As the world is gradually overcoming the prolonged COVID-19 hysteria, our world leaders and international institutions are poised for another surmountable challenge, i.e. transition towards a more just and inclusive world order which is pro-poor and environment centric.
Once just a fancy dream on paper, this grandeur vision now seems realistically attainable, partly because the pandemic has highlighted the untenability of the current world order (including its core tenets such as politics, economy, social, philosophy and religion); and partly because countries have realised that such an existential crisis cannot be dealt with alone.
Therefore, in order to safeguard against the COVID-19 and all other such future crisis, our modern diplomacy must metamorphose into a completely different form of diplomacy, i.e. one involving the vision of a connected world.
For India, it is now a priority that the first step towards realising this vision of a connected world must necessarily come from the Energy sector, which has shown surprising resilience in the face of the pandemic crisis. During COVID-19, almost the entire supply chain for the energy sector remained intact, and the energy demand, after plummeting briefly during the initial phases of lockdown, speedily recovered from April end onwards as soon as the government relaxed the lockdown regulations.
This grand vision of a connected world is best embodied in India’s latest initiative, One Sun One World One Grid (OSOWOG), which the Prime Minister launched in 2018 during the second edition of the Global Reinvest Meet Summit and the First Assembly of International Solar Alliance (ISA).
The underlying idea behind OSOWOG is that many renewable natural resources such as wind and solar power are abundant yet intermittent. In the case of solar energy, the sun never sets for the entire earth, nor does it stay constantly shining over the territory of any particular state. Instead, sunlight is always constant at some geographical location, globally, at any given point of time.
Therefore, there is a potential for the entire globe to come together and collectively harness solar power 24×7. In other words, together, solar power rich countries can generate round the clock electricity from the sun as it sets in one part of the world but rises in another part.
For example, during the nighttime, India and other ISA member countries can utilise the different time zones in other countries where there is still daylight and tap the sun for a longer period than any one country can. For achieving this, under the OSOWOG scheme, Narendra Modi plans to establish a single, globally-connected, [transnational] power transmission grid that would interconnect different nations to leverage the multiple benefits of ever-lower-cost renewable energy.
According to the proposal floated by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), OSOWOG would be developed in a phase-wise manner and would be spearheaded by the ISA (headquartered in India) and MNRE, which would play a central role in synergising the generation and transmission of solar energy in over 140 countries.
In the first phase (Phase I), the Indian Grid would be interconnected with the Middle East, South Asia and South-East Asian (MESASEA) Regional Grids to share solar and other renewable energy resources for meeting electricity needs, including peak demands.
In the second phase (Phase II), the MESASEA interconnection would be expanded to include other solar and renewable energy-rich regions, including the African region. During the final phase (Phase III), OSOWOG would be expanded to the entire globe (Global Interconnection) to truly augment renewable energy’s power by building a global ecosystem of interconnected renewable energy resources.
The technological infrastructure required for transporting solar energy between different nations would, in all probability, be based on High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines in the form of subsea cables. This view is based upon India’s bilateral interconnections with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, mostly supported through HVDC transmission lines.
For example, in Bangladesh’s case, a high capacity interconnection between the two countries exists through Baharampur (India)-Bheramara (Bangladesh) 400kV D/C line along with 2x500MW HVDC back-to-back terminal at Bheramara.
Further, the emerging scholarship  in the field of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) and High Voltage Alternating current (HVAC) has established the superiority of Thomas Edison’s DC technology over Nicolas Tesla’s AC technology  for high-voltage subsea connections owing to its less reactive power , lower resistance which reduces the amount of power that is lost during the transmission as heat, and economic feasibility.
Past “global super grid” projects such as Desertec, Medgrid, China’s Supergrid (as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative), Gobitec, Southeast Asian super grid, and Brazilian super grid projects were also based on HVDC cables/grid to transmit power.
India is well equipped to undertake the development of a mammoth project like this. Regionally, India has already successfully implemented a similar scheme, “One Nation One Grid One Frequency”, which is almost an in toto replication of the OSOWOG scheme.
India’s power system operates through five main regional grids: Northern, Western, Eastern, North-Eastern and Southern grids. The “One Nation One Grid One Frequency” scheme envisioned integrating all the five regional grids to establish a pan India synchronous grid known as “All India Synchronous National Grid”. The objective was to facilitate the bulk transfer of power across all regional boundaries by establishing one national synchronous grid.
