• Sanskriti IAS - अखिल मूर्ति के निर्देशन में

Meeting the energy transition challenges for South Asia

  • 27th April, 2022

(Mains GS 2 : India and its Neighborhood- Relations & Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.)

Context:

  • The electricity policies of South Asian countries aim at providing electricity to every household and ensure supply of reliable and quality electricity in an efficient manner  at reasonable rates.

Electricity generation:

  • Electricity generation in South Asia has risen exponentially, from 340 terawatt hours (TWh) in 1990 to 1,500 TWh in 2015.
  • Bangladesh has achieved 100% electrification recently while Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka accomplished this in 2019.
  • For India and Afghanistan, the figures are 94.4% and 97.7%, respectively, while for Pakistan it is 73.91%.

Transitional phase:

  • Bhutan has the cheapest electricity price in South Asia (U.S.$0.036 per kilowatt hour, or kWh) while India has the highest (U.S.$0.08 per kWh.)
  • The Bangladesh government has significantly revamped power production resulting in power demands from 4,942 kWh in 2009 to 25,514 MW as of 2022.
  • India is trying to make a transition to renewable energy to provide for 40% of total consumption, while Pakistan is still struggling to reduce power shortage negatively impacting its economy.
  • Geographical differences between these countries call for a different approach depending on resources.
  • While India relies heavily on coal, accounting for nearly 55% of its electricity production, 99.9% of Nepal’s energy comes from hydropower, 75% of Bangladesh’s power production relies on natural gas, and Sri Lanka leans on oil, spending as much as 6% of its GDP on importing oil.

Increases growth:

  • For middle-income countries, the generation of power plays an essential role in the economic growth of the country.
  • More electricity leads to increased investment and economic activities within and outside the country, which is a more feasible option as opposed to other forms of investments such as foreign direct investment.
  • Further, a 0.46% increase in energy consumption leads to a 1% increase in GDP per capita, electrification not only helps in improving lifestyle but also adds to the aggregate economy by improving the nation’s GDP. 

Widening electricity coverage:

  • The South Asian nations have greatly benefited from widening electricity coverage across industries and households.
  • For example, 50.3% of Bangladesh’s GDP comes from industrial and agricultural sectors which cannot function efficiently without electricity.
  • Nepal’s GDP growth of an average of 7.3% since the earthquake in 2015 is due to rapid urbanisation aided by increased consumption of electricity.
  • On the other hand, Pakistan suffered a drop in industrialisation of textiles by 9.22%, wiping off U.S.$12.4 billion from the industry in 2014 due to power shortages.
  • India leads South Asia in adapting to renewable power, with its annual demand for power increasing by 6%.

Achieving sustainable goal:

  • Solar power-driven electrification is a huge step towards Sustainable Development Goal 7 (which is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”) by 2030.
  • Engaging female solar entrepreneurs in production ensure Sustainable Development Goal 5 (which is “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”).
  • Access to electricity improves infrastructure i.e., SDG 9 (which is “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”).
  • Energy access helps online education through affordable Internet (SDG 4, or “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”).
  • Further through renewable energy projects more people get employment (SDG 1: “no poverty”), and are able to access tech-based health solutions (SDG 3, or “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”).

Huge potential:

  • South Asian leaders are increasingly focused on efficient, innovative and advanced methods of energy production for 100% electrification.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘net zero by 2070’ pledge at COP26 in Glasgow asserted India’s target to increase the capacity of renewable energy from 450GW to 500GW by 2030.
  • South Asia has vast renewable energy resources — hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass — which can be harnessed for domestic use as well as regional power trade.
  • The region is moving towards green growth and energy as India hosts the International Solar Alliance.

Regional energy trade:

  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) prepared the regional energy cooperation framework in 2014, but its implementation is questionable.
  • However, there are a number of bilateral and multilateral energy trade agreements such as the India-Nepal petroleum pipeline deal, the India-Bhutan hydroelectric joint venture, the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline, the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) sub-regional framework for energy cooperation, and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.
  • ‘South Asia’s regional geopolitics is determined by the conflation of identity, politics, and international borders, thus, transnational energy projects would engage with multiple social and ideational issues’ which is a major limitation for peaceful energy trade.

Resolution and peace building:

  • India exports 1,200MW of electricity to Bangladesh, sufficient for almost 25% of the daily energy demand, with a significant amount from the Kokrajhar power plant in Assam worth U.S.$470 million.
  • Bhutan exports 70% of its own hydropowered electricity to India worth almost U.S.$100 million.
  • Nepal on the other hand, not only sells its surplus hydroelectricity to India but also exported fossil fuel to India worth U.S.$1.2 billion.
  • Thus, if energy trade is linked and perceived through the lens of conflict resolution and peace building, then a regional security approach with a broader group of stakeholders could help smoothen the energy trade process.

Private participation needed:

  • South Asia is reinforcing its transmission and distribution frameworks to cater to growing energy demand not only through the expansion of power grids but also by boosting green energy such as solar power or hydroelectricity.
  • Going forward, resilient energy frameworks are needed such as better building-design practices, climate-proof infrastructure, a flexible monitory framework, and an integrated resource plan that supports renewable energy innovation.
  • Thus, government alone cannot be the provider of reliable and secure energy frameworks, and private sector investment is crucial.

Conclusion:

  • Public-private partnership can be a harbinger in meeting the energy transition challenges for the world’s most populous region i.e. South Asia.
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