REDRAWING PUZZLING SOUTH ASIAN ENERGY MAP
Over the years renewable energy is emerging as a major source of alternative energy for South Asia. As this region is blessed with hydrocarbon resources, the most important task is how to tap the potentiality to mitigate energy scarcity
No other region of the world offers paradoxical picture over energy security as South Asia. Going through EIA (Energy Information Administration) data, countries like Bhutan and Nepal have enough hydroelectricity potential and Bangladesh gas resources, but these could not be tapped yet. On the other hand, Pakistan is facing deficit in energy supply and suffers the most. Sri Lanka has the potential to tap tidal wave and convert it into energy, however no effective energy policy has been outlined by Colombo yet. Similar is the case with Maldives. Afghanistan has some energy resources, and it occupies a special position in the energy map of South Asia because of its location as an “energy corridor”.
India, on the other hand, relies heavily on energy import, despite having energy reserves (both conventional and renewable), due to its economic modernisation over the years as well as growing domestic requirement. This picture of South Asian energy gives us a broader vision about the nature of energy security which is quite asymmetric in nature both in terms of demand and supply as well as harnessing the actual potentialities.
Geopolitical consideration is emerging as one of the foremost factors in defining the structure of energy security in South Asia. This can be discerned from the fact that both the TAPI Pipeline and IPI pipelines are in limbo. This is happening because various stakeholders to both the projects are in conflict with state and non-state actors. In the mid 90s, as has been reported in the Western Press, American energy giant UNOCAL hobnobbed with Taliban for taking the TAPI project to its logical-end. But this project has not made much headway. One major obstacle in operationalisation of this project is securing a safe transit corridor. Second, the prices of energy are also fluctuating and this may influence the decision of energy conglomerates in constructing the gas routes. Of late there are news reports that this route will bypass Pakistan (pipeline can be constructed through Iran using undersea route) and it will connect with Bangladesh. If this happens than it can be a “game changer” in both South and Central Asia in terms of energy connectivity. Like the TAPI route, the Iran-Pakistan-India corridor is also in doldrums because of the adversarial conditions prevailing in Pakistan. It has also been reported that Iran is not interested in this project. Volatility in Pakistan can be considered as one of the reasons for taking such drastic measures. If this is true than one can envisage the India-Oman-Iran undersea gas pipeline as an alternative. Studying both the pipeline routes one can get a sense that geopolitical caveats are major obstacles in the functioning of an effective energy grid. The case of India-Bangladesh-Myanmar gas pipeline route is also making a slow but tardy progress. Though under a scenario of “complex interdependence”, both India and Bangladesh are taking the deal to the next level, it has been envisaged that this route could meet the energy need of North-Eastern part of India.
Over the years renewable energy is emerging as a major source of alternative energy for South Asia. As this region is blessed with hydrocarbon resources, the most important task is how to tap the potentiality to mitigate energy scarcity. Both Bhutan and Nepal are classic examples in this regard. A study published by SAARC Energy Centre titled, Study for Development of a Potential Regional Hydropower Plant in South Asia, last year has cogently explained some of these facts. The study highlights that only “1,484 MW” of Bhutan’s electricity has been tapped so far. However, the actual potential is “30,000 MW”. Similarly with regards to Nepal, the report adds that this Himalayan Kingdom is having around “82,000 MW of hydropower” however “728 MW” has been so far harnessed. The energy potentiality has not been harnessed properly in some of these States because of lack of technology as well as financial resources. India because of its technological advancement as well as economic resources can provide assistance to these two neighbouring states for tapping hydrocarbon potentialities. SAARC Energy Centre in its various studies emphasised importance of India in harnessing energy resources in this region. Development of hydroelectricity in these two states assume quite significant, because it is closely linked with both economic development as well as human resources development of these two states along with North-Eastern parts of India. Over the years, India, understanding the urgency of the situation, is taking measures to improve the electricity production both in Nepal and Bhutan. The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to both the countries in 2014 gave a new impetus to India’s hydro-diplomacy in the eastern neighbourhood region. Modi signed an agreement with Nepal to create “1,800 MW” of electricity. Both the “Aruna III and Upper Karnali projects” are focal point of India’s hydro-diplomacy in Nepal. This energy deal is a win-win situation for both Kathmandu and New Delhi as the former will get investment and job opportunity for the locals and the latter will get electricity. In addition to Nepal, Bhutan is another thrust of India’s investment in the hydroelectricity sector. The “Inter-Governmental Agreement between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of the Republic of India” for the development of hydroelectricity cooperation between the two countries as reported in the Ministry of External Affairs website stated that around “1,416 MW” of electricity will be developed following the joint cooperation between India and Bhutan. As per a recent report of Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan and quoted in the website of hydroworld, last week, Thimpu earns around “32.4 per cent of the country’s total exports and 8 per cent of its gross domestic product”. This figure demonstrates how significant the contribution of hydrocarbon sector to the economic development of Bhutan. Like Nepal, Bhutan’s development in the hydro-electric sector will provide an impetus to the dynamics to the sub-regional cooperation within the South Asian framework.
In addition to Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, despite its limited hydro-potentiality is trying to reap benefits by cooperating with India. During the visit of Modi to Dhaka in 2015 both the countries agreed to develop the same. The Joint Declaration between both the countries known as “Notun Projonmo — Nayi Disha” spells out the details of cooperation in the hydroelectricity spheres. The Declaration has also outlines the need for the development of “energy grids”.
In addition to the bilateral initiