The goal of an energy-secure South Asia 

Context: The electricity generation in South Asia has risen exponentially. Recently, Bhutan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have achieved 100% electrification in the last two years.

However, the status of electrification in India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is 94.4%, 97.7% and 73.91% respectively.  

What are the divergences in the electricity policies of South Asian countries? 

There are geographical differences between these countries. They call for a different approach depending on resources.  

India relies heavily on coal (55% of its electricity production), Nepal relies on hydropower (99.9%), Bangladesh relies on natural gas (75%), and Sri Lanka relies on oil. 

What is the importance of electrification, especially with reference to the SDGs? 

It leads to economic growth.

For example, a 0.46% increase in energy consumption leads to a 1% increase in GDP per capita.

Electrification based on renewable energy can lead to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) by all the countries. For example, Bangladesh electrification story justifies various SDGs 

It promotes SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all).

It also promotes SDG 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”). For example, Bangladesh is achieving it by engaging more than 1,00,000 female as solar entrepreneurs 

It can help secure SDG 9 (build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation). For example, India’s INDCs pledge.  

It fulfils SDG 4, or “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. This is done by increasing access to online education through energy. 

It fulfils SDG 1 (no poverty”) as more people will be employed.

Also, fulfilling SDG 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”) by increasing access to tech-based health solutions. 

What are the challenges in fulfilment of the objectives? 

The electricity generation, transmission, distribution, rural electrification, research and development, environmental issues, energy conservation and human resource training are the areas of concern. 

South Asia’s regional geopolitics is determined by the conflation of identity, politics, and international borders. These problems may thwart transnational energy projects.  

Pakistan is still struggling to reduce power shortage negatively impacting its economy.  

The electricity pricing varies from country to country in South Asia. For example, Bhutan has the cheapest electricity price while India has the highest. 

What measures need to be taken?

Regional cooperation is required. For example, the first-ever Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) benefits such as poverty reduction, energy efficiency and improved quality of life were realised when there was India-Bhutan hydro trade in 2010. 

The SAARC regional energy cooperation framework in 2014 should be revived. In fact, India hosts the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The region is moving towards green growth and energy.  

Other 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) framework for energy cooperation, and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline should be promoted 

Instead of a regional security approach, the energy trade should be perceived through the lens of conflict resolution and peace building 

The current participation in cross-border power projects should be extended to all the South Asian countries, from present Bhutan and India or Nepal and India.  

The transmission and distribution frameworks, new green energy corridors etc. in the South Asia should be reinforced.  

The resilient energy frameworks such as better building-design practices, climate-proof infrastructure, a flexible monitory framework, and an integrated resource plan should be promoted.  

Apart from the government, the Public-private partnership should be promoted. It can be a harbinger in meeting the energy transition challenges for the world’s most populous region. 

Way forward

India should take a lead in South Asia, especially in adapting to renewable power.

Source: The post is based on an article “The goal of an energy-secure South Asia” published in The Hindu on 26th April 2022. 

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