Friday, March 24, 2023

‘Electricity collaboration’ diplomacy in BBIN countries

‘Alone we can do very little; Together we can do so much’. These words of the American writer Helen Keller are remarkably appropriate in the context of electricity for South Asian countries. Despite the huge potential, very little cooperation between countries in the region has been realized on electricity. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal are known as BBIN countries. The socio-economic characteristics of these countries are very similar. Again, if desired, these countries can complement each other in the power sector.
BBIN countries have different patterns of electricity generation and demand. As a result, countries can utilize this potential to produce and supply electricity at the lowest cost among themselves. In this, the power shortage that is seen in each season in each country can be solved. The use of renewable energy will also increase. Indian Energy Exchange has come up with such a proposal.
Again, in February 2021, India approved cross-border electricity trade. As a result, BBIN countries can now increase power exchange and cooperation among themselves.
India could use the Green Energy Corridor to increase hydropower imports from Nepal and Bhutan to attain the renewable energy target of 2030.
Cross-border electricity trade already exists at bilateral levels. For example, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal have bilateral cooperation models with India. Bangladesh also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for hydropower import from Nepal, using transmission lines from India. Since Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal have variations in the availability of energy resources and demand patterns, exploiting the untapped potential of greater cooperation can help them generate the least-cost electricity, address seasonal energy scarcity and advance the promotion of renewable energy.
These four countries have great similarities in terms of socio-economics. However, the electricity production and consumption patterns of these countries are different. For example, fossil fuel is the main method of electricity generation in Bangladesh. A total of 23 thousand 482 megawatts of electricity comes from here. On the other hand, less than 3 percent of electricity is generated from renewable energy. Besides, 1160 MW electricity is imported from India. It is estimated that the electricity demand in Bangladesh will reach 60,000 megawatts in 2041.
In 2022, Bhutan’s ‘installed power’ capacity was 2,335 MW. 99 percent of Bhutan’s national grid comes from its hydroelectric projects. In 2021, Bhutan generated 11,059 gigawatt-hours of electricity and exported most of it, or about 74 percent, to India. Again this Bhutan has to import electricity during the dry season. Because then the hydropower project was stopped due to lack of water. Bhutan’s Department of Hydropower Systems forecasts that the country’s electricity demand will increase fivefold in 2030 compared to 2022. As a result, Bhutan will have to increase its power generation capacity at a large rate in the coming years.
On the other hand, India could collectively generate 409 GW of electricity till November 2022. The country’s power generation still depends on fossil fuels like Bangladesh. But the country is now increasingly dependent on other renewable energies, including hydropower. The country produces more than 166 GW of electricity in this way. Renewable energy and hydropower provide about 41 percent of India’s electricity grid. India aims to generate 500 GW of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Nepal can generate 2 thousand 191 MW electricity. The country is 96.2 percent dependent on hydropower. Besides, there are 3.7 percent thermal power plants. Like Bhutan, Nepal also suffers from power shortages in winter. Because, at this time the speed of water decreases. The country will need 19 thousand 151 megawatts of electricity in 2040. Which is 8.5 times more than their current capacity.
Energy demand in the BBIN region varies from country to country. For example, December, January and February in Bhutan have high electricity demand. But this demand decreases from June to September. Electricity demand is high in Nepal from January to February. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s electricity demand is lowest at this time of the year. The peak demand in Bangladesh is from April to June. And between November and February the electricity demand drops significantly. Some regions of India have high electricity demand from January to March or October to December.
For example, India is considering Nepalese and Bangladesh proposals to allow Kathmandu to sell electricity to Dhaka via Indian territory and Indian infrastructure which would deepen sub-regional cooperation in a big way. Officials say a meeting between Nepali and Indian officials led by energy secretaries of the countries will finalize the matter. The meeting is scheduled to be held in the third week of February in New Delhi.
India offers the opportunity to interconnect the Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal electricity supply industries. The possibility of using Indian power infrastructure for electricity trade between Nepal and Bangladesh is another facet of India’s neighborhood engagement. These bonds of support, trade and economic opportunities should bind the countries, with India as a critical player. Acting in unison would be in the enlightened self-interest of each country in South Asia. This approach makes India a reliable partner. The power trade between Nepal and Bangladesh also reflects the active role of a silent organization BBIN. Nepal will gain from the sale, and Bangladesh will benefit from access to electricity.
Besides opening the opportunity for bilateral trade between Nepal and Bangladesh, a new opportunity for sub-regional energy trade among BBIN countries is also emerging, with India itself pushing for it. For this, transmission line connectivity alone will not be enough. There is a need for harmonized rules and regulations among the participating963.- countries and there should be a multilateral agreement on details including the wheeling charge of electricity among the participating countries. It is hoped that Nepal and Bangladesh will widen collaboration in the power sector and include partner nations to solve the energy interdependency in South Asia.
That is, these four countries can meet each other’s electricity needs at different times of the year. Nepal can generate up to 40 GW of hydropower if it wants. But they are using only 5 percent of their potential. Bhutan has a potential of 23 GW from hydropower but they are only able to use 10 percent of it. Bangladesh’s problem is about adding renewable energy to the grid. Bangladesh can expand its renewable energy path by investing in Nepal and Bhutan.
Jubeda Chowdhury, The writer is a columnist, researcher.

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