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How India-backed International Solar Alliance can expand its outreach and capacity

It all began with a challenge: how could poor developing countries harness the greatest energy source of all, the sun, to provide the most important element of modern life to its citizens in an affordable and reliable manner? That was in January 2015. Over the next few months, an idea developed--a sunshine club comprising countries located within the tropics. Now three years later, that question posed on a winter afternoon in New Delhi will be answered with the formal launch of the International Solar Alliance.

It has been a relatively short journey from the announcement of the International Solar Alliance at Paris in November 2015, marked by impressive effort and collaboration and a diplomatic victory for India. It represents a concerted effort to change the lives of the poorest people on the planet. But this is only the beginning. ISA’s real challenge begins now. The road ahead is not without hiccups and challenges. There are concerns about whether the sunshine club can metamorphose from an idea to a truly international, collaborative, cooperative body that delivers real action and change.

A SINGLE PLATFORM At its core, the alliance is a way to bring together countries that have high solar resources, which have been relatively underexploited, and represents a large market for solar technology. The idea is that larger markets and bigger volumes will lead to lower costs making it possible to spur demand. It brings countries located within the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, overwhelmingly developing countries, on a single platform. These countries typically have high solar resources, some with as many as 300 days of sunshine. At the same time, many of these countries have high levels of energy poverty.

The International Solar Alliance is a partnership among countries, the majority of which face challenges resulting from the low rates of energy access. It is a platform where countries can share their experiences, work together to close technological gaps, finding solutions that could be scaled up by aggregating demand that would lead to lower costs. At the same time, the solar alliance is more than just about energy. It is about social welfare, improving the lives of women and children, particularly young girls, who spend substantial parts of their day collecting fuel to meet their family’s energy demands for cooking, lighting a lamp or warmth. It is also about spurring economic activity. The increased deployment of solar energy will open up employment opportunities in direct and indirect ways.

“The International Solar Alliance is India’s institutional contribution to enable the Global South to move to a low-carbon development path,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of the Delhi-based think tank and research organisation The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

The al liance was launched on November 30, 2015, at the UN-sponsored Paris climate talks by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then French President Francois Hollande. Described as a “true game changer,” it was a concrete expression by India of its commitment to move away from traditional fossil fuel-energy systems. And that it was looking at collaborations, and not handouts or aid, to make the transition.

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