Paris and New Delhi launch the International Solar Alliance

Narendra Modi addresses the UN. [Narendra Modi/Flickr]

Paris plans to offer its support to India to gain its backing for the COP21 agreement. Our partner Journal de l’Environnement reports

International conferences are often rich in big announcements, and so far, COP21 is no exception. At the end of the first day of the international climate conference, while the heads of state and government reeled off their pro-climate speeches on the main stage, François Hollande and Narendra Modi appeared before a group of several hundreds of attendees to launch the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

The idea, the French president was keen to highlight, was born in India. To fulfill its plan of establishing 1,000 gigawatts peak (GWP) of photovoltaic generation capacity by 2022, the world’s biggest democracy will have to develop its own technical expertise, as well as attracting foreign technology and capital.

Public-private partnership

Eight months ago, during his last visit to France, the Indian prime minister took care to inform his hosts of the existence of the solar project. France warmly welcomed the idea.

The vision shared by India and France is a kind of global public-private partnership dedicated to the promotion of solar energy; a concept they laid out at the COP21 on Monday (30 November).

“It is both an idea and an ambition,” said French President François Hollande. “The idea is to give sun-rich, cash-poor countries the means to ensure their development. The ambition is to ensure the transfer of technology and finance for the development of renewable energies.”

1,000 GWP of solar capacity

Yet to be finalised, the ISA has its roots in the Terrawatt initiative, a French project that aims to construct 1,000 gigawatts peak of solar capacity around the world by 2030.

Among the minds behind the idea are several experts formerly of the French Environment & Energy Management Agency (ADME), as well as the directors of Solairedirect, France’s biggest solar park developer. Recently bought by Engie (formerly GDF Suez), the company run by Thierry Lepercq also has big ambitions in India.

Since 2010, Solairedirect has already built four photovoltaic parks in India with a capacity of 62 megawatts. This development is extremely fast for a country with a notoriously centralised administrative system.

For Narendra Modi, the objective is clear: by normalising the techniques and promoting large scale purchases worldwide, the Indian prime minister hopes to bring down the price of solar technology to help accelerate development. “It is an act of climate justice,” he said.

$1,000 to $1,200 billion

A shared project between industrialised and emerging countries, the ISA has also turned heads in the business world. To achieve its fixed objective, the Alliance needs between $1,000 and $1,200 billion over the next 15 years, of which 70% could be provided by the private sector, according to Gérard Mestrallet, the CEO of Engie.

Public bodies are prepared to put up the balance. For an investment averaging around $30 million per year, the Indian government will provide the land for the solar parks and build the solar institute, the future headquarters of the Alliance. Both France and the Netherlands have also agreed to contribute, and other rich countries are set to follow suit.

The International Solar Alliance is not just an economic project, but it also has a strong political dimension. “India is one of the few big question marks of the COP21,” a source from the French delegation said. “We have to show them that the energy transition that would ensue from the Paris agreement would have benefits for industry and local energy supplies.”

>>Read: COP21: A shaky start to negotiations

Subscribe to our newsletters