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Explained | How is the International Green Grids initiative planning to distribute solar energy across continents?

Led by India, the major worldwide collaborative initiative plans to harness solar energy wherever the sun is shining, ensuring that electricity generated flows to areas that need it most.

November 08, 2021 / 05:24 PM IST
Representational Image.

Photo : Jitendra Parihar (Thomson Reuters Foundation)/Flickr

Representational Image. Photo : Jitendra Parihar (Thomson Reuters Foundation)/Flickr

The announcement of the first international network of global interconnected solar power grids was made at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Officially known as Green Grids Initiative—One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG), the massive multilateral programme will bring together a group of governments, legislators and international organizations to accelerate the construction of the new infrastructure needed for a world powered by clean energy.

This comes after India stayed out of the three separate, major global efforts to combat climate change that have been decided at the summit. Moneycontrol takes a look at the initiative.

What is it exactly?

Initially introduced by India and the UK, the initiative is based on a plan to improve connectivity between the world’s power grids to accelerate the transition to greener energy. It will allow areas with excess renewable power to send it to areas facing a shortage.

It is being implemented by the International Solar Alliance (ISA), the presidency of which is currently with India, and the UK, under whose leadership COP26 is being held. The plan is part of a broader attempt to speed up the rollout of affordable low-carbon technology, covering more than 70 percent of the global economy, and constitutes a key part of India’s net zero emissions goals.

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In countries with large-scale renewable energy capacity, variability and intermittency of renewable energy-based power generation is a major concern. Often this acts as a barrier for capacity expansion plans at the national level. An important strategy for managing the variability of renewable energy is to spread the electricity supply over large areas by building regional and international grids.

How will it do so ?

The ISA has said that there is more than enough clean energy to power the world economy, if the right grids are built. A tiny fraction of the world’s deserts, the equivalent of a square 400 km X 400 km (250 miles X 250 miles) covered with solar power generating stations could produce all the electricity the world uses today.

Wind power has similar potential. Existing hydroelectric dams, together with batteries, can help balance fluctuations in energy generated from wind and solar farms. To ensure a reliable supply of affordable, clean energy, new long-distance grids are needed to connect the most energy-rich locations, crossing borders and time zones.

Meanwhile, mini-grids can help communities to harness local energy resources, bringing electricity to off-grid villages and ensuring a more resilient supply during the heat waves, storms and floods that are now battering all parts of the planet.

Why is that infrastructure important?

This infrastructure includes massively expanded renewable energy generation capacity in energy-rich locations, connected by continental grids. It includes smart grids connecting millions of solar panels and charging points for electric vehicles, and micro-grids for rural communities and to ensure resilience during extreme weather events.

The key objectives of this project are to galvanise international cooperation for large-scale capacity addition of renewable energy, increase demand-side flexibility and address the variability in renewable energy supply. The project is going to be executed in phases: first, connecting the West Asian, South Asian and Southeast Asian regions; extending later to the African power pools in the second stage; potentially leading, during a third phase, to a global grid interconnection.

Cross-border electricity trade with deregulated power markets has the potential to optimise renewable energy systems and help reduce the cost of electricity. A long-term view and commitment to developing a global grid will attract investment, manage country-specific risks, create jobs and encourage technology development.

What has led up to this point?

The idea for the OSOWOG initiative was put forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the first assembly of the ISA in October 2018 when he called for connecting solar energy supply across borders.

In May 2021, the UK and India agreed to combine forces of the Green Grids Initiative and the OSOWOG initiative and jointly launch GGI-OSOWOG at the COP26 summit at Glasgow in November 2021. The initiative was finally launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow by a group of national leaders.
Subhayan Chakraborty has been regularly reporting on international trade, diplomacy and foreign policy, for the past 6 years. He has also extensively covered evolving industry and government issues. He was earlier with Business Standard newspaper.
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