India has started consultations with the World Bank as its technical partner to implement an ambitious global electricity grid plan pitched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With the world grappling with climate change concerns, a senior government official said the multilateral funding organization may prepare a feasibility report for the project announced in October 2018, that can further bolster India’s image as a clean energy champion.
The proposed global grid plans to leverage solar power generated in one geography to feed the electricity demands of other nations. This comes against the backdrop of China’s attempts to co-opt countries into its ambitious One Belt One Road initiative, a programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids, across Asia, Africa and Europe.
“The government has had preliminary discussions with us. It’s too early to share any details at this stage. For any further information, you may want to contact MNRE (ministry of new and renewable energy) ," a World Bank spokesperson said in an emailed response.
“This is quite an ambitious project and not a simple one. We have started deliberations with the World Bank for them to prepare a report on the same. A similar mechanism exists in Europe. One grid is very advantageous to the participating nations," said a senior Indian government official, requesting anonymity.
India has been supplying power to Bangladesh and Nepal and has been championing a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) electricity grid minus Pakistan to meet electricity demand in the region. Also, power-starved Bangladesh wants to buy electricity from large solar parks being set up in Gujarat and Rajasthan, with fostering cross-border energy trade being an important part of Modi’s South Asia-focused neighbourhood-first policy.
“The Prime Minister gave us a vision when he inaugurated the International Solar Alliance. 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," power and new and renewable energy minister Raj Kumar Singh had earlier told Mint.
Queries emailed to the MNRE spokesperson on Monday evening remained unanswered.
The World Bank Group has been closely involved with capacity building in India. Its president David R. Malpass had visited India last October to give a lecture on the ‘role of financial sector in development’ to India’s top policy makers, as part of the series hosted by India’s federal think tank NITI Aayog.
Mint reported on 22 August about India’s 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 initial plans also involve setting up an under-sea link to connect with Oman in the West. However, the plan hasn’t gained traction in the backdrop of India-headquartered International Solar Alliance’s (ISA’s) drive to co-opt countries from South-East Asia facing problems with some countries holding back because of New Delhi’s decision to not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal.
Initially, ISA envisaged 121 sunshine countries situated between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as its members. Prime Minister Narendra Modi later announced the “universalization" of membership with India moving the proposal to make all United Nations members eligible for ISA membership.
Prominent inter-governmental organizations in the energy sector include the Vienna-based Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and Paris-based International Energy Agency. Interestingly, India has pitched ISA as a counterweight to Opec, with the fossil fuel consumers calling for a global consensus on “responsible pricing" against the backdrop of uncertain global oil prices.