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16 October, 2020 07:57:50 PM
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Cross border connectivity for Bangladesh’s power sector: A business view

Bangladesh can participate either through joint-venture investment on G-G basis or through PPP in setting up generation and cross-border transmission capacities in India, Nepal and Bangladesh to have stakes in the cross-border power supply.
Sumaiya Noor
Cross border connectivity for Bangladesh’s power sector: A business view

South Asia is home to a quarter of the world’s population, yet its share in the world economy is less than 5%. The region can also be termed as the Indian subcontinent for historical and geographical reasons, where India being the fulcrum with the largest population, area, and economy inside the region. We can also term the region as an extended South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
South Asia during the past two decades has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world yet it still has the largest population of around 40%, which live under abject poverty and are deprived of the basic amenities of a decent life.
The regional growth has not translated into real benefits for each country and its population because of the disparity among them in terms of economic growth and diversity in resource utilization and political systems. Despite the regional disparities, political diversity and differences, and external dependence for fulfilling energy needs, the region has clocked impressive progress, led by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, the region is still one of the least integrated regions, where intra-regional trade accounts for less than 5% of South Asia’s total trade, whereas equally diverse ASEAN has 25% intraregional trade, with far lesser population and geographical contiguity. The intra-regional investment is less than 1% of total investment in South Asia.
India and Bangladesh being the two most populous countries of South Asia have the largest market, young, educated, and progressive population with a sizable middle class, entrepreneurial mindset, and a diverse basket of resources, which are a recipe for economic growth. However, translating potential into achievement will largely depend on governance, political stability, integration with regional and world markets, investment into infrastructure and human capital.
Economic growth is fueled largely by energy and infrastructure connectivity amongst other inputs, which has a spiral effect by triggering latent demand for energy needs and infrastructure connectivity. Electricity is the major source of energy for industrial and agricultural sectors. Industrial and agricultural sector in Bangladesh has contributed to 50% of GDP (1995-2010) and electricity consumption towards these sectors have been 45% of the total consumption.
In case of India, the (as per US Energy Information Administration) Energy consumption has doubled during 2003-2011(12.3 quadrillion Btu to 22.5 quadrillion Btu), during the same period the GDP also increased from USD 2 trillion to USD 3.8 trillion. Electricity is, once again, the main contributor to the energy portfolio.
Energy resource availability
The disparity and diversity in availability and consumption of energy resources also reveal challenges of ecological fragility of the region due to carbon emissions along with the cost of social displacement due to shrinking landmass for large-scale infrastructure development leading to political unrest.
This is also the opportunity to create the most cost-efficient electricity pool by transmission inter-linkages from the most efficient generation pool to the consumption centers by reducing the impact on environment and reduced social cost. The natural by-product of reduced cost of electricity is economic competitiveness of respective countries. This will require a new approach to regional cooperation amongst India and Bangladesh and other countries for energy resource utilization and building infrastructure for generation, transmission and distribution networks.
The disparity in fossil fuel availability, abundance of hydropower, and environmental concerns along with variable demand patterns and urgency to meet electricity demand has pushed the countries in the region to create power connectivity system amongst them.
Interestingly, in all such interconnections and linkages, India has been a focal point. India and Bangladesh, after deliberations for a decade, have set up two linkages to exchange power from the Indian side through the Bheramara–Baharampur 400 kV line and Suryamani Nagar–Cumilla 400 kV line. This exchange of power has survived the apprehensions of power outages.
Geographical contiguity of India and Bangladesh, especially in the North East and the abundance of hydropower in Nepal and Bhutan and its extended proximity through North East can be built into the national energy plans of India and Bangladesh to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, improve electricity access, and develop sustainable clean energy systems.
Bhutan - India
