impoverished communities with the means to enhance their natural, economic, human and social capital.
India’s MNRE through ISA has recently inaugurated nine projects for the solarisation of healthcare centres and primary schools in three African countries at the 5th regional meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, on 31 August 2023, of which four are in Uganda, two in Comoros and three in Mali.[xx] The ISA partnered with Grid Controller of India Ltd (Grid-India) and the West African Power Pool (WAPP) to host 60 representatives from the West African Region in New Delhi, India, from 14th to 18th February 2023 for solar energy knowledge exchange through a study tour.[xxi]
India’s ISA capacity-building projects have reaped results as well. The Indian government has backed the ISA by offering solar energy training spanning 21 days under the ITEC Scheme. During 2018–2019, 133 participants from 25 countries received training at the National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurugram, Haryana, India, with assistance from the ITEC scheme. An ISA Solar Fellowship for Mid-Career Professionals from member countries through which they can pursue a master's degree in renewable energy management and economics, focusing on solar energy administration aims to establish a competent and well-trained workforce to oversee and administer solar energy initiatives, programmes, and policies.[xxii]
Finance and Scaling Solar
The Affordable Finance at Scale and Scaling Solar Applications for Agricultural Use (SSAU) programmes were launched together by India’s MNRE and the French Ministry of Environment, Energy and the Sea at a Ministerial side event on ISA at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, in April 2016.[xxiii] The Export-Import Bank of India (EXIM Bank) has pledged to fund solar initiatives for scaling up affordable finance, totalling USD 1.4 Billion.[xxiv] Simultaneously, the French Development Agency (AFD) has committed to finance solar projects valued at 900 million Euros[xxv], and SSAU has emphasised implementing off-grid solar solutions in rural areas. The India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) Facility of the UN South-South Cooperation Office has sanctioned USD 2 million for ISA’s partner organisation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to support the solar pumping pilot programme initiated in 10 African member nations of Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger, the Republic of Sudan, Senegal, South Sudan, Togo, Tuvalu and Uganda to expand solar energy utilisation for agricultural purposes.[xxvi]
The Scaling Solar Mini-Grids Programme, aiming to address the energy requirements of ISA member nations in specific regions lacking a reliable grid or with no grid access at all, was introduced on 24 May 2017 during the 52nd African Development Bank Group Meeting held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India. The programme also explicitly targets island member states with ample solar energy potential.[xxvii] The Scaling Rooftop programme to streamline and pool resources for expanding off-grid and grid-connected rooftop solar installations across ISA member nations by targeting government & institutional buildings, commercial & industrial buildings and residential properties was launched in New Delhi on 11 March 2018.[xxviii]
Solar E-Mobility and Storage
The Scaling Solar E-Mobility & Storage programme aims to establish a supportive environment for the widespread adoption of energy storage systems and expand solar energy utilisation in the electric mobility sector within ISA member countries, which very much aligns with the “One Sun, One World, One Grid” vision articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.[xxix] The ISA aims to establish large-scale solar power generation in various geographical areas within its membership. This, combined with the creation of bilateral, regional and inter-regional transmission connections, holds the potential to eventually connect solar energy resources on a global scale, allowing the transfer of solar energy from one part of the world to another. Nineteen ISA member countries have joined the programme, intending to achieve a cumulative capacity of 7,657 MW.[xxx]
Initiation of the GHIC during India’s G20 Presidency complements ISA’s programme centred on green hydrogen introduced during its Fourth Assembly, conducted virtually on 21 October 2021. The primary goal of this initiative is to expedite the production and use of green hydrogen within ISA member countries. Considering the significant cost advantages of producing hydrogen using solar energy in mind and recognising ISA’s capabilities, its engagement in this technology through the GHIC could yield a wide array of favourable outcomes for its member countries and the global community as a whole.[xxxi]
The India-led ISA for an equitable green energy transition for the Global South has taken significant steps towards funding, policy, technology, infrastructure and capacity building. The Alliance can enormously contribute to economic growth, energy access, technological innovation and energy security on a global scale if its goals are realised. However, success will depend on the commitment of Member Countries and international partners towards consistent efforts and devising practical strategies for addressing any challenges that may arise in its value chains, financing and technology transfer while capitalising on the agreed framework. The ISA has laid out an integrated institutional infrastructure needed for a sustainable future in solar energy. Still, SDG 7 and the respective Member States’ net-zero emissions targets can only be met by massively expediting consolidated climate change action, as it has been forecast that the current rate of climate action will not hold global warming at 1.5°C.[xxxii] ISA’s target of only monetary mobilisation by 2030 must be updated to more effective action-oriented targets. The Alliance must begin building on its hard-laid-out foundations immediately.
*Nikhil Guvvadi, Research Intern, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] ‘India’s Forthcoming G20 Presidency’. 2022. MEA GoI. 13 September 2022. https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/35700/indias+forthcoming+g20+presidency.
[ii] G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration. 2023. Mea GoI. 10 September 2023. [https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/CPV/G20-New-Delhi-Leaders-Declaration.pdf](https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/CPV/G20-New-Delhi-Leaders-Declaration.pdf)
[iii] The G20 High-Level Voluntary Principles on Hydrogen aim to build a sustainable and equitable global hydrogen ecosystem.
[iv] India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has introduced an R&D plan for the "National Green Hydrogen Mission." This roadmap aims to offer direction in establishing a dynamic research and development environment to facilitate the advancement of green hydrogen for commercial use, aligning with India's ambitious climate and energy objectives.
[v] Report on Roadmap of Solar Energy for Universal Energy Access. 2023. ISA. 2023 [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/540dc1da191598c88320bf07b42e8d.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/540dc1da191598c88320bf07b42e8d.pdf)
[vi] ‘Delhi Solar Agenda’. 2018. MEA GoI. 11 March 2018. https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/29605.
[vii] Framework Agreement on the Establishment of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). 2015. ISA. 30 November 2015. [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/b5d7ae740aa5b09a63d1be5d3d46f6.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/b5d7ae740aa5b09a63d1be5d3d46f6.pdf)
[viii] ‘Universalization of the Membership of the International Solar Alliance (ISA)’. 2020. MEA GoI. 31 July 2020. https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/32866/Universalization_of_the_Membership_of_the_International_Solar_Alliance_ISA.
[x] GHI is the total amount of shortwave radiation received from above by a surface horizontal to the ground. GHI is the most important parameter for calculating solar electricity yield.
[xi] LCoE is the average cost of generating one kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity over the lifetime of a generating asset. The LCoE considers the costs associated with a system, including installation, operation, maintenance and fuel.
[xii] Chrobak, Ula. 2021. ‘Solar Power Got Cheap. So Why Aren’t We Using It More?’ Popular Science (blog). 28 January 2021. https://www.popsci.com/story/environment/cheap-renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels/.
[xiii] Marti, Luisa, and Rosa Puertas. 2022. ‘Sustainable Energy Development Analysis: Energy Trilemma’. Sustainable Technology and Entrepreneurship 1 (1): 100007. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stae.2022.100007.
[xiv] ‘UN General Assembly - Legal - Sixth Committee’. 2021. United Nations. 09 December 2021. https://www.un.org/en/ga/sixth/76/int_solar_alliance.shtml.
[xv] One Sun Declaration. 2021. ISA. 2 November 2021. [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/3_One_Sun_Declaration.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/3_One_Sun_Declaration.pdf)
[xvi] Layke, Jennifer, Laura Van Wie McGrory, Xixi Chen, Jan Corfee-Morlot, and Kevin Kennedy. 2022. ‘Our Solar Future — Roadmap to Mobilize USD 1 Trillion by 2030’. World Resources Institute, November. https://doi.org/10.46830/wriwp.22.00020.
[xvii] Update on ISA’s Global Solar Facility. ISA. [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/62cb1444f97580cc7e60fb2028e78d.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/62cb1444f97580cc7e60fb2028e78d.pdf)
[xx] ‘Union Power and NRE Minister and International Solar Alliance President Inaugurates Nine Solar Demonstration Projects in Uganda, Comoros and Mali’. 2023. Press Information Bureau of India. 31 August 2023. https://pib.gov.in/pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1953770.
[xxi] ‘International Solar Alliance and West African Power Pool Hosts 13 African Countries in New Delhi to Share Best Practices in Solar Deployment’. 2023. Press Information Bureau of India. 14 February 2023. https://pib.gov.in/pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1899198.
[xxiii] Kumar, Nikhil. 2023. ‘ISA & UNDP Launch Pilot Projects on SSAAU in 10 African Member Countries’, March.
[xxiv] Iyer, Prahalathan. n.d. ‘Need for an Alliance to Reap the Solar Potential’. Eximbankindia. Accessed 11 October 2023. https://www.eximbankindia.in/blog/blog-content.aspx?BlogID=1&BlogTitle=Need%20for%20an%20alliance%20to%20reap%20the%20solar%20potential.
[xxv] ‘International Solar Alliance’. 2019. France Diplomacy - Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. December 2019. https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy/climate-and-environment/the-fight-against-climate-change/international-solar-alliance/.
[xxvi] ‘International Solar Alliance’. n.d. ISA. Accessed 19 October 2023. https://isolaralliance.org/work/scaling-solar-application-agricultural-use.
[xxvii] Report on Roadmap of Solar Energy for Universal Energy Access. 2023. ISA. 2023 [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/540dc1da191598c88320bf07b42e8d.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/540dc1da191598c88320bf07b42e8d.pdf)
[xxix] Scaling Solar E-Mobiltiy and Storage. n.d. ISA. Accessed 11 October 2023. https://isolaralliance.org/work/scaling-solar-mobility.
[xxx] Report on Roadmap of Solar Energy for Universal Energy Access. 2023. ISA. 2023 [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/540dc1da191598c88320bf07b42e8d.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/docs/540dc1da191598c88320bf07b42e8d.pdf)
[xxxi] Dan Brian Millison, Kushagr Nagaich, Mridula D. Bharadwaj. Solar Hydrogen Report. ISA. [https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/Solar%20Hydrogen%20Report.pdf](https://isolaralliance.org/uploads/Solar%20Hydrogen%20Report.pdf)
[xxxii] Shukla, Priyadarshi R., Jim Skea, Raphael Slade, Alaa Al Khourdajie, Renée van Diemen, David McCollum, Minal Pathak, et al., eds. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009157926.