India may not reap geopolitical dividends from ISA: Study

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on October 08, 2019

The challenge is to translate solar alliance’s goals into concrete outcomes: Researchers

India’s efforts to use its solar energy feats as ‘soft power’ to enhance its geopolitical clout in the global arena may not be all that successful. According to a research paper published recently, India’s efforts to use the International Solar Alliance (ISA) as a vehicle for the purpose suffers from some serious shortcomings.

In 2015, India together with France founded ISA as an international organisation for promoting solar electricity in countries that mostly fall in the sunshine-rich belt between the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn.

ISA, headquartered in New Delhi, has identified as many as 121 countries which can harness solar energy in a big way to meet part of their electricity needs.

As many as 79 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement and 57 have ratified the agreement so far.

In September this year, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became the 79th country to join ISA. The official aim is to have 100 nations as ISA member countries by the time the second General Assembly of ISA is held in New Delhi from October 30 to November 2.

But, a team of researchers in the paper published in the journal Energy Strategy Reviews argued that India suffers from two major shortcomings — a distinct lack of technology and finance leadership — that makes it difficult for India to reap geopolitical gains from the initiative.

New soft power search

“Since the success of India’s IT industry and Bollywood, India has been searching for new sources of soft power,” the researchers argued in the paper.

“The founding of ISA by striking a partnership with France itself is an achievement, as is the large number of countries that have already signed and ratified the ISA charter. The risk-pooling finance model proposed also has merit and ISA’s stated goals do meet a need in the renewables space in the developing world. But the bigger challenge is to translate the goals into concrete outcomes,” said Sarang Shidore, an expert in energy geopolitics and a researcher at the University of Texas (UoT).

While ISA creates a new potential conduit for India to reach out to and emerge as a hub for less developed countries in Africa and Asia in particular, in terms of their development pathways, there are clear limits to India’s ability to use ISA as a tool of geopolitical influence, “given that it is not a major solar technology innovator/producer nor does it have large amounts of finance of its own to motivate others,” said Joshua W Busby, another UoT researcher, who along with Shidore wrote the paper.

“ISA is more than just a solar initiative, geopolitics is also at the heart of it. However, the goal of translating solar successes to enhanced status globally and then further into geopolitical payoffs in non-energy spaces is peppered with challenges at every stage,” said Shidore.

But, ISA has to show a clear value addition to international partners in leveraging finance. Besides, the Indian domestic model needs to convince both donors and would-be solar countries to install more solar electricity, said Busby.

India needs to simultaneously strengthen its own clean energy transition and ensure that the ideas to lower the finance cost for would-be solar countries actually come together in some tangible programme, he said.

As far as the organisation is concerned, the researchers felt that it should have a nimbler and more flexible organisational structure.

As of now, there is a tendency to over-bureaucratise and micromanage within the functioning of Indian government institutions, they said.

‘No favouritism’

But a top ISA official countered this view. “ISA is a treaty-based multi-lateral institution of the United Nations. It is not meant to favour India in any way despite being headquartered in India.”

Published on October 08, 2019

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