Royal Government of Bhutan has targeted to achieve more than 50% of its GDP by export of power, thereby setting up a plan to harness 10 GW of hydropower by 2020 through 14 projects. This resulted in setting up of the National Transmission Grid Master Plan to evacuate power from the above system. The government of India and Bhutan agreed to import a minimum of 5 GW of electricity from Bhutan into India. In developing generation and associated transmission projects, Bangladesh has the opportunity to invest either on a government-to-government basis with the Government of Bhutan or through PPP model. Until now, only 1,400 MW has been tapped and the total funds required are USD 12.7 billion to develop 10,000 MW.
Nepal - India
Nepal has exploited only less than 1% of its hydropower potential and consequently faces acute power shortage. While the growth has been marred by slow pace of execution and paralyzed decision-making, Government of Nepal has ambitious plans to develop 10,000 MW in ten years and 20,000 MW in twenty years. Government of Nepal and India have agreed to lay transmission lines for a two-way exchange of power. Currently, the Transmission Line (T/L) to bring power from India to Nepal shall export power to India after the power plants are set up.
Central Asia South Asia  
The Central Asia - South Asia transmission network is a dream project which is now taking shape, where surplus hydropower from Kyrgyzstan flows to an energy deficit region (through Afghanistan to Pakistan), where Afghanistan earns revenues and gets advantage of power availability on a cross border network of 600 km of Transmission Line within the country connecting the transmission systems of more than three countries.
ASEAN
The ASEAN nations which are far less geographically connected as compared to SAARC, have co-operated amongst themselves to create cross border generation facilities and associated transmission systems to maximize the benefits from common resources and economic power.
The way forward
With increasing access to electricity, the latent demand for electricity fueled by economic growth creates a proverbial deficit, which will require expanding generating units and associated transmission systems to fulfill the gaps.
Bangladesh is in an ecologically fragile zone, with extremely high population density and scarce land resources and its ever-increasing appetite for electricity will push for the unobtrusive use of natural resources. The mangroves and Delta with threats of flooding and land loss must compel the policy-makers to choose the energy mix to meet the electricity demand of the country based on the least cost of reaching power to the consumer in terms of economic, social, and environmental.
The need is to utilize the power systems and grid networks of India, Nepal and Bhutan with clean power exchanges of hydro and solar without putting the fragile environment at the risk of harm.
The Indian Power system network is gearing up for reserves and reliable power supplies with a target to establish 175 GW only through a renewable network, which itself can be used to supply cheap and clean power to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh can participate either through joint-venture investment on G-G basis or through PPP in setting up generation and cross-border transmission capacities in India, Nepal and Bangladesh to have stakes in the cross-border power supply.
The creation of such cross-border linkages shall safeguard precious natural resources of landmass and the least environmental impact. Such linkages also give an opportunity of direct investment and economic returns to Bangladesh.
Challenges   
The challenges for such linkages are political, technical, institutional and financial.
Bangladesh and India took a decade to establish the first cross border Transmission Line to exchange power, which was delayed mainly due to domestic political compulsions and misconceived threats of overdependence and compromise of national sovereignty.
The transmission systems of each country have to be robust enough to absorb abrupt change in frequencies and maintain reserves for redundancy to avoid blackouts with standardized equipment for maintenance.
The institutional mechanism for cross-border investment, private sector participation, power purchase agreements, and legal and arbitration mechanism needs to be established.
We can conclude, however saying that we have numerous successful instances across the world — in Nordic region, Regions of South America, Africa, ASEAN, Central Asia and right here in South Asia between India and neighboring countries — where cross border power connectivity has returned multiple gains.
The linkages have been created despite incongruity in systems and political differences. However, the key is political will and the role of organizations like SAARC and multilateral funding agencies like The World Bank and ADB and technical experts and conscious civil society including business and industry associations of respective countries to harness resources with the least damage to the environment which must be held in trust for future generations.

The writer is a development sector research professional. Her areas of interests include RMG Automation, Energy & Environment, Green Finance and Sustainable Development. She can be reached at [email protected]

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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