Clouds over OSOWOG: Geopolitical stability, Chinese ambitions need to be dealt with

By: |
November 11, 2021 4:30 AM

One of the key questions will be of grid stability, which, in no small measure, will be derivative of geopolitical stability and building consensus among 140 nations.

At the same time, the costs of solar power is expected to fall by a fifth within the next 5 years. An interconnected, transnational grid also reduces the requirement for storage as the surplus power generated in one jurisdiction can serve another.At the same time, the costs of solar power is expected to fall by a fifth within the next 5 years. An interconnected, transnational grid also reduces the requirement for storage as the surplus power generated in one jurisdiction can serve another.

One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG)—the India-proposed global solar grid linking 140 nations expected to get adopted at the CoP26—represents the kind of vision that should be guiding coordinated global action on climate change. The initiative now has two champions, with the UK signing on recently, merging its Green Grid Initiative to OSOWOG. One Sun aims to harness solar energy from across the globe, as the Earth completes its axial rotation. The power will then be transported to wherever needed through a transnational grid. The foundation of the proposal lies in regional grids like the Nord Pool that caters for some of the energy demand in the Scandinavian countries. Feasibility and other aspects of the proposal will be discussed once the studies commissioned by the International Solar Alliance (ISA) are out.

OSOWOG will be executed in three phases, the first involving connecting West Asia, South Asia and South East Asia, Africa brought online along with its power pools in the second and the rest of the world in the third. The initiative has a projected investment potential of $1 trillion by 2030. The demand side impetus is impossible to ignore—globally, there is gathering momentum on shifting away from fossil-fuels to renewables, and the power demand in 75 of the ISA’s 98 members is set to triple by 2050. At the same time, the costs of solar power is expected to fall by a fifth within the next 5 years. An interconnected, transnational grid also reduces the requirement for storage as the surplus power generated in one jurisdiction can serve another. In any case, with the costs of storage having fallen sharply over the years—and projected to continue getting leaner—whatever storage needs may emerge can be handled in an inexpensive manner.

However, to many experts, the challenges seem too formidable at present. One of the key questions will be of grid stability, which, in no small measure, will be derivative of geopolitical stability and building consensus among 140 nations. Regional consensus is already weakening—most so, some would argue, in India’s own neighbourhood. And, at the best of times, West Asia remains a fraught region; even the relatively stabler Arab nations must deal with threats from regional political undercurrents as the oil-supply disruption following attacks on Saudi Arabian oil projects in 2019 showed.

Most important, OSOWOG will need to work around China’s ambitions. While the proposal envisions existing and proposed regional grids becoming part of the OSOWOG, whether China’s GEIDCO, which will link swathes of Asia, Europe and Africa, will be prove a cog in the wheel or a mighty rival is hard to say at present. If the latter turns out to be the reality, it is difficult to be optimistic about OSOWOG. Many experts have said that creation of a multilateral institution that engenders trust will be important; but that is easier said than done. After the decades spent developing multilateral institutions, faith in them is now shaky, WHO and the World Bank being glaring examples.

Other than that, costs of transnational supply, including through on-surface/undersea cables will be something that many countries may not be ready to swallow just yet. For OSOWOG to shine, such clouds must part.

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