Energy

One Sun One World One Grid: A journey of ironies?

Experts worry the OSOWOG will divert the capital and focus away from domestic commitments and priorities for renewable energy

 
By Pratha Jhawar
Last Updated: Wednesday 17 June 2020
One Sun One World One Grid is the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Flickr
One Sun One World One Grid is the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Flickr One Sun One World One Grid is the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Flickr

The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had invited proposals for developing a long-term vision, implementation plan, road map and institutional framework for implementing ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ (OSOWOG) in May 2020.

The mantra was first given by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2018 while addressing the inaugural function of the 2nd Global RE-Invest meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the first assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

He said, “We have a dream called One World, One Sun One Grid. We can generate round the clock electricity from the sun as it sets in one part of the world but rises in another part. The sun never sets for the entire earth.”

OSOWOG is India’s initiative to build a global ecosystem of interconnected renewable energy resources. The blueprint for the OSOWOG will be developed under the World Bank’s technical assistance programme that is implemented to accelerate the deployment of grid connected rooftop solar installations.

OSOWOG is planned to be completed in three phases. The first phase will entail interconnectivity within the Asian continent; the second phase will add Africa and the third phase will globalise the whole project.    

This is seen as India’s counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that is primarily an economic diplomacy strategy to boost its domestic economy by improving connectivity and cooperation among the current 78 partner countries.

Despite the fact that the ISA, an inter-governmental organisation, which is headquartered in and headed by India, the MNRE is entrusted with the project, which does not have access to counterparts in other countries.

Experts worry whether the OSOWOG will divert the capital and focus away from domestic commitments and priorities for renewable energy (like grid connectivity, liquidity easing, electric vehicles, storage, etc). Does India really want to embark on a journey of ironies?   

Possible bottlenecks

Here are some of the issues with the project:

1. Geopolitics

The project is seen as an Indian endeavour for world leadership. But under COVID-19 uncertainties, the geopolitical implications of projects like OSOWOG are hard to decipher. The mechanism of cost-sharing will be challenging, given the varied priorities of participating countries depending on their socio-economic orders.

The OSOWOG will turn out to be an expensive, complex and a very slow progress project. The strategic benefits, if any, of having a single grid will be obliterated in the wake of any geopolitical problem.

Arijit Ghosh, managing director, SAP Automations India Pvt Ltd, says, “Energy supply is necessary for a range of activities including defence and essential services like hospitals, etc. Under the project, these will be exposed to this common grid. Any disruption caused due to any bilateral / multilateral issues can potentially affect critical services in multiple continents and countries. Hence, not many countries may be willing to participate.”

2. Globalisation vs de-globalisation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised questions on the concept of globalisation. The effects of this will be transformational.

Dealing with different governments and market forces will be a dreadful experience for the developers that çan be easily extrapolated from the experience of the renewable energy (RE) developers in India. In India, the major issue of RE developers is to deal with different state governments and hence, different laws and regulations.

Photo: https://www.wallpaperflare.com/Further, the project also contradicts the Prime Minister’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-dependent India) vision, as it extends the reliance for a major strategic entity, energy supply, to other countries through this grid.

3. Economic benefit

“Before thinking of a unified grid, let’s think about point to point. The value of time-shifting could come from a place with large, cheap land, such as an enormous solar farm in North Africa for Europe. But the transmission costs will usually outweigh the benefits of land and solar radiation,” Rahul Tongia, a Fellow at Brookings India, says.

“Supply of energy through this grid, in a time zone with a six-hour difference will require thousands of kilometres of transmission of the electricity, which will add up a huge cost. A single 1,100 kilovolt high voltage direct current can’t even go so far, and costs will be further compounded with higher Indian costs of capital. This is before we consider grid management and geopolitical issues for a truly integrated grid,” he adds.

Mohua Mukherjee, energy and climate finance expert and former Team lead at World Bank, talked about a literature review undertaken on behalf of the World Bank in 2010 on the potential of regional power integration between Central Asia and South Asia.

The global review suggests that the economic benefits of such cross border transmission lines are truly maximised when they are constructed within a political union formed around common objectives, such as the EU or Scandinavia, etc.

4. Centralised vs distributed generation

There is a difference in voltage, frequency and specifications of the grid in most regions. Maintaining grid stability with just renewable generation would be technically difficult.

Rahul Walawalkar, president, India Energy Storage Alliance says, “OSOWOG does not take into account the overlaps with the solar generation across regions where transmission lines are passing through, which would mean that the actual transmission capacity would need to be much higher and thus have lower utilisation or there would be significant solar curtailment,” he says.

“There are many better solutions to integrate solar with the existing grid without a huge capex on the transmission proposed by this vision,” he adds.

Aggregate technical and commercial losses in India are close to 20 per cent. Therefore, the distributed generation can be cheaper and directly serve the people in the hinterlands.

China has already launched a global transmission grid project under the aegis of the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization, dedicated to promote the sustainable development of energy worldwide. China also has expertise in ultra high voltage network construction.

In the backdrop of all the above conditions, it is important for India to re-look its targets and to focus on developing long-term and complete solutions that can reach the masses.

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