It is necessary to develop renewable energy in a sustainable, eco-friendly manner
The seven countries along the Bay of Bengal face several challenges in the energy sector, like access and security, despite having access to vast resources.
India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka are members of the regional organisation Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Even though it is home to 1.7 billion people with a combined GDP of $3.7 trillion, progress for BIMSTEC has been gradual.
India hosted the first meeting of Governing Board of BIMSTEC Energy Centre in Bengaluru February 27, 2023.
Considering the current energy scenario in the region, the meeting recommended to add the additional following areas under the specialized Wings of BEC: (a) Cyber Security, (b) Green Hydrogen (c) Energy Transition.
The region encompasses vast energy resources, including 331 billion tonnes of coal, 718 million tonnes of oil, 76 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas, 386 GW of large hydropower and renewable energy of 1,359 GW potential.
In 2021, the initiative was reorganised into seven sectors.
The per capita electricity consumption continues to remain low in the region, with improvements made in recent years to ensure energy access in the region.
The installed electricity capacity in the region accounted for 438 GW in 2019, according to the data collected from the respective governments of the member nations. Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand have achieved 100 per cent or near 100 per cent energy access.
Bhutan has achieved 100 per cent energy access through off-grid energy sources. Nepal has achieved 78 per cent of energy access, while Bangladesh achieved 95 per cent of energy access. Myanmar reported its access to energy as 50 per cent in 2019.
Even though the electricity consumption in the region continues to increase, the supply remains inadequate.
While access to energy has increased in most countries except Myanmar, the overall generation mix is dominated by fossil fuel in major economies of BIMSTEC.
There is a need to decarbonise the power sector, thereby greening the energy access in the BIMSTEC region and fostering green access in the countries where energy access is still low and access is fossil dominant.
BIMSTEC electricity generation mix
Source: BIMSTEC Energy Outlook 2035
Increasing and deepening the cross-border power trade in the region would help improve energy access, greening the energy access and addressing energy security concerns in the region. BIMSTEC countries go a long way in terms of energy cooperation bilaterally in the electricity sector.
BIMSTEC is endowed with a significant clean energy resource potential of 386 GW of hydro and 1,359 GW of renewable. Myanmar, India and Nepal have unused, profitable hydropower potential.
BIMSTEC Energy resource potential
Source: BIMSTEC Energy Outlook 2035
Myanmar could fully meet their electricity demand by developing unused hydro resources after considering appropriate measures that would not lead to environmental challenges.
Bhutan is the only country in the world that is carbon negative — it generates more oxygen than it consumes. It generates 2.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while the nation’s forest cover absorbs three times this amount.
Ninety-eight per cent of the electricity generation in Nepal is from hydropower and the rest uses other renewable energy sources. Nepal generates 2,200 megawatts hydropower energy while a power plant of 5,000 MW capacity is in the pipeline. Clean energy can help in the reduction of 8.6 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030.
Bangladesh can diversify its energy resources by sharing hydropower, offshore wind power and an interconnected grid across the BIMSTEC region. Other technological solutions include SOLshare peer-to-peer electricity trading network.
Its main function is connecting households with and without Solar Home Systems (SHS) with the local electricity trading networks, thus increasing the individual SHS by 30 per cent and allowing more people access to renewable energy at cheap rates.
Sri Lanka can tap renewable energy technologies to avail various social, economic and environmental gains.
Some of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recent development in this direction includes 30.5MW Moragolla hydro plant and 100MW Mannar wind power generation project, extending a credit line to install 60 megawatts of solar rooftop and developing renewable parks at Siyambalanduwa, Pooneryn and Mannar phase II.
India can take a stance in developing a green grid across the member nations through One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG) initiative. The region enjoys tropical sunshine throughout the year, allowing solar power to be harnessed for large periods.
India has plans for an interconnected grid with Sri Lanka and is also working with Southeast Asian countries on OSOWOG. Additionally, harnessing offshore wind energy in the Bay of Bengal region and distributing it throughout the grid would help increase the share of renewable energy in the region.
The BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection Coordination Committee aims to develop a policy for Trade, Exchange of Electricity and Tariff Mechanism and BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection Master Plan Study (BGIMPS).
Competency-based education and training makes it possible for countries to access cheaper generation sources in neighbouring countries.
An example case is Bangladesh. The cost for the import of power from India in 2019-2020 was 26 per cent cheaper than the cost of power purchased from IPPs. Rapid reduction in solar and wind tariffs in India also provides an opportunity for affordable energy access in the BIMSTEC region.
Difference in cost of power purchase from various sources of Bangladesh
Source: BIMSTEC Energy Outlook 2035
Some of the key trends emerging in the region that may impact the energy access scenario in the region are:
Though the BIMSTEC region offers enormous renewable energy potential, it is necessary they are developed in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. People’s participation is necessary as it will ensure that the sustainable development goals are met and the people in the region benefit from it.
There is a need to democratise dialogue on regional energy cooperation to build and maintain political trust and consensus by engaging in continuous dialogue on regional electricity integration and market development across all levels of stakeholders.
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