Analyzing the Feasibility of OSOWOG

Earth receives a massive energy that is needed for humanity’s requirements for a whole year in just an hour. But, we have utilized only a fraction of the untapped potential of this huge renewable energy source. Thus, an ambitious project led by India that has been launched last week at the UN climate summit COP26 as a measure to check it.

The GGIOSOWOG (Green Grids Initiative One Sun One World One Grid), an international measure to develop a networked global power grid. Imagine renewable energies from solar, wind, and water flowing "across continents, countries and communities" from wherein they're considerable to wherein they're needed.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi first announced OSOWOG in 2018. In May 2021, a partnership with the UK's Green Grids Initiative, a coalition to accelerate the global expansion of solar infrastructure, has been announced.

What exactly is GGI-OSOWOG, and when will it occur?

The GGI-OSOWOG project offers a visionary solution to the problem of intermittent renewable energies: wind power depends on the weather, while solar power cannot be generated at night, but even in the middle of the night, the sun rays are passed on the other side of the planet.

A power grid huge enough to absorb this endless supply of renewable energy could supply clean power exactly where it is needed at any time of the day or night.

The GGIOSOWOG initiative eyes to build a transmission infrastructure between countries. This would aid countries "reduce reliance on coal to meet energy needs during times when renewable energy is unavailable," says VibhutiGarg, a chief energy economist for India at the Think Tank Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). At present, around 70 percent of the country’s energy requirements are addressed through coal power.

Early reports suggest that India's grid will first connect with the rest of South Asia before enlarging to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The grid will connect with a pool of connected African grids in the second phase, and after that, the grid will be connected to the rest of the globe in the third phase, with a goal of 2,600 GW of connectivity by 2050.

"We are looking at the first OSOWOG cables to kick off the process may be within two years," says Ajay Mathur, Managing Director of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), speaking with The Third Pole at COP26 in Glasgow. Mathur hinted that high voltage electric cables are widely in use across the world.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA)

The International Solar Partnership (ISA) is a country-led intergovernmental alliance that aims to accelerate the adoption of solar technologies. It collaborated with the World Bank and India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy on the OSOWOG idea. Eighty ISA member nations have endorsed GGI-OSOWOG.

Global grids is nothing new in South Asia. There are several cross-border cables and multilateral power trading agreements between India and Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The size of the plan is what differentiates OSOWOG.

However, it's crucial to have an account that these are slow processes. In South Asia, it has held the better part of a decade to develop the interconnections between India and Nepal. It would be certain that it takes several years to get a clear political understanding, raise funds and to develop interconnections, and finally to adopt on the nitty-gritty instructions that enables for the transfer of electrons across this line.

Furthermore, the European Union acts as a way expedites grid interconnections due to its solid regulatory institutions and a flexible electricity market in which power could be sold and purchased in near real-time. However, South Asia lacks the EU's regional cooperation mechanisms.

In 2018, the International Solar Alliance was established that is an intergovernmental organization that acts to drive the adoption of solar technologies. It has been a inspiring factor in the OSOWOG strategy.

An international endeavor

It is to be noted that India's association with the United Kingdom hints that this is a global agenda.  Five years ago, discussion about regional power pools was such a frontier idea, and now it's at the forefront of the news cycle. The most crucial aspect of OSOWOG and COP26 was that it was introduced as an international initiative. This is an Indian concept that has been tried to be internationalized.

Then there's the functional aspect of things. The UK has been in this business for a long time. Also, it’s interconnection with the European continent and a new connection with Norway. Experts also trust that the UK's diplomatic clout and financial muscle will aid in overcoming potential future obstructions.

OSOWOG and India's Climate Pledges

GaganSidhu of CEEW, a Delhi-based think tank that has been tracking India's energy transition pathways for years says, "OSOWOG is crucial to India's net-zero pledges."

GGI-OSOWOG has been introduced just days after Modi announced new climate pledges during the first week of COP26. India is the third-largest emitter (after China and the United States). It has pledged to produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and claims that it would attain net-zero emissions by 2070.

GGI-OSOWOG, according to Sidhu, could help scale up global cooperation on climate action. "A grid that connects different time zones represents a bold alternative to costly storage on both ends." It would not only help meet climate commitments, but it would also improve energy security and meet development priorities," he added.

Regional grids the main focus

The concept of a "connected global grid" conjures up visions of massive cables crisscrossing the globe. The reality could be quite different. The emphasized that GGI-OSOWOG is not about putting a set of wires around the world. But, it's interconnections between regional grids.

The political slogan of OSOWOG that is a globally interconnected grid is a little bit just like calling for world peace.

For example, consider the Viking Link. It's a 760-kilometer undersea transmission link between the United Kingdom and Denmark that's expected to open in 2023 for USD 2.2 billion. It was conceived as a way to share variable wind power, and Sidhu explained that it is a good example of how renewable energy's intermittency can be addressed through connectivity. OSOWOG will accomplish the same goal, but its overall vision is far more ambitious.

Moreover, the denser regional connections with some outcroppings to surrounding regions. Emphasizing the enormous diplomatic effort required even to build a regional power pool. Furthermore, some countries may prefer to avoid the geopolitical risk of a regional grid by balancing their energy needs domestically via hydropower or battery storage.

Practical hurdles

Sustaining a grid across large geographical areas is tough, especially when energy demand is spread across a geographically diverse region such as South Asia, where population density, and hence energy demand, varies greatly. Any grid must have a constant base load, or a minimum level of electricity flow, at all times in order to function. Because demand peaks and drops at different times and places, a larger grid becomes more challenging to stabilize with a steady electric current. The electricity trading does not necessarily necessitate convergence of grid operations.

There are measures in place in India that are interconnected grids used in linking different areas, to safeguard that grid tripping in one region does not trip the entire national grid. The same experience would also be scaled up" for a regional grid.

VibhutiGarg of the IEEFA said that achieving 2,600 GW of interconnection by 2050 is an "ambitious target." “We need to disintegrate it down into more manageable short-term goals." The OSOWOG concept is fantastic, but it comes with its own set of challenges." According to Mathur, these are more likely to be logistical than technological.

Need for institutions to manage OSOWOG

The question of institution is said to be the GGI-greatest OSOWOG's flaw. Countries that are wary of this announcement may seek institutional mechanisms that they could relay and that they know are stable and equitable ones that are not dominated by one country or by a major financier.

It has been explained that what happens in the next 10, 15 years would be determined by the institutions established in the next three years. "In a way, the goal isn't to build a transmission line as quickly as possible, but to create credible regulations as quickly as possible."

"There's a lot of diplomatic hard graft that needs to come after this," Sidhu added, moving beyond the political announcement.