By August 2006, the four regional grids were synchronously interconnected to form a central grid operating at one frequency. On December 31, 2018, this project reached its completion when the Southern Grid was connected to the central grid through HVDC links with the commissioning of the 765kV Raichur-Solapur Transmission line. With this, India has emerged as perhaps the only country in the world to have the largest operational synchronous grid.
Apart from ONOGOF, India has also achieved many other milestones such as attaining the fifth position in the solar power installed capacity and overall installed renewable energy capacity in the world; developing the world’s largest Kamuthi Solar Power Project in the last 5 years; managing to scale up its total electricity capacity from 1.4% to 9.4% since 2016 and also emerging as an attractive option for foreign investors looking to invest in renewable energy.
These developments prove that India has a lot of political will, technical expertise and financial muscle for ensuring the success of OSOWOG. The World Bank has also partnered with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and is assisting in the successful implementation of OSOWOG through its technical assistance program.
The establishment of the ISA in 2015 and the subsequent establishment of the OSOWOG scheme in 2018 have presented a unique opportunity for India to strategically advance its leadership in clean energy while also meeting its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The ISA, which is an alliance of 121 solar resource-rich countries that lie completely or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, is India’s brainchild and was jointly launched by India and France during the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (21st COP of UNFCCC).
It is the first of its kind, a unique and full-fledged treaty-based international intergovernmental organisation headquartered in India. To date, out of the 121 prospective countries lying either fully or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, around 83 countries have signed the framework agreement of ISA (including Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Egypt, 31 African countries, seven Pacific States, nine Latin American Countries and the Caribbean and three from South Asia) and, out of these, 44 countries have ratified the ISA treaty.
The ISA can play a crucial role in establishing solar power trading rules, technical codes and standards, putting in place capacity-building measures and harmonising public policies across the interconnected nations. It can also develop a dynamic and well-integrated solar market based on innovative financial instruments such as “SolarCoin”.
Solar Coin is a digital form of currency that is backed up by the sun. It was launched in 2014 by a group of volunteers who wanted to provide a reward-based incentive to the generators of solar electricity with an energy-referenced currency to reduce their overall cost of electricity production. The primary objective behind SolarCoin is to incentivise a solar-powered planet through a reward-driven action policy.
SolarCoin was established by combining solar energy with the blockchain technology of Bitcoin, and its founders established an organisation called The Solar Foundation. The SolarCoin Foundation gives energy producers blockchain-based digital tokens at the rate of one SolarCoin (SLR) per Megawatt-Hour (MWh) of solar energy produced. In terms of safety, SolarCoin is the world’s first solar cryptocurrency to be recognised by an international inter-governmental organisation — the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
With OSOWOG, India can not only rejuvenate its clean energy and be energy independent, but it can also propel ISA to finally position itself as a responsible global world leader in front of emerging solar economies like China, Brazil and the whole world. This move will also strategically help India increase its global presence and further emerge as a critical actor in International Climate Negotiations.
Most importantly, through ISA and OSOWOG, India can finally reduce its carbon footprints and reduce the import of fossil fuels from China and other countries. In 2019–20, India’s import bill for fossil fuel (oil, diesel, thermal, coal, LNG, coking coal, etc.) amounted to U.S. $180bn .
Similarly, much of the surge in solar energy capacity from 9 to 35 GW, as reported by Central Electricity Authority, for the past 5 years and India’s achievement of the fifth position in the solar power installed capacity has been made possible not by locally-made solar modules but by cheap imports from China, which produces three-quarters of the world’s modules.
Overall, we can be optimistic that OSOWOG will prove to be a big boon for all the solar power rice countries, including India. It can provide the much-needed impetus for shifting away from a purely fossil fuel exploitation based economic growth trajectory towards one based on clean and renewable sources of energy. It can also help put the focus back on emerging global issues such as climate risks which are no more mere distant threats.
However, OSOWOG will also prove to be a litmus test for our politicians and our administration because an undertaking such as this would require overcoming many technological, political, social, environmental, economical and legal challenges.
For example, international electrical grid connections can involve a plethora of parties at the national, sub-national and international level for conducting activities related to planning, building and operation of power lines and power markets. This would inevitably involve different types of legal agreements, including a power purchase agreement, agreement on siting of power lines, pricing agreements, agreements for orderly, fair and open selection of contractors to build interconnection infrastructure, and agreements relating to power line security to be drafted, reviewed, entered into and transparently enforced between the parties .
Participating countries will also need a robust court and arbitration mechanisms for effective and timely redressal of disputes arising out of such agreements.