Energy storage has a vital role to play in the green transition of BIMSTEC countries

The growing energy demands in the emerging economies of countries in the region will require that the energy transitions in the region be resource-efficient and based on the timely need for energy

By Maitreyi Karthik, Rajiv Ratna Panda
Published: Wednesday 22 March 2023
An LPG Gas plant close to the greenfield at Chittagong. Photo: iStock

Energy storage systems can store energy from variable sources such as solar and wind until required, thereby allowing the integration of more renewable energy into the system. They discharge when they release the energy back into the grid.

Storage technologies are essential to replace fossil fuel-based generations with 100 per cent renewable energy-based energy system sources. Lithium-ion batteries are currently the predominant storage technology solutions for large-scale plants to ensure a reliable renewable energy source. It should be cost-effective and long-lasting for renewable power — charging and discharging many thousand times.

There are many storage techniques to address the issues of intermittencies of renewable energy systems, such as compressed air storage, pumped hydro-electricity storage, advanced rail energy storage, stacked blocks, flywheels, lithium-ion battery storage, liquid air energy storage, pumped heat electrical storage, redox flow batteries, superconducting magnetic energy storage and methane.

While various technologies have varied usage and application and will play a defining role in greening the grid, long-duration energy storage holds the key to a sustainable transition to 100 per cent renewable-based power systems dominated by wind and solar electricity generation.

While long-duration storage technologies such as liquid air, stacked blocks, underground compressed air, and flow batteries are being explored and experimented with, hydropower / pumped hydroelectricity storage is currently the only viable long-range energy storage option.

 Typical power output and discharge time of electricity storage technologies 

Source: Electricity Storage -Technology brief, IEA-ETSAP and IRENA

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have achieved almost 100 per cent access to energy in the region. Bhutan has also achieved 100 per cent energy access through off-grid solutions.

The total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the region was $3.7 trillion, up from $2.5 trillion in 2011, making up 4.2 per cent of the global GDP. All the nations in the region except Thailand have a trade deficit, with the import exceeding the export.

The import in the region amounted to $1017 billion in 2019, with exports at $954 billion. The per capita electricity consumption is highest for Nepal and the lowest for Bangladesh.

 Per capita energy consumption, 2019


 Source: BIMSTEC Energy Outlook

Barring Bhutan and Thailand, with a per capita energy consumption of 3,034 and 2,856 kWh per annum, the per capita electricity consumption is less than a thousand for the BIMSTEC nations. Increasing the focus on the energy sector with the right energy mix provides a way ahead for this scenario.

Energy storage technologies in the BIMSTEC region

Hydropower is a predominant energy source available in the energy mix of India, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, providing energy storage.

Hydropower, along with a reservoir facility, is ‘dispatched’ generation, while hydropower associated with run-of-river is ‘variable’ generation. For the countries in the region, hydropower comes as a mix of variable and dispatched generation.

Their potential for grid balancing mechanisms as flexible generation and transmission interconnection can be identified based on the generation type. The potential for hydropower and its present utilisation and future potential can impact the energy mix of the BIMSTEC region.

There are already established global models in similar regional grid balancing for RE integration, such as in the case of Denmark and Norway, where Norway’s hydropower plants are utilised to balance Denmark’s wind power capacity.

Similar models in BIMSTEC are expected to become a key driver of regional energy cooperation and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy-based power systems across the BIMSTEC region.

Another important energy resource among the countries in the BIMSTEC region is natural gas. Natural Gas storage during low-demand conditions ensures that it is available as an energy source during conditions of high demand.

Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, and India provide a good energy source. Myanmar is a net exporter of natural gas. India and Thailand import natural gas.

Gas supplies most of the energy needs of around 62 per cent of Bangladesh. Exploring alternative solutions needs to include electricity import at competitive prices.

A lucrative solution would be interconnection among the member countries in the region. Natural gas can provide very good regional grid balancing support. Electricity access among the member nations through exchanging the energy resources predominant in a particular country would help avoid the steep energy costs.

Integrating the electricity grids of BIMSTEC will lead to more reliable grid operation, affordable electricity supply, and optimal utilisation of resources in the region, ultimately resulting in lesser costs for each country.

BIMSTEC countries have immense potential for regional grid balancing in the context of large-scale renewable energy growth due to diversity in supply sources.

For example, the generation resources in Nepal and Bhutan are predominantly hydro, and Myanmar has huge untapped hydropower potential.

With the rise of power markets due to recent reforms in power markets in India and the development of ancillary service markets, a market-based approach to regional grid balancing will become the preferred choice to manage the intermittency in the most economical manner in the BIMSTEC regional context.

While there is large potential of hydro energy resources in the region, it is important to develop these resources in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner with limited environmental degradation.

Pumped Hydroelectric Energy Storage (PHES) facilities can play an important role in bringing large-duration storage into the BIMSTEC country’s energy system.

PHES can be of two types, Off-river Closed Loop PHES, wherein the same water is used for pumping and generation, with make-up water for evaporation through melting snow and/or rain, and Hybrid (open loop) PHES, wherein both pumped and natural flow water is used to generate electricity.

Off-river Closed Loop PHES offers immense potential for building large-scale energy storage systems in a cost-optimal and environmentally friendly manner.

The growing energy demands in the emerging economies of countries in the region will require that the energy transitions in the region be resource-efficient and based on the timely need for energy.

The region’s clean energy transitions, along with storage technologies, can be an alternative to improve energy access through clean, green, and sustainable energy sources.

Maitreyi Karthik is a deputy programme manager, renewable energy, Centre for Science and Environment

Rajiv Ratna Panda is a power market specialist, USAID’S South Asia Regional Energy Partnership (SAREP) Programme implemented by RTI International

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