Electricity trading and cooperation among the member-countries of SAARC

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    SaarcA two-day discussion meeting on energy sector cooperation in the region titled ‘South Asian Regional Initiative for Energy Integration’ is scheduled to begin in New Delhi today (January 07). The meeting will be attended by policy makers in energy sector, including high-level government officials of the region. Bangladesh will be represented by Additional Power Secretary and Director General of Power cell.

    In another development, Bangladesh government has invited Indian government representatives to discuss in Dhaka issues related to regional interconnectivity through sharing hydroelectric potentials with Nepal and Bhutan during meetings scheduled on January 11-12.

    In fact, the South Asian regional power grid development and establishment of a common energy market are no more dream projects. Already some real progress has been achieved in this sector. Inauguration of the Bheramara-Bahrampur interconnector for Bangladesh and Indian power grid for electricity trading between the two countries from  October 5, 2013 and the laying of foundation stone for a 1,320-MW coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal, Bagerhat Bangladesh have energised the energy sector cooperation in the region.

    Indian National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has signed an agreement with Sri Lankan Ceylon Electricity Board for construction of a 500-MW coal-based power plant at Sampur in the eastern Sri Lankan district Trincomalee during Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Sri Lanka on October 7-8, 2013.

    Published reports suggest that Pakistan has sought Indian investment in power sector and NTPC has been considering a 500-MW power plant development cooperation in Pakistan. Indian External Affairs Minister while addressing the World Energy Summit 2013 in New Delhi on December 05, 2013 said that India had been working to set up energy-efficient electricity transmission line with Nepal and Bhutan to enable import of 5,000 MW electricity from Nepal and Bhutan by 2020 as part of its energy security plan. Currently, Nepal and Bangladesh import 150 MW and 500 MW power respectively from India. The minister added that India had been working for the last few years to put in place a multilateral SAARC (South Asian Association  for Regional Cooperation) market for electricity and had plans to set up a larger SAARC power transmission grid. Nepal and Bhutan have estimated hydro power potentials of 42,000 MW and 30,000 MW respectively and a very small part of the potentials has been harnessed. North Indian states, excluding Sikkim, is reported to have approximately 59,000 MW potentials, of which only 2.13 per cent is utilised and an additional 4.82 per cent has been under development process.

    Experts consider that the untapped potentials of power generation, if utilised through collective collaboration, will be rewarding for the participating countries in establishing a SAARC regional power grid. The Navhind Times of India reported in November 2013 that ‘a cross-country power grid linking SAARC countries  has the potential to create 1,00,000 MW capacity in the region and help bridge the energy deficit faced by South Asian nations.’ Absence of such a power grid interlinking the South Asian countries is a major impediment to distribute electricity from the potential sources of generation to the growth centres.

    The Asian Development Bank (ADB) carried out a study which envisaged that demand for energy among the SAARC countries would shoot up with faster economic growth. Referring to a USAID study, the Independent reports on December 31, 2013 that the eastern Indian state of Arunachal ‘has rich hydroelectric potential of some 80,000 MW. The Indian government is planning to establish an electricity corridor through Bangladesh to tap the hydroelectric power.’

    Indigenous energy markets are slowly taking roots in all South Asian countries. Throughout the region private investment in power generation is now allowed, as a result of which domestic and international investments are being attracted. Economic liberalisation has made it easier for Indian private companies to enter into the markets of neighbouring countries without having to rely on the government.

    Bangladesh government is set to establish a common electricity grid in the region. A six-member joint technical team has been working in India and Bangladesh to establish a common power grid in South Asia. The team will explore the scope for exchanging power between India, Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladesh government has also initiated bilateral talks with its neighbouring countries on the issues related to regional power grid development. The Power Cell sources suggest that Bangladesh expects to get at least 3,500 MW electricity (9.04 per cent of its total power supply capacity) in 2030 from regional trade (import). The Power System Master Plan 2010 has already addressed the cross-border power trade option. A new Electricity Act and a policy for facilitating the ‘open access grid’ have been adopted.  In this regard, power trading and joint investment for development of hydroelectricity generation capacity in Nepal and Bhutan and also development of transmission facilities from Nepal and Bhutan through India are being discussed. For this purpose, 765 KV Bongaigaon (Bhutan/India)-Jamalpur (Bangladesh)-Purnea (Nepal/India) power transmission line, and 500/1,000 MW HVDC back-to-back station at Jamalpur/Barapukuria are planned to be developed in phases.

    Once the high voltage transmission lines and switch stations are developed, power from Bhutan through Bongaigaon and from Nepal through Purnea can be tapped to Bangladesh power systems. In addition, power transmission interconnections between Tripura (India) and Comilla (Bangladesh) are planned to develop by 2016. A separate interconnection between Shilchar, Assam (India) and Fenchuganj (Bangladesh) has been planned.

    For progressing further with regional power trading and rational use of untapped potentials for energy within the region, there are legal and tariff mechanism-related issues and their implementations, apart from infrastructure development and investment issues. Intergovernmental agreements and establishment of Independent System Operator for managing power trading will be required to ensure power system operations. The Independent System Operator shall be responsible for optimum scheduling and balanced dispatch of electricity from the generation stations in the country or other sources under the provisions of the Electricity Act.

    The writer is a mining engineer and writes on energy and environment issues. mushfiq41@yahoo.com

    Source : Financial Newspaper of Bangladesh(The Financial Express)