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To counter China's Belt & Road project, India leverages ISA to light up Africa

  • NTPC Ltd to help develop solar parks in Gambia and Malawi, eyes more African nations
  • The company accounts for nearly a fifth of India’s installed power generation capacity of 370 GW

NEW DELHI: India will leverage its solar power credentials to reclaim lost ground in Africa, with state-run NTPC Ltd planning to help International Solar Alliance' (ISA) member countries—Gambia and Malawi—develop solar power parks to meet electricity demand, said two people aware of the development.

After landing the project management consultancy contracts for developing solar parks in Mali and Togo, India’s largest power generation utility is also eyeing similar opportunities in other ISA member countries from Africa— Sudan, Mozambique, Egypt, Uganda, Rwanda and Niger.

This comes in the backdrop of China’s attempt to co-opt countries into its ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative.

“NTPC has identified ten member countries as leaders who may be willing to put up solar parks in the near future and would like to avail the services of NTPC in assisting them as a turn key consultant. ISA has empanelled NTPC and will soon be doing another exercise to empanelment more PSUs (public sector units) from the member countries who have rich experience in solar space," an ISA spokesperson said.

New Delhi’s playbook in Africa involves helping state runs firms such as NTPC secure these contracts under the aegis of ISA, the first treaty-based international government organisation headquartered in India, that is increasingly being viewed as a foreign policy tool. India's strategic planners believe that the coronavirus pandemic has provided the opportunity to be seen as a developing country with a demonstrated ability to take lead in evolving regional and global strategies.

Drawing a comparison between Belt and Road Initiative and India’s overseas infrastructure creation efforts, foreign minister S. Jaishankar had said India believes in a ‘softer and collaborative diplomacy’ wherein there is a ‘sense of partnership.’

“NTPC is also helping set up solar parks totalling 718 mega watt (MW) in Mali and Togo. The preparatory work is on and the foundation stones are expected be laid in September," said one of the people cited above, requesting anonymity.

With an installed capacity of 62 giga watt (GW), NTPC is targeting similar contracts to help set up 10 GW capacity in ISA member countries. NTPC accounts for nearly a fifth of India’s installed power generation capacity of 370 GW.

Queries emailed to the spokespersons for India’s ministry of new and renewable energy and NTPC on Tuesday evening remained unanswered.

India’s strategy is to negate the growing influence of strategic rival China in the region. New Delhi has extended a $10-billion concessional line of credit (LOC) for the African continent and is also exploring supply of small nuclear power reactors to electricity-starved countries, Mint had reported earlier.

China has made major forays into Africa since 2004-05. New Delhi is opposed to the Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to invest about $8 trillion in infrastructure projects across Asia, Europe and Africa, as it says the initiative lures countries into debt traps, and does not respect sovereignty or address environmental concerns.

New Delhi’s support to freedom movements in many African countries had earned it considerable political clout in the region, but its popularity dwindled in the 1990s. However, since the middle of the last decade, India has made efforts to remedy that, reworking its ties with Africa through high-level summits and frequent top-level visits.

Green energy projects now account for more than a fifth of India’s installed power generation capacity. India has 34.6 GW of solar power and 38GW of wind power and has become one of the top renewable energy producers globally, with an ambitious capacity expansion plan to achieve 175GW of clean energy by 2022 and 500GW by 2030, as part of its climate commitments.

It recorded the lowest tariff of 2.36 per unit in the last month’s auction conducted by state-run Solar Energy Corporation of India Ltd.

India also plans to leverage ISA for its global solar grid plans--One Sun One World One Grid--to transfer solar power across borders. The plan is spread across three phases. While the first phase deals with the Middle East-South Asia-South-East Asia (MESASEA) interconnection for sharing green energy sources such as solar power, the second phase deals with the MESASEA grid getting interconnected with the African power pools.

India is also trying to expedite the setting up of a World Solar Bank to mobilise $50 billion annually, and be its lead member in the backdrop of Beijing taking the lead in creating financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank


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