The South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy Integration programme prompted by USAID is geared towards regional energy integration and cross border energy trade in SouthAsia in general and BBIN countries in particular, thus encouraging the setting up of a common regional power market to benefit the region.
By Geeta Dash
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that hydropower constitutes 17 per cent of the total energy produced in the world. India generates 11.6 per cent (as per a report of Ministry of Power, Government of India for 2022) from hydroelectric sources, despite the social-environmental problems associated with the river dam hydel projects. Lesser fossil fuel use will give way to a greater degree of use of hydropower in future. Hydropower is a blessing for mankind, especially in an era of eco-disasters and climate change due to excessive use of fossil fuels in energy production.
Multi-purpose river valley dams and reservoirs are most suitable for hydropower generation, apart from irrigation, flood control, navigation, fishing and tourism, to mention a few. The disadvantages however are the long gestation period, high construction costs, social and ecological problems like displacement of the local populace and the submersion of flora and fauna in vast areas.
There are benefits too: lower maintenance cost, lower production cost in comparison to fossil fuel based power and low electricity tariff. Hydroelectricity is consistent, stable and secured unlike wind and solar energy. The power generation is also easily controllable, to increase or decrease instantly as per demand.
Though SouthAsian countries have a very high potential, the region has not yet fully realised its hydropower potential. Bhutan and Nepal have huge hydro power potential and their electricity demand is catered entirely by hydroelectricity. The average per capita energy consumption in the region is low and the electricity distributed is unstable and of low quality in rural areas. As a result, most rural households depend on wood and biomass for cooking – in turn leading to deforestation and carbon emission.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have political reasons for their dissociation in energy integration efforts, Sri Lanka and Maldives are away in the sea, having difficulty in grid connectivity. However, the riparian BBIN countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) constitute a compact sub-region and have cross border grid connectivity, offering the BBIN countries an opportunity to collaborate in hydropower generation, distribution and form a dependable power market.
Water rich Himalayan countries like Nepal and Bhutan have been exporting surplus hydro-electricity to India during the peak demand season. Nepal imports electricity from India during dry and peak demand season. Since off the grid areas of all the BBIN countries need power for improving the lives of their people as well as their overall economic development, the power integration and collaboration between the BBIN countries offers a win-win to all four countries.
India has constructed four hydro-electric projects producing more than 2,000 MWs of power in Bhutan. The 600 MW Indo-Bhutan joint venture Kholongchhu hydroelectricity project is already under construction, due to be completed in 2025. A MoU has recently been signed between governments of India, Bangladesh and Bhutan for constructing a 1,125 MW hydel plant in Bhutan for exporting electricity to India and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has 43 hydropower plants with a capacity to produce 5,376 MW of power production capacity. But none of these is a joint venture. However, a good grid connectivity exists to facilitate cross-border energy trade. Nepal, with the world’s second highest fresh water availability, can feasibly produce 43,000 MW of hydropower. But its 220 hydroelectric projects produce only 787 MW of electricity. A few of these hydroelectric projects have been constructed in collaboration with India. Nepal lacks financial and technical capability for installing mega power plants. Just recently, following the Indo-Nepal “Vision Statement of Power” announced during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal in May 2022, the prime ministers of the two countries agreed to build a 695 MW hydropower plant on Nepal’s Arun river as a joint venture.
CBET in PPP mode
The pace of progress in energy integration, however, depends on the increase in the cross border energy trade (CBET) in a public private partnership (PPP) mode, involving big investors. The World Bank’s climate change action plan (2021-25) suggests regional cooperation to decarbonise energy production. The Indian initiative, “One Sun One World One Grid” is sure to help achieve this objective.
The Indian energy think tank, Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) has assessed that the CBET would be upto 40 billion units (BU) by 2022 and 70 BU by 2027. USAID’s South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy Integration (SARI / EI) programme is working towards regional energy integration and CBET in South Asia in general and BBIN countries in particular. It is also holding discussions with the governments of South Asian countries and bringing the government as well as non-government stakeholders together, thus encouraging the setting up of a common regional power market that would benefit all the countries, to meet their power requirements.
All of these hold promise – and are reason enough for planners to bear in mind the region’s hydroelectric potential while planning their next steps.
Geeta Dash is a recipient of ‘Media Fellowship’ from NTPC School of Business, under the ‘Think-Tank Project’ funded by USAID for the SARI/EI project, currently being implemented by IRADe.