Dawn of a new solar era?

Sunday 11th March was the official launch of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The ISA is a cooperation between 121 sunny countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The initiative, originally announced at the 2015 Paris COP event, is led by India and France and aims to mobilise a trillion dollars (that’s $1000,000,000,000) of capital behind solar energy by 2030. That’s a huge and exciting number. I like to think this is the death-knell of the oil and gas industry, at least in the tropics.

Futurepump was honoured to be invited to exhibit at the ISA launch event, held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the huge Presidential palace complex in central Delhi. We were, in fact, the only company invited to exhibit by the Indian Government, perhaps partly because we manufacture in India rather than China (there is a big push for this) and export our solar irrigation equipment to many of the countries in the ISA tropics.

Our Head of Indian Operations, Jitendra, valiantly brought an SF2 solar pump to Delhi on a 24-hour train journey to ensure it arrived in perfect condition. Ministry contacts also scheduled Indian PM Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron to visit our stand in person, it was all very exciting.

Also in attendance at the launch was consummate networker and solar good-guy, Viraj Gada from GOGLA, the trade association representing our sector who had been instrumental in us getting our invite.

Jitendra with the Futurepump SF2 at the ISA summit
Jitendra Lakhani with the Futurepump SF2 at the ISA summit

The event itself

The launch event was held in a huge palace ballroom, with 23 Heads of State on the stage and almost a thousand ministers and dignitaries of various kinds in the audience. There were African gentlemen adorned with medals in full military regalia, ladies with extravagant colourful headgear, even one official mysteriously wearing a cowboy hat. A mood of excitement and optimism was in the air.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave an inspiring speech, initially in English and later in French, saying “We know what the hurdles are –  financial hurdles, regulation, capacity hurdles…. we shall lift every single one of them.” Macron also included a rather nice swipe at Trump for leaving the Paris climate change agreement. That was followed by a similar speech by Modi, and then Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

The other 21 or so Heads of State then all had their own enthusiastic but flowery speeches to make in support of the ISA. Many of them ran way over the allotted five minutes… I suppose you can’t really cut short a President.

So Modi and Macron, after a marathon of almost five hours of listening to these speeches (and looking engaged the whole time) were no doubt exhausted and our meeting with them was sadly, and swiftly, canned.

Jitendra and I did, however, get to meet some of the other Heads of State who were interested in our solar water pumps for irrigation, including the President of Equatorial Guinea, The President of Togo and the Prime Minister of Tuvalu (population: 11,000).

All in all, it was amazing to be there and witness this moment. Macron and Modi have shown some much-needed political leadership on this issue at a time when other major world leaders are not stepping up. It’s easy to be skeptical about government events with lots of pomp and fanfare, but my impression was this is serious, ambitious and it’s going to be big!

Toby at the International Solar Alliance summit
Toby Hammond meets Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga.

Author: Toby Hammond