Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently outlined his party’s vision for a solar energy connectivity project named ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ (OSOWOG) with the motto ‘The Sun Never Sets’. The ulterior motive of this project is to establish India as a fulcrum which would initially inter-connect solar energy grids from the Far West (Middle East and Africa) and the Far East (Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia) before venturing beyond the region for global integration.
An examination of the project’s tender reveals that the Government of India seeks the services of an experienced consultancy firm (based in India or abroad) which would elaborate its vision, draft policy documents, lay out an implementation plan and also conduct stakeholder workshops. Evidently, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) was unable to present a coherent framework in line with the national political leadership’s ambitions. Overall execution of the project has been planned in three phases:
- Phase I would involve connecting the solar and other renewable energy resource grid of India with Middle East-South Asia-Southeast Asia (MESASEA) to meet peak demands. This would involve country-wise studies and thorough tariff assessments.
- Phase II would involve connection of the MESASEA grid with African power grids in targeted areas.
- Phase III aims for global interconnection, the specifics of which have not been mentioned.
Historical Backdrop. Modi announced the formation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The stated objective is to foster collaboration among member countries to exploit solar energy, particularly those lying completely or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. It was a practical manifestation of the 2014 Election Manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that declared renewable energy sources as an ‘important component’ of India’s energy mix and vowed to ‘expand and strengthen’ the national solar mission.
At the 2018 Founding Conference of ISA in which French President Emmanuel Macron also participated, Modi highlighted India’s efforts to develop the world’s largest renewable energy expansion programme and also the ambition to foster a global solar revolution. The 2019 BJP Election Manifesto reaffirmed commitment to increase global membership of the ISA. After Modi’s re-election as Prime Minister, it became operational and has ensured continuity in policy planning since the alliance’s inception.
Geopolitical Contours. Presently, 67 countries have signed/ratified the ISA Framework Agreement whereas 86 countries are mere signatories. Confirmed members falling in the envisioned MEMASEA zones of OSOWOG as of May 2020 are as follows:
- Middle East: United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Egypt.
- South Asia: Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives.
- Southeast Asia: Myanmar and Cambodia.
The converging geopolitical interests of the UAE, KSA and Egypt could prompt positive reception of OSOWOG; the UAE and KSA are already deliberating for a future without oil exports. In South Asia, notwithstanding Pakistan’s expected disinterest, the prospects appear to be dim as notable SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member countries such as Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan did not show eagerness to become even a signatory. As far as Southeast Asia is concerned, Myanmar could be India’s best bet on account of strong political-security relations and its role as a critical node for the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). It is well established that the strategic aim of AAGC is to counter growing Chinese influence through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Unlike the BRI, the AAGC is an exclusively maritime corridor. To achieve a meaningful confluence of OSOWOG and AAGC, India would have to build strong relationships with East African countries. Interestingly, 15 member countries of the ISA are already situated in this frontier. Djibouti in particular can offer a unique advantage for India since it already hosts a Japanese overseas military base that could be used by Indian military forces once the Acquisition and Cross Serving Agreement (ACSA) comes into effect.
From a broader perspective, objectives highlighted in the OSOWOG project complement both the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2016-2025 ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC). However, in view of increasing Chinese influence in Myanmar and East Africa, India will need to rely extensively on Japanese and US assistance for strategic gains.
Thus, while the OSOWOG project aims to establish India’s centrality in the Indian Ocean Region’s renewable energy sphere, the means to realise it could incur geopolitical consequences that will not bode well for several regional countries.