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Interconnecting India & Renewable Resources

The role of hydropower in creating a South Asia regional electricity market is significant. There is a need for regional planning for harnessing of natural resources.

By RV Shahi 

South Asia, with a population of 1.89 billion—about 24% of global population—is one of the most underdeveloped regions of the world. Its development is linked to mutual cooperation and following a well-orchestrated strategy for optimal utilisation of natural resources on one hand, and acceptance of the principle and approach of mutual interdependence on the other. Per capita consumption of power is one of the most important indicators of economic development. Global average of per capita consumption of power is 2,700 kWh. However, with less than 700 kWh per capita annual consumption in this region—between 1,100 kWh and 100 kWh in different countries—almost all South Asian countries are struggling to provide reliable 24×7 electricity to its people, let alone providing enough power for accelerating the growth of the economy in general and the rural economy in particular.

The story of economic cooperation in South Asia is mixed, with successes and failures both. Diplomatic considerations have weighed heavily; economic cooperation has suffered. Political situations in different countries, tenure and stability of governments, and issues that normally arise among neighbours, have all had their impact. Despite these, there have been positive movements, more so in the power sector, particularly during the last 15 years. The role of hydropower in creating a South Asia Regional Electricity Market is significant. There is a need for regional planning for harnessing of natural resources. India, Bhutan and Nepal are endowed with huge hydropower potentials, of the order of 350 GW and more. But hardly about 60 GW (17%) has been harnessed so far.

Important initiatives

During the last 15 years, from within the government of India as the power secretary and subsequently as energy advisor to the World Bank for South Asia regional collaboration, the author has had an opportunity to be closely associated with a number of policy initiatives, advocacy and projects, aimed at enhancing the scope of cooperation in the field of energy. Here is a list of initiatives and outcomes, which, though not exhaustive, captures all such initiatives that have had a positive impact. The spirit of cooperation that has been generated would lead to accelerated growth of regional power trade. The most remarkable outcome has been the amended cross-border power trade guidelines issued by India in December 2018. This would enable trade of electricity from one country to another utilising Indian transmission infrastructure, and open up tremendous possibilities for regional power trade.

India-Bhutan

  • Tala-Delhi transmission system and Tala hydropower project (1,020 MW) commissioned in 2006-07.
  • Dagachhu (126 MW) JV with Tata Power commissioned in March 2015.
  • Mangdechhu project (720 MW) commissioned in 2019 and PPA with India has been finalised.
  • Punatsangchhu-I (1,200 MW) and Punatsangchhu-II (1,020 MW) are at advanced stages of construction. I is due to be operational by December 2022 and II by December 2019.
  • Kholongchhu project (600 MW) JV with SJVN is under construction.
  • Punakha (180 MW) JV with SJVN, Wangchu (570 MW) JV with SJVN, and Chamkharchhu-I (770 MW) JV with NHPC are at various stages of growth.
  • India has agreed to implementation of storage project Sankosh (2,585 MW) under the intergovernmental model.

India-Bangladesh

  • First 500 MW high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) link at Bheramara (Bangladesh) with interconnection at Behrampur (West Bengal) was commissioned in October 2013, in a record time of less than three years, from concept level to commissioning.
  • Second 500 MW HVDC at Bheramara was commissioned in 2016. Synchronous operation at 132 kV between Surajmaninagar, Tripura, and Comilla (Bangladesh) in 2016, with over 150 MW of supply.
  • Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company (NTPC-BPDB) JV is setting up 1,320 MW project at Rampal (Khulna), Bangladesh, commissioning June 2021.
  • The Adani Group is setting up 1,600 MW project in Jharkhand with dedicated transmission system to Bangladesh, commissioning in December 2021.
  • Bangladesh has finalised draft agreement on PPA with Upper Karnali Project in Nepal for supply of 500 MW.
  • About 1,200 MW of current power supply from India to Bangladesh will rise to over 2,500 MW by December 2021.

India-Nepal

  • The 400 kV double circuit Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission interconnection has facilitated enhancing power supply to Nepal from India to about 700 MW. This may increase to 900 MW, including 200 MW through other interconnections. When fully operational, the 400 kV interconnection will have the potential to transfer 1,000 MW.
  • Two large hydro projects of 900 MW each (Arun-III and Upper Karnali), awarded to Indian developers SJVN and GMR, respectively, have started construction; these will enhance cross-border trade by 1,500 MW.
  • In a recent meeting of power secretaries, it has been agreed upon by both the countries to move forward on yet another cross-border transmission interconnection (Butwal-Gorakhpur).

India-Sri Lanka

In a recent meeting, Sri Lanka has shown interest in cross-border transmission interconnection, and a joint technical team has been assigned the role of evaluating options and preparing a project report. It would pave the way for power trade not only between India and Sri Lanka, but also, taking advantage of the amended cross-border power trade guidelines, trading of power from Nepal and Bhutan to Sri Lanka through India.

India-Myanmar

A small interconnection between India and Myanmar has been established from Moreh (Manipur) to Tamu (Myanmar), and about 3 MW is being supplied. Future requirements of cross-border interconnections are being studied.

In January 2019, on the basis of a joint study by India (PowerGrid), Bangladesh (PGCB), Nepal (NEA), Sri Lanka (CEB) and Bhutan, it was projected that transmission infrastructure of the order of 52,500 MW would facilitate cross-border trade of power. At present, 3,060 MW is operational, 5,240 MW under construction and 5,000 MW under planning. Thus, in the next five years, about 13,000 MW of transmission infrastructure may be expected to be available.

The South Asia Champion Group was conceived and initiated by the World Bank in 2011. It emerged out of interactions with several distinguished personalities in South Asia, as a result of growing realisation that South Asia had suffered on account of lack of mutual cooperation and collaboration, and that there was a need for policy advocacy at various levels to focus on regional integration in various fields.

The South Asia Power Secretaries Round Table was yet another initiative by the World Bank. It came out of the consideration that there was a need for informal interactions, distinct from formal official meetings and discussions that normally tend to be circumscribed by diplomatic considerations. Broad understanding and appreciation of different viewpoints might lead to consensus building, which could eventually help during official interactions. The first round table was held in November 2014. Since then, nine such meets have been held almost every six months. It has contributed enormously in better understanding of energy issues and policy considerations of different governments.

By RV Shahi

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