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ISA will be delighted to have China, Pakistan as its members: Ajay Mathur

Ajay Mathur, who used to head The Energy and Research Institute, said he is looking at the US becoming a member of the ISA under the new Biden administration. (HT)Premium
Ajay Mathur, who used to head The Energy and Research Institute, said he is looking at the US becoming a member of the ISA under the new Biden administration. (HT)

  • International Solar Alliance DG Ajay Mathur said Germany, Netherlands and Denmark were at an advanced stage of joining ISA and he is also looking at US becoming a member
  • Mathur said China and Pakistan are eligible to apply and ISA will be delighted to have them join the grouping

NEW DELHI : The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is hopeful that the Biden administration will lead the US towards joining the first treaty-based inter-governmental organization based out of India, according to its new director general Ajay Mathur.

Speaking in an interview, Mathur said the alliance would be “delighted" to have China and Pakistan as its members.

Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark are also at an advanced stage of joining the ISA, said Mathur, who took charge on 15 March after heading New Delhi-based The Energy and Research Institute.

He said the ISA, co-founded by India and France, is seeking to politically influence the world to adopt solar as a preferred source of energy and getting the political buy-in for One Sun One World One Grid at the COP26 in Glasgow slated for November this year. Edited excerpts:

It’s seems that ISA is a significant foreign policy tool for India to counter China’s One Belt One Road initiative. France has termed ISA as a political project. What are your views?

ISA’s goals are political. But what is the goal? It is to help change the way investors think—whether they are electricity generating companies, or whether it’s you and I in moving towards solar (energy). This needs political dynamism. This has not been created for a broad purpose. This has been created for one single cause and this is a very directed political cause. You want solar to be the energy source of choice for people. So, I completely agree that this is a politically led agenda.

What about ISA being compared to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?

This is about getting all countries together to make solar a preferred option. It is about solidarity. It is about all countries coming together to help provide whatever it takes—whether it is experience, expertise, resources or the ability to adopt solar technology. We do this together. This is a global alliance. It is an alliance that is driven by a common global goal of moving towards solar.

Your views on a comparison between ISA and BRI?

I am saying what ISA is. ISA is a global alliance towards the political goal of bringing solar as a preferred option.

Considering that any United Nations member can be a member of ISA, are China and Pakistan eligible to apply, and will they be given ISA membership?

The answers to both (questions) is yes. They are eligible to apply and, as ISA, we will be delighted to have them join this grouping. We are reaching out to almost all countries and we will continue to reach out. So far, 73 countries signed to become ISA members. Obviously, we would like to reach out to all the 193 countries.

Does it include China and Pakistan?

Absolutely, to everybody.

Will the ISA announce the setting up of a World Solar Bank and One Sun One World One Grid (OSOWOG) plans at the COP26 in November?

As far as OSOWOG is concerned, we clearly want the countries to consider how solar power generation in one country and demand in another can be met. So, in general, we would like green grids to be an area in which countries pay attention and they become a priority. To that extent, we will certainly be wanting to get the political buy-in at COP26.

Will Pakistan be a part of OSOWOG?

Which countries will or will not be a part, there is now a study that has been given out to a consortium led by EDF (Électricité de France) and we expect the first report in June, and a more detailed report on who will become the first partners towards the end of the year. It is a little premature to say, but obviously, we are exploring where will it make sense to develop this grid.

Where are we on the World Solar Bank initiative?

The huge challenge is in the financial arena. What is it preventing money from flowing into solar investments? I think, the World Solar Bank will address those kinds of challenges. This is again a work in progress because we would like to make sure that all issues—whether it is risk management, policy management, coordination of the financial investments, development of DPRs (detailed project reports) that are bankable—get addressed. And it is quite possible, it will be different things in different countries. The goal is to draw money into the solar sector.

Germany had expressed interest in joining the ISA. When is that happening?

Germany is one of those countries that are at an advanced process of considering signing and ratification (of ISA membership). It is very difficult for me to say on which date they will do it.

Which other developed economy is at the stage of becoming a member?

We believe that among the countries at an advanced stage includes the Netherlands and Denmark. We are also looking at some other European countries to be our early members. We have not given up on the US. We would like to see that the US becomes our member, particularly with the change in administration that has happened.

Inadequate funding for ISA has been in the news. What is the way forward?

As far as resources is concerned, countries will put in money when they have confidence in our plans. We will detail out our programmes over the next few weeks—how are we implementing them? Where is this money being spent? We are going to create trust funds into which the countries can put in money for a particular programme and so on. So, countries will be comfortable that it is not going into a black hole. The other thing that we are considering is contribution by members, which is voluntary. With these initiatives, I hope we will be going towards a more stable financial status by reducing our dependence on India alone.

What are the new ISA initiatives that you are planning to launch?

We are looking at different kinds of things in different countries. Say, for instance, what makes sense for Mali may not make sense for Indonesia or some other country. So, one thing is that our programmes will be driven by bottom-up needs. We will look at ways in which solar electricity can be used. We will want to see how we can provide the kind of service that is needed in terms of access to finance, and we would like to stay on top of the advancements that occur on a daily basis; as far as technology, investments and markets are concerned. We will also focus on capacity building in the solar space.

Considering that coal as a fuel will remain the mainstay of India’s electricity generation, what has been your impression in your initial meetings with the Indian government?

As far as the ISA is concerned, our emphasis is on making solar the energy source of choice and that is what we are focusing on. So, in as many places as possible, how do we make solar the preferred option? Solar at 1.99 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in India is already the cheapest source of electricity during the day. Solar plus batteries are already the cheapest source of providing electricity compared to other fuel sources. I think what we would like to see is solar being the preferred option.

In this quest for rock-bottom tariffs, the power purchase agreements (PPAs) for awarded solar projects in India are pending. As an organization solely dedicated towards solar, isn’t that a concern for the ISA?

What we do note is that the total amount of solar in all our member countries, including India, is increasing. Now, we are also clear that in all countries, this represents a fundamental change in the way electricity is obtained. So, we expect that this will go through a process of learning to move from one system to the other. There will be delays, but what we are seeing is that there is a movement ahead in every geography.

State-run firms such as NTPC Ltd, Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd and Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, became corporate partners to the ISA. How is that trajectory looking?

Our view is that these mainstream energy companies have the linkages with you and me as energy users, and we need to help them and hold their hands in moving towards a future which is zero carbon, and that is solar.

Clearly state-owned enterprises in the energy sector are major energy suppliers in many parts of the world and it makes sense for the ISA to be involved with them. I think this is an avenue and approach that makes imminent sense, and we shall move in that direction.

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