India’s ‘One World,One Grid’ dream

India along with the UK launched ‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’ (OSOWOG) initiative at the COP 26 Climate Meet in Glasgow. This project is about setting a trans-national electricity grid to generate and supply solar power across the world. It is an initiative of ISA( International Solar Alliance), which is an alliance of 121 countries which receive good sunlight throughout most of the year. The ISA was first proposed by the Indian prime minister in 2015 in his speech in London. The World Bank’s technical assistance team is supposed to design the blueprint print for the project. The vision behind One Sun One world One grid(OSOWOG) is that the sun never sets on earth, there is always some place where the sun is shining and that can be utilized to generate energy.

It is supposed to be completed in three phases: the first phase will include building and interconnectivity within the Asian continent, the second phase will include Africa and the third phase will globalize the project. After heightened tension between the two countries in the Kashmir valley, India is also looking for ways to counter growing Chinese infrastructure investments in the south Asian region. It is seen as India's counter to China's Belt and Road Initiative or (BRI) which is a strategy to boost China's economy by improving connectivity with 78 countries. 

The OSOWOG  looks very promising on paper, as a way of enabling energy-deficient countries and generating sustainable energy round the clock and globe. but it has multiple technical and political hurdles in its way. 

Partners are poor African countries, developing south Asian countries and some European countries. How the cost will be shared is an issue, also after the COVID crisis countries seem to be a bit cautious about investing in projects that will make them dependent on the flow of resources and manpower to and from other countries. What also is or will be a concern for smaller countries is how it unfolds politically, because generating power on the land of a poor country, with the technical expertise and resources of rich countries has in the past left them open to oppression and the risk of authoritarianism.

A Germany led initiative called Desertec which was aimed at using the potential of the Sahara desert and the middle eastern region to generate electricity and distribute it among Europe, Arab and African countries, presented itself as an initiative that with centralized power and more opportunities, will lead people out of their dependence on corrupt and authoritarian regimes. It ended up collaborating with some totalitarian regimes in Algeria and Egypt. It was not the first time trading energy was used for bolstering authoritarian regimes. During the Algerian civil war when Islamic extremists and the state both had resorted to violence plunging the whole country into international isolation and internal chaos, BP and Total made deals to exploit the Algerian oil reserves for the next 30 years and supply oil to Europe, they made a 3 Billion dollar and 1.5 billion dollar deal respectively with the Algerian regime, strengthening it in the time of chaos and upheaval. There was no transfer of knowledge or technology during the Desertec project, Germany manufactured most of the things itself and held all the patents too. 

From a technical point of view, the plan to use the ever-present power of the sun across different continents and in vast arid deserts for generating energy is good, but the transmission is a problem. Not only does the cost of laying cables across continents, above mountains and underseas offset much of the cost-benefit that renewable energy has, it also takes a long time to get them completely functioning. The long time it takes to finish the project leaves the whole plan susceptible to failure caused by socio-political changes. Long-distance power transmission even on flat plains means countries will need to invest large amounts of resources in building and maintaining the power lines. 

Rahul Walawalkar, president, India Energy Storage Alliance says, “OSOWOG does not take into account the overlaps with the solar generation across regions where transmission lines are passing through, which would mean that the actual transmission capacity would need to be much higher and thus have lower utilization or there would be significant solar curtailment,”

Also, different regions have different standards of power defined by convention and convenience, different frequencies and voltage are used around the world and switching one frequency into another or stepping voltages up or down not only requires expensive transformers, but it also results in significant power loss if the amount of conversion is in the order of hundreds of gigawatts. There are two ways of transporting a large amount of electrical power, high voltage- low current and low voltage - high current; now high current across a great distance leads to wastage because of the heat it produces, so instead of a high current–low voltage, a low current and high voltage combination are preferred. For a high voltage to be transported for about 500 - 800kms of distance, it is better to use alternating current(AC), but for a distance greater than 700-800kms the wastage caused by AC is greater so the grids will need to convert alternating current(AC) into direct(DC), which will later have to convert back to AC for distribution. So it involves a lot of failure points and also a lot of wastage of power.

According to Rahul Tongia, a fellow at Brooking India (which is now Center for Social and Economic Progress) “Supply of energy through this grid, in a time zone with a six-hour difference will require thousands of kilometres of transmission of the electricity, which will add up to a huge cost. A single 1,100-kilovolt high voltage direct current can’t even go so far, and costs will be further compounded with higher Indian costs of capital. This is before we consider grid management and geopolitical issues for a truly integrated grid,”

Even wIth so many hiccups, India and the UK, the founding partners of the project are standing firmly by it, and trans-national transmission has worked for many regions, like the EU and Scandinavian 

Countries have power-sharing lines connecting them, India has transnational power lines with Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar. But these examples are of countries that share not only boundaries but also cultures, economic status and to some extent political climate. The ambitious 2600 megawatt transcontinental power generation and transmission system will have to face many challenges in coming years and if it persists in the face of perpetually shifting dunes of international trade and political relations, it will definitely be a technological and political achievement for humanity.

Written By:

Vivek Anand

Vivek is a writer who writes to explore. His interests include philosopy, psychology, poetry, cinema, mythology and international relations. Above all he’s interested in making sense of complex systems-how they work and influence each other. An alumnus of Calcutta University, he has a bachelor's degree in Physics.

Leave A Comment