Regional Grid to overcome energy deficit in South Asia

Posted on June 14, 2011 by

Historically held back by political distrust, India and Nepal now plan to build a power transmission line across their border to address the rising energy needs in the two countries. A high level meeting has been planned later this month to finalize the deal. Undet this proposed agreement, India will export electricity to Nepal over 140 kilometers of new power lines. Nepal will construct power plants and sell the surplus electricity to India. India is negotiating similar arrangements with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Ram Chandra Pandey, general manager of Nepal Electricity Authority says “We begin now by buying power from India. But by 2019, we will harness about 3,000 megawatts of hydropower and will start exporting some of that to India. That is what India is ultimately eyeing. But we need political will to realize the dream.”

South Asia has not been a favorable ground for development of regional power grids, given the lack of trust and conflicts. The countries in the sub-continent now plan to set up a regional power grid to bridge the energy shortage that is crippling the the countries housing over 1.4 billion people. The countries in the sub-continent need to undertake such projects and increase cooperation significantly to continue growing economically.

Addressing a conference in New Delhi, K.C. Venugopal, India’s deputy power minister, said “South Asia is a major hub of fast-growing economies with 25 percent of the world’s population. There is an ongoing shift in focus from agriculture to manufacturing. No South Asian country can meet its energy needs entirely from within its own domestic resources. We need to integrate the entire region by a robust power grid.”

Power officials in the sub-continent are looking at the European regional grid connecting Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland and and the south african one that connects South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe to model grid here.

To sustain the economic growth and bring a large section of population out of poverty through jobs creation, India will need to add about 250,000 megawatts of power by 2017. This is nearly twice the current installed capacity in the country. The grid in south asia can relieve the burden to some extent by giving the region 100,000 megawatts of power to trade and also provide access to the hydropower and natural gas reserves of its neighbors.

Kent E. Calder, director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University says “What is happening in South Asia mirrors the larger trends occurring across the continent. We have seen similar energy agreements between China and Russia, Thailand and Malaysia. As economic interdependence increases and the cost of transmitting power long distance becomes less, energy has become the cutting edge of a broader regional integration in the past decade.”

Hostility between Pakistan and India, the 2 largest countries in the region, worsened by wars and terrorism attacks in Mumbai in 2008 have made discussions on other issues difficult to manage. Pakistan’s future role as a supply route for gas is crucial with the planned pipeline through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, expected to supply 3.17 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily. The pipeline, targeted for completion by 2016, is expected to cost $7.6 billion, with financing from the Asian Development Bank. The discussions on fuel prices, transit fees and gas sales and purchases have been ongoing and tricky to manage the past decade. A number of aspects are yet to be settled with the worry of insuring against supply disruptions in the event of hostilities in connection to Pakistan – within and outside.

The volume of electricity demand and the shortage is making policy makers work above the trust deficit. Jayant Prasad, special secretary in India’s foreign ministry says “The geopolitical challenges in the region are tremendous, but they will have to be overcome because of the sheer demand for electricity. The popular pressure on the governments to deliver power is too great.”

There are also plans for a $450 million undersea power transmission link between India and Sri Lanka to transmit the power from the hydropower plants in Sri Lanka.

Source : South Asia’s energy quest could reshape region, Washington Post


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