The South Asian region requires rapid development of the power sector to meet the needs of its growing economies and populations. Per capita consumption of electricity, a key indicator of economic progress ranges from 93 kWh in Nepal and 279 kWh in Bangladesh to 457 kWh in Pakistan and 616 kWh in India, which is far short of 13,394 kWh of the United States of America1.
Electricity black-outs and brown-outs are common in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Even as Pakistan faces high cost of power and frequent power cuts, power prices in India are at record lows of INR 1.50 per unit. There are major power deficits despite the availability of power in the region.
Cross border power trade allows countries that are power deficit to meet their power shortfall by importing cheaper power and saving on power costs, while at the same time, it offers investors and project developers in the region, with opportunities to de-risk their investments by selling surplus power internationally, thereby getting more remunerative prices.
This also allows flexibility for countries to harness the potential of differing power production and consumption patterns due to seasonal variations, different peak time requirements (due to differences in sunrise and sunset times across locations) as well as different sources of power – cheap hydro in Bhutan, coal in India, gas in Bangladesh etc.
Examples of thriving cross border power trade include Canada exporting power to the United States and Bhutan exporting power to India on a sustainable basis and creating a large quantum of Foreign exchange earnings for themselves. Similarly, other SAARC countries can take advantage of their strategic location in not only meeting their own requirements for electricity but also for playing the role of importer, exporter, trader of electricity for all Central, South, and South East Asian countries.
The Proposed SAARC Grid:
There is a need to increase inter country power transfer capability through a solution - the proposed SAARC GRID. This Grid will play a beneficial role for exchange of power not only within the region but also, via extension, from Central Asia to Singapore.
The India - Bangladesh inter-connection at Baharampur (India) and Bheramara (Bangladesh) is a 400 kV D/C transmission line and 250 MW of power is expected to be supplied from India to Bangladesh from September 2013 onwards2. Electricity Transmission lines from Afghanistan to Pakistan and hopefully further on to India are under construction. The Sri Lanka – India undersea transmission line has been discussed at various levels but is still under hold. A National Power Beltway proposed to consist of two concentric rings of 100,000MW each is under discussion in India. The Power beltway can form the back bone of a trans-national grid from Central Asia to Singapore.
At the international level, the grid between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is under completion in Phase 1 of approximately 1,500MW. Connectivity between Nepal, India, and Myanmar could be through Bangladesh or through Manipur/Mizoram in India, to the closest load points such as Mandalay in Myanmar.
The grid which transfers approximately 400-500 MW between Thailand and Malaysia is already connected and there is an understanding that Malaysia and Singapore also have plans for expanding their connectivity. Further, a spur line from Myanmar to China; a line from Qatar to Iran and a sub-sea line from Iran to India could reach out to other important players in the region. Thus by v