Addressing the South Asia Group on Energy at the New Delhi- based Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) research institute, Shringla said that although there were challenges in setting up an integrated energy grid, it was possible, citing examples of regional cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Gulf region.
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“Inadequate transmission infrastructure or unnecessary duplication, lack of guarantee of power availability or offtake, insufficient coordination among national authorities, technical differences and regulatory mismatch, etc. are among the numerous challenges,” Shringla said.
“Nevertheless, across the globe, a number of initiatives have led to regional cooperation in the electricity sector. These include the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS), Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), South East Europe, Gulf Coast Countries (GCC), Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), and so on. There is no reason that our region should be left behind.”
Analysts say the push for a South Asia grid by India comes against the backdrop of Chinese entities financing power projects in countries along India’s periphery – Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The move is seen as aimed at keeping South Asian countries within India’s sphere of influence. Efforts to form such a grid in the past at the level of members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in the past have failed because of Pakistan’s unwillingness to come on board.
Shringla suggested that “harnessing complementarities in electricity demand, load curves and resource endowments,” could result in a “mutually beneficial model of co-operation in South Asia.”
Besides regional prosperity and development, South Asian regional power cooperation could also attract higher investments and result in complementary infrastructure creation for transmission and transit, the harmonisation of policy framework across borders and a robust market place for best price discovery for both buyers and sellers, he said.
As the largest producer and consumer of energy in the region, India had taken the lead in promote regional cooperation in energy, pointing to projects in hydel, solar, wind and even petroleum that India was involved with in countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
With Nepal, India was promoting easier movement of hydrocarbons, he said referring to South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline from Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal inaugurated in 2019.
“We are now looking to expand this project to Chitwan, and also construct a new pipeline connecting Silguri and Jhapa in Nepal,” he said.
In the case of Bangladesh, “we are constructing the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline from Siliguri to Parbatipur in Bangladesh for supply of high speed diesel,” Shringla said. India had signed a pact with Bangladesh for the bulk import of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in October 2019 which has ensured affordable supplies of fuel to India’s North East from from Chattogram by Bangladesh trucks to Tripura. A spinoff effect was the reduction in Bangladesh’s trade deficit with India, he added.
Besides this, “a proposal for supplying R-LNG (regasified liquid natural gas) through cross-border pipeline and establishment of a LNG terminal are also being explored,” he said.
Myanmar is “potentially an important partner in the energy sector as future offshore gas finds can be piped to India,” he said. India had investments over $1.2 billion in Myanmar, the highest of any country in South East Asia in energy, he said.
With Sri Lanka too, there were many projects being pursued including the establishment of a LNG-based power plant at Kerawalapitiya in Sri Lanka with an initial capacity of 300 MW. There is strong potential for collaboration in harnessing wind energy in Mannar region, he said.
“Our proposed cooperation with Sri Lanka on the development of the Oil Tank Farm in Trincomalee is a mutually beneficial proposition that promises to assist Sri Lanka in building petroleum reserves and address supply and price volatility,” he said referring to 99 oil tanks that Sri Lanka in 2003 had leased out to the IOC for 30 years for an annual payment of $100,000.
Both Bhutan and Nepal have immense hydel power generation potential, he said, adding that India was involved in developing many projects in both countries.
India had supplied 700 MW of power in 2019 to Nepal, 1160 MW to Bangladesh and 3 MW to Myanmar. With Sri Lanka, India was discussing the possibility of interconnection of grids, Shringla added.