South Asia eyes common grid to share hydropower

Electricity-constrained South Asian nations might advance hopes to build a common energy grid in March, edging closer to overcoming the political obstacles that have left some with a power deficit and others with abundance.

Nepal and Bhutan have substantial untapped hydroelectricity potential, while Bangladesh has large gas reserves that could be used domestically or exported to India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — if only the infrastructure existed to carry it.

India already has some connections with neighboring Nepal and Bhutan, and is studying the feasibility of linking with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, issues that energy officials from South Asia were expected to discuss at their meeting in New Delhi later this week. Earlier in March, India Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde convened South Asia energy ministers in New Delhi for similar discussions. (HNN 3/8/07)

While the economic benefits of a link-up appear clear, competing political interests and at times open hostility have stymied the effort.

“Somehow politics keep getting in the way of economics as far as cross-border projects are concerned,” said Amrit Pandurangi, executive director at PricewaterHouse Coopers. “Bangladesh at one point of time was willing to supply gas to India but now the situation has changed. It keeps changing its mind with the change in government.”

India accounts for nearly four-fifths of the electricity generated in South Asia, yet grapples with the problem of peak shortages at 14.2 percent between April 2006 and February 2007.

“The idea is a positive step,� India Power Secretary Anil Razdan said. �We have a bilateral building block with Sri Lanka, we have with Bhutan — we are exploring the possibility of doing that with other neighboring countries.”

Merrill Lynch senior director Joseph Jacobelli said the benefits of a united power system — which could allow open trade, keep a lid on costs by utilizing the cheapest form of generation and encourage efficiency — would remain out of reach until the supply deficit could be eliminated.

India’s National Electricity Policy wants all billion-plus people to have access to power by 2012 and to raise the per capita availability of power by nearly 50 percent, a goal that requires another 100,000 MW of capacity by 2012.

The capacity addition of more than 76,000 MW — comprising 75 percent thermal power, 21 percent hydropower, and the remainder nuclear — has been provisionally proposed. Of this, just over 44,000 MW is under construction.

The bulk of the power generated in Bhutan, by 1,020-MW Tala, 336-MW Chukka (HNN 9/18/06), and 60-MW Kurichhu hydroelectric projects, has been implemented with technical and financial assistance of India and is exported to India.

“Generally speaking it is very important for energy security and energy efficiency to transfer energy from a resources-rich area to areas with a high intensity of energy demand,” said Jacobelli. “Within a single country distance is the main challenge. Cross-border, the challenge has been political.”

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