India plans to help set up a global electricity grid that may initially aim to link countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam with the sub-continent as part of an evolving energy security architecture.

The proposals will be presented at the second general assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to be held in New Delhi from 30 October to 2 November, said power and new and renewable energy minister Raj Kumar Singh.

“What we are talking about is a grid connection running east to west or west to east as you have it. If you have that, then you don’t need any storage because the Sun is always shining somewhere," Singh said in an interview on Friday.

Power and new and renewable energy minister Raj Kumar Singh
Power and new and renewable energy minister Raj Kumar Singh

India has been playing a key role in creating a new energy security architecture with some of its neighbours to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative that is aimed at connecting countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe. India has been supplying power to Bangladesh and Nepal and has been championing a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) electricity grid to meet electricity demand in the region.

ISA, the first treaty-based international government organization headquartered in India, has become the country’s calling card on climate change and is increasingly being viewed as a foreign policy tool, especially with India and France front-ending efforts to set up the ISA.

“In fact, the Saarc grid can be a part of it. We have to connect Myanmar (with the grid) now because it needs power. We have to connect Sri Lanka (with the grid) because Sri Lanka needs power….Saarc minus Pakistan interconnectivity is going to be a reality. It will take time. We already have electricity grid connectivity with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh," Singh said.

“We are looking at furthering these grid connections to the east. I have had this discussion in the ministry. We will be extending it east. After Myanmar, we will go to Thailand. Maybe then you can cross into Cambodia, Laos, and go to Vietnam. So, the possibility is there," the minister said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pitched for a global electricity grid while inaugurating the first general assembly of the International Solar Alliance in October 2018.

The International Solar Alliance initially envisaged a group of 121 sunshine countries situated between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as its members. However, Modi had announced the “universalization" of membership with all United Nations members eligible for ISA membership.

“The Prime Minister gave us a vision when he inaugurated the last ISA. The vision is ‘one-world, one-sun, one-grid.’ That vision is so forward looking....So, we can use that solar energy here. It’s only a question of transmission," said Singh.

India has pitched International Solar Alliance as a counterweight to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or Opec, with the crude oil importers calling for a global consensus on “responsible pricing" amid rising global prices.

“What I intend to do is to present this possibility before the countries to our east when we meet in the second assembly of ISA. This is a possibility that is a win-win for everybody," Singh said.

The plans come against the backdrop of India pushing for cross-border energy trade. Energy diplomacy is a key part of Modi’s South Asia-focused neighbourhood-first policy.

Mint reported on 27 June 2018 about China and Pakistan showing interest in becoming members of the alliance.

“As far as Pakistan is concerned, the hard reality is that their support of terrorism continues. So, I don’t see any actual possibility of us getting into any such tie-ups with Pakistan and as a practical possibility happening in the near future. So, that’s why I am looking east," Singh said and added, “And if I have to look west, then for a short distance I will have to look at an under-sea link that maybe viable till Oman."

Mint reported on 13 August on how International Solar Alliance may see the number of inducted countries who have signed its framework agreement touch 100 nations at its second general assembly, from the 76 countries who are signatories to the landmark pact.

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