From watching your favourite YouTube video to emailing a friend, the internet is made possible by a massive network of underwater cables. 1.2 million kilometres of submarine fibre-optic cables, to be precise, which ferry data around the world.
Now, imagine electricity being similarly shipped across continents. Surplus energy produced in one country could be bought and consumed in another nation thousands of kilometres away. The world, or at least parts of it, would be powered by one supergrid.
If data is the new oil, electricity could be the new data.
That is the idea behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG) project. A mouthful as far as acronyms go, OSOWOG aims to first connect India with Southeast Asia to its east and with the Middle East—and later with Africa—to the west, before expanding to other parts of the globe.
The objective is simple: use the different time zones in tropical countries to tap the sun for a longer period than any one country can. For instance, as India’s power demand peaks as dusk falls, it can draw solar energy being generated in Saudi Arabia, where the sun still hasn’t set, through this transnational grid.
Exciting as it may sound, the execution will not be straightforward. No country wants to be dependent on another for electricity in the event of a conflict, says Kameswara Rao, partner at consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). “It is far more complex than building a rail or road project across countries.”
OSOWOG is the latest, and largest, piece of India’s grand scheme to be a solar anchor for the developing world through the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Announced in November 2015 and operational since June 2018, the Gurugram-based ISA is an organisation made up mostly of tropical countries. It is the first treaty-led multilateral organisation to be headquartered in India.
ISA helps finance smaller, poorer countries to transition from coal- and gas-fired electricity to solar energy, and, in the process, provides a counterbalance to China’s growing influence around the world. India and China are currently locked in their worst border dispute border dispute The New York Times Will India Side With the West Against China? A Test Is at Hand Read more in decades.
India is trying to build on its own solar success story. Since 2013, it has had one of the world’s largest interconnected grids, made up of five regional grids. It has scaled up its solar energy capacity 9X to 35 GW in five years, according to the Central Electricity Authority Central Electricity Authority Central Electricity Authority The planning arm of India's power ministry. (CEA). This has seen it move up the solar power capacity leaderboard.