Remarks by R.K. Singh: “Energy access is of prime importance”

“Energy access is of prime importance”

At the inauguration ceremony of the fifth assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), R.K. Singh, minister of power and new and renewable energy, spoke about the progress made by the ISA since its inception and its goals and focus areas for the coming years. He also talked about the achievements on the energy transition front, the key issues and challenges, and the outlook for the future. Edited excerpts…

ISA had its first assembly in 2018 and, in a short duration of time, we have reached 110 signatories. Notably, 15 new signatories have joined since the last assembly. Around 90 of the signatories have operational solar projects and 20 of them have projects under way. We are going faster than many organisations. Our objective is very clear – we want to give 7.98 billion people in the world ac­cess to energy that comes from green sources. The expansion of energy acc­e­ss from renewable and green sources is a priority. India alone has 60 GW of solar power and the target is to establish 150 GW. We are already providing consultancy to various countries, helping them with technology, and gross aggregation of demand by sharing our knowledge and experience. Given the journey that the world is taking, it is a critical phase we are going through. ISA’s support to its member countries is focused on capacity buil­ding initiatives, analytics, advocacy effor­ts and programme support in order to pro­mote holistic development in the countries. This will lead to the creation of a strong and sustainable pipe­line of projects. The idea is not only to make countries self-sufficient in meeting their energy needs but also to help them put in place systems and structu­res such that investment can flow in and energy availability can expand to meet the growing requirements.

The world has changed dramatically over the last couple of years as the entire economic cycle has gone through un­cer­­tainty, slump and recovery and is now headed towards green shoots of gro­wth. But the world stood together in this period of crisis, stronger and more resolute than ever. It has tackled the cha­llenges of the pandemic along with global climate change and the need for energy transition. The last two years have reminded us that the global dependence on fossil fuels is unhealthy for bo­th the environment as well as the economy. We have witnessed unprecedented weather events such as floods at unexpected times, winters extending beyond ex­pectations, and forest fires and summer heat in countries we have never seen before. Climate change is leading to catastrophic weather phenomena such as heat waves and drought-like situations in Europe and floods in Pakis­tan. Additionally, oil and gas prices have soared, leading to inflationary pressures across the world.

However, we have solutions to some to these, and development and technology are making sure that even more effective resources are made available in the yea­rs to come. It is now for us to decide how quickly we can deploy them. Global war­ming has been the result of a century of fossil fuel-driven industrialisation. Even at our best pace it will take us a few de­ca­des to make the transition from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels. The ongoing crisis is another reminder for making the transition from fossil fuels to green energy. The crisis is essentially a crisis of fossil fuels and gas availability. Going green will not only help us come out of this crisis but will also prevent future crises.

In the pursuit of energy transition, we also have the responsibility of enabling development in the parts of the world that lack access to energy. Today, more than 650 million citizens of the world do not have access to power supply and double that number live in cities where access to energy is unreliable and blackouts are common. Therefore, energy security is important not just to improve the quality of life but also to ensure acc­ess to critical facilities such as healthcare and clean drinking water. As per industry experts, distributed generation, primarily powered by solar photovoltaic systems, is the most cost effective and the fastest solution. We have ensured uni­versal access to electricity and this has been possible because of solar po­wer, which enables us to set up mini-gri­ds in far-flung hamlets such as in the deep Himalayas where the grid could not reach, and in the Thar desert of Ra­jasthan where it is too costly to provide connectivity.

On the One Sun One World One Grid  initiative, we have consultants who are working on this, experts who are in to­u­ch with the Ministry of Power. The technical team has been working on the feasibility of interconnectedness. We have initiated a dialogue with different re­gio­ns. Each of these regions has regio­nal grids. The idea is to connect these regio­nal grids. Southeast Asia has two digital grids. We have grids with Nepal, Bangla­desh, Bhutan and some with Myanmar. There is a digital grid in South Asia, there are two in the Middle East, and four in Africa. So, the idea is to connect them and feasibility is a criterion.

For domestic manufacturing capacity, we are trying to diversify the supply chains. We already have a manufacturing capacity of 20 GW and another 25 GW of capacity is under construction. Further, our programmes for the establishment of 8,700 MW of manufacturing capacity of high efficiency cells is under way. India is emerging as the biggest market for solar energy, and it shall continue to be so. We have upcoming capacity to manufacture 45 billion tonnes of green hydrogen. To manufacture 1 billion tonne of green hydrogen requires 25 GW of energy.

The availability of financial resources is not much of an issue. We set up 170 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity, which acc­ounts for 42 per cent of the target to be achieved by 2030. Almost 90 per cent of this capacity has been installed by private players, which clearly indicates that the availability of resources is not an is­sue. The issue, I believe, is investor confidence. We need to put in place structures that build investor confidence to come and invest in renewable energy. It will require building up capacities and enhancing readiness to accept and scale up interventions.

We have a clear agenda for the upcoming COP27 summit. Our focus will be on in­creasing energy access and energy transition. Countries that do not have energy access cannot have energy transition. Hence, energy access is of prime importance and electricity access must be provided from green energy sources. To this end, countries need assistance not only for capital investment but also for setting up mechanisms that ensure proper channelling of funds. We need to put in place mechanisms for insurance of the investment and payment security. We are developing funds for both the purposes. The funds for payment security will att­ract the private sector. Mean­while, once the project insurance has been taken care of, funds will come in automatically. As far as knowledge is concerned, we are offering more and more knowledge th­ro­u­gh our experts, who share their expertise via consultancies to the countries in need. The world needs to expand access to energy and that too, from green sour­ces, which can be ensured by having project insurance and payment security in place, especially in the developing countries of Africa.