01 March 2018 15:40:55 IST

Oath of the Suryaputras

India will soon be the headquarters of the Intl Solar Alliance, and stands to derive huge benefits

It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called them ‘Suryaputras’. Nice name, considering they are the sunniest fellows on the planet, as they are the 120-plus countries that happen to be between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Two years back, they all grouped together in response to a call from India to form, shall we say, a band of brothers, called the ‘International Solar Alliance’. I have written about ISA in these columns earlier, you can access it here.

In November 2015, these Suryaputras took a pledge — the ‘Oath of Suryaputras’ — which is best captured in this epigram: Make Sun Brighter. The idea was to do ‘solar’ together, so as to tap several benefits from the collective effort, such as transfer of technology, know-how and best practices across borders, while jointly organising funding and bulk procurement to hammer down costs.

But international treaties are not formed by heads of state shaking hands and nodding in agreement. They are formed when their respective parliaments approve their treaties. Multi-country treaties, such as the famous Paris Agreement, come into being when a certain number of countries get the treaties ratified by their parliaments. For the ISA, the required number was 15. That formality was completed in November last year, and December 6, 2017 was declared as the birthday of the ISA.

First meeting of the Solar Alliance

Now, the reason for this detailed background is that, for the first time since the birth of the Alliance, several heads of state are set to meet — in New Delhi’s Rashtrapati Bhavan on March 11 — for the Founding Conference of the International Solar Alliance. What happens that day is worth keeping an eye on. For, the ‘oath of the suryaputras’ is likely to see the beginning of some action.

First, the Centre will sign an agreement with the ISA to locate the headquarters of the Alliance in New Delhi. This is a matter of prestige. Till date, India has not hosted the headquarters of any major international formation. The US has the United Nations HQ in New York. Vienna has the International Atomic Energy Agency, Paris the International Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi the International Renewable Energy Agency, Manila the ADB, and the list goes on. Now, India will have the ISA, for which it will provide a nice, swanky campus for the Director-General’s office and the Secretariat, at its own cost. The grapevine has it that Saudi Arabia was very keen on hosting the ISA’s HQ, and offered a huge sum of money (and perhaps a bigger, swankier building) but, with some deft diplomacy, India pipped the Saudis to the post.

Commitment to projects, training

Second, the March 11 conference is likely to see as many as 50 solar projects announced — mostly in Africa.(The Centre wants a total of 121 projects kicked off globally, while 71 are likely to be announced at another, government-sponsored event, the RE-Invest 2018, which will take place April 19-21, in Delhi.) Companies that put up these 50 solar plants will hand over their ‘commitment certificates’ to the ISA Secretariat.

Then there will be a plethora of agreements signed. For instance, there is a proposal that India will offer solar training to senior government officers. There will be some 20 such Fellowships. Another programme plans to train a fleet of ‘Master Solar Technicians’ in India.

Yet another is for starting a Delhi Fund to finance solar projects, and one more is a fund that will stand guarantee for solar loans given by commercial banks. The ISA will also run special missions on rooftop solar and mini-grids.

Bulk procurement, lower prices

But perhaps the best part of the idea of ISA is bulk procurement. On the anvil is a proposal to buy solar-powered agricultural water pumps in bulk — some 500,000 on one go. With such large volumes, manufacturers will be able to offer sharply lower prices.

None will miss noticing that with all this happening here, India’s name will be tautly tied to solar. As usually happens, the host country stands to derive a lot of benefits. As the solar hub of the world, India will see a lot of solar hum. One example: the global tender for the 500,000 solar pumps is likely to be handled by India’s own Energy Efficiency Services Ltd, a company which is, incidentally, a big success story in itself.

Amid the entire effort, a lot of Indian entities, and consequently, Indians, will be involved – The Energy Research Institute (TERI), Council for Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) are a few leading think-tanks that will help flesh out policy in this area.

How do you like this title for India: ‘Solar Guru’?