International Solar Alliance (ISA), launched by India and France at COP 21 summit in November 2015, finally became a recognized organization under United Nations charter on December 6, 2017. It has initiated three programs so far – scaling solar applications such as solar water pumps and lighting systems for agricultural use, ensuring sufficient flow of affordable finance and promoting installation of solar mini grids. Another program on promoting rooftop solar on government buildings in member nations is believed to be in preparatory stage.
- Majority of member nations are the least developed African nations or small island nations under threat from climate change;
- Aggregation of demand through global tenders appears to be one of the central tenets of ISA to reduce cost and improve scale;
- Securing large scale funding remains critical to ISA’s success but concrete commitments have not really materialized so far;
ISA was conceived with the objective of undertaking collective activities to ensure better access to finance and promotion of R&D, innovation and capacity building in the sector. The goal is to facilitate installation of 1,000 GW of solar capacity globally by mobilizing USD 1,000 billion in investments by 2030.
But turning the vision into tangible progress has been difficult. A total of 121 solar resource rich countries lying between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn had agreed to join the alliance. But so far, only 46 countries have signed up. And only 19 of these – mostly from Africa (Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger, South Sudan, Somalia) and small island nations in Indian and Pacific Ocean (Fiji, Seychelles, Comoros, Cuba, Mauritius, Nauru, Tuvalu) – have ratified the framework agreement.
Using some lessons learnt from the Indian market, ISA plans to use aggregation of demand and global procurement to scale up deployment at reduced costs. There are talks of floating a global tender for installation of 500,000 solar water pumps in India, Bangladesh and Uganda. More details are awaited but we suspect that such schemes will face challenges because of differences in local requirements, technical specifications and payment systems.
As we stated previously, ISA’s real opportunity lies in raising international funding support to fight climate change. ISA has signed some tentative financial cooperation agreements with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and the World Bank but there are no firm commitments.
It is not surprising that ISA is struggling to define its core agenda and rally support from other nations and international institutions. It is the first sectoral body of its kind. As a founding member, it is up to India to show clarity of vision and demonstrate leadership through progress in domestic market.