Harnessing hydro-power potential in Bhutan and Nepal

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    Saturday, 01 June 2013

    India-Bangladesh-FlagIt needs hardly any emphasis that electricity is the engine of economic growth as a car cannot simply move without fuel. But countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan today suffer serious setbacks in their journey for an economic take-off in the absence of adequate and cheap power supply. All three countries face powercuts in varying degrees. Absence of cost-effective and uninterrupted electricity supply is a stumbling block to investment in the country. The use of power from stop-gap rental power plants makes production costlier, turning goods thus incompetitive against imports. Such a high cost of power makes a serious dent in the family budgets forcing cuts in other essential expenditures. Inflation further rises as power prices go up. But immense hydro-power potential in Nepal and Bhutan, if exploited under a cooperation agreement could meet power needs of Bangladesh, India and the producing countries.

    The development of Bangladesh’s energy sector hinges mainly on power generation based on natural gas, which is the country’s only indigenous source of fuel. The net recoverable reserve of natural gas was 10.88 TCF. With power demand shooting up to over 6,000 MW, against a generation capacity of 5,000 MW, and despite commissioning of a spur line in Jalalabad gas field, there has been no appreciable increase in power generation.

    Bangladesh, reliant on gas for more than 80 per cent of its domestic power generation is rapidly consuming its gas reserves and yet facing serious power shortages. Power demand in Bangladesh is expected to triple over the next 10 years.

    It is, therefore, imperative that the government starts exploring possibilities of generating power by using alternative and environmentally benign sources of energy. Experts indicated in a recent workshop the vast potential of hydro-power, especially small hydro-power units, in and around Bangladesh, especially in Bhutan and Nepal.

    Against this backdrop, the recent meeting in Dhaka of three South Asian countries to tap huge hydro-electric potentials in Bhutan comes as a silver lining in development cooperation. Indeed, India merits kudos for agreeing to a Bangladesh proposal to build small-scale hydro-electricity projects in Bhutan. A Joint Working Group, comprising officials of Bangladesh, India and Bhutan in Dhaka decided to prepare a framework for hydro-electric joint ventures in Bhutan. Primarily Bangladesh will provide funds for the projects that will generate electricity for imports by both Bangladesh and India with the latter already drawing power from its funded projects in Bhutan as well as Nepal. Nepal was possibly excluded because of Indian dominance in hydro-power projects there. Nepal and Bhutan together have over 100 GW of high quality (long term) hydro-power potential and comparatively small local demand

    Despite the fact that hydro-power is a clean and cheap method of power production, the scope for hydro-power generation is quite limited in Bangladesh because of the topography. The lone hydro-power plant in Kaptai, Rangamati that was commissioned in 1962 with installed capacity of 230 MW, generates now 180 MW.

    Bangladesh and Bhutan had earlier tried to bring about a joint venture of proper sharing of water resources between the two countries. It is evident Bhutan is now looking out for its market for exporting electricity after it has started in its venture in hydro-power through collaboration with India. In fact, it was only recently that the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) entered into an agreement with Bhutan to extend engineering and design consultancy services for the Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project of Bhutan. India is also behind building the Sankosh river hydro-power complex in Bhutan, which is going to be one of the five tallest dams in the world with 4,000 MW capacity. With such a huge volume of hydro power generation, Bhutan would look forward to export electricity to neighbouring India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It is also a good option to buy cheap electricity from Bhutan.

    Generation of hydro-electricity has its immense benefits. It uses the energy of running water, without reducing its quantity, to produce electricity. Therefore, all hydroelectric developments, of small or large size, whether run of the river or accumulated storage, fit the concept of renewable energy.

    Hydroelectricity also makes it feasible to utilise other renewable sources. Experts say, hydroelectric power plants with accumulation reservoirs offer incomparable operational flexibility, since they can immediately respond to fluctuations in the demand for electricity. The flexibility and storage capacity of hydroelectric power plants make them more efficient and economical in supporting the use of intermittent sources of renewable energy, such as solar energy.

    Hydroelectricity promotes guaranteed energy and price stability. River water is a domestic resource which, contrary to fuel or natural gas, is not subject to market fluctuations. In addition to this, it is the only large renewable source of electricity and its cost-benefit ratio, efficiency, flexibility and reliability assist in optimising the use of thermal power plants.

    Energy, both electrical and mechanical, can be harnessed from the mighty rivers flowing down the steep gradient of the mountains for the development, not only of Nepal but also for the entire region. They possess hydroelectric power potential of about 83 GW (1.0GW= 1.0billion watt) out of which only 50 per cent is considered to be economically feasible for exploitation.

    In Nepal, some encouraging work has been done for promotion of micro/mini hydro-power capacity up to 100 kW/5 MW by the private sector to provide electrical energy to many communities living in remote areas that are not connected with the national electrical grid/network. The country was building a hydroelectric plant that will produce 42,000 MW, a power potential that could be shared by the countries in the region, provided India agreed to extend the grid line over its territory. There have always been excellent ideas on the establishment of a regional power transmission network within the Saarc countries but, shockingly, those ideas never came to fruition, frustrating the very spirit and the objective of Saarc.

    There are instances galore of large-scale power sharing in the countries of Latin America. The Itaipu Dam between Paraguay and Brazil is the largest hydro-power project (14,000 MW) so far known. The two countries saw the potential of joint development because Paraguay could not use half of the power from the project.

    It is expected that Bangladesh would seriously pursue exploitation of hydro potential in Bhutan with cooperation from India. There must be follow-up meetings after the Dhaka decisions on a priority basis in this regard.

    arjayster@gmail.com

    Source : The Financial Express