The small island nation’s abundant year-round solar energy, a limitless supply of seawater and strong wind can potentially make the region self-sustained on energy
As India’s clean energy transition picks up speed, the country has increasingly looked to leverage its experience with climate action in the international climate action landscape. This expansion overseas has prominently come through collaborative inter-governmental campaigns such as the International Solar Alliance. Among geographies where complementary mutually beneficial relationships could cement India as a strategic lynchpin for global climate action are island states, particularly in the Indo-Pacific— which have remained chronically underserved when it comes to energy and yet have abundant potential for the establishment of sustainable energy systems.
Take the island state of Fiji for instance. Fiji is a natural choice for India to become the hub for developing stronger engagements with the Pacific Islands to power this transition.
Currently, Fiji’s electricity sector is navigating tough challenges. The country has a low renewable energy penetration (less than 50% of capacity), which is stifling its growth prospects. It relies on expensive and imported fossil fuels. This mechanism renders itself unsustainable due to the ever-increasing volatility of oil price, hefty cost to the exchequer, and unreliability of oil supply chains.
However, there is hope. Fiji enjoys abundant and year-round solar energy. This, coupled with a limitless supply of seawater and strong winds, provides Fiji with a unique advantage when it comes to establishing round-the-clock clean energy based on solar, off-shore wind, and hydrogen systems. It can lead the Oceania region in generating clean power. For example, Fiji receives average solar irradiance of 5-6 kWh/m2/day, which is better than many larger countries.
India on the fast track to transition to clean energy
India is an emerging renewable energy powerhouse. It is creating world-leading capabilities to boost its thriving and fully integrated clean energy ecosystems. By 2030, it is estimated that India’s capacity to install clean energy projects will ramp up to more than 30 GW/year. The financial markets and financial institutions in India can provide a thriving ecosystem for innovative green-finance instruments. India has a deep understanding of the renewable energy sector, solar in particular.
Over the past 10 years, India has developed capacity and technical know-how both in the manufacturing and generation segments of the value chain. India’s effective solar policies and regulations reflect this ramp-up of the sector. Besides, India’s private sector has accelerated the process thanks to first-time entrepreneurs and large corporations, who excel in developing innovative business and financial models in the solar sector to suit the different needs of the consumers.
Through initiatives like Centres of Excellence in solar/wind/bioenergy, Skill Development Training Program on Renewable Energy, and National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change, India is creating a talent pipeline that is globally competitive. Its leadership in the International Solar Alliance (ISA) is also well recognised.
How India can help make Fiji a clean energy hub
Building on its previous clean energy collaboration, India can help Fiji bridge the investment gap of FJD$336 million per year for renewable energy, including a shortfall of more than FJD$81 million annually for solar. It can help Fiji with its commitment to realise 100% renewable energy targets by 2030. India can also support Fiji in developing an ecosystem conducive to the rapid adoption of the sector. Besides, India can guide Fiji in developing solar energy policy and regulation, create awareness of the opportunities of the solar sector among various stakeholders, and build capital for local solar developers and operators.
India’s financers’ experience with the solar sector can also be shared with Fiji’s banks and financial institutions to better assess the solar sector. India can also support Fiji in designing renewable energy projects, including identification of suitable project sites, process identifying the right technologies and vendors, developing a bidding process for solar project deployment, and designing a Power Purchase Agreement, etc. Support can be extended throughout the project life cycle i.e., design, planning, execution, operation, and maintenance.
The creation of a solid ecosystem in the renewable energy sector can significantly boost the commercial viability of clean energy projects and can mobilise the inflow of international green finance that can be customised and calibrated to meet the aspirations of local communities. India’s 2019 commitment of providing catalytic funding through a concessional Line of Credit of $150 million to the Pacific-Island countries for projects aimed at clean energy and climate change is already providing a fillip to the local micro-small & medium industries.
To consolidate and sustain the above initiatives, inviting the active participation of all relevant changemakers is essential. India can establish an annual India-Pacific Islands Clean Energy Summit under the aegis of its flagship Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) initiative. Here, Fiji can take pole position when it comes to playing the role of a regional coordinator and by deploying innovative pilot programmes in clean energy. As these pilots positively transform the local energy scenario, they will directly improve the developmental outcomes of the region. Such success stories can capture the imagination of the people of Fiji and other Island counties and can create a strong grassroots-level pull for achieving their net-zero targets.
India’s bold and ambitious climate action commitments at COP26 set a perfect stage to celebrate 75 years of its Independence (‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’) in 2022. The India-Fiji clean energy partnership can embark on a similar trajectory and help extend these celebrations into 2023, when both countries commemorate the establishment of 75 years of their bilateral diplomatic relations.
Prasad is an IIT Bombay and IIM Ahmedabad Alumnus, and Labanya is a Regional Climate Finance Advisor, The Commonwealth Secretary, and Doctoral Scholar at XLRI, Jamshedpur; Views are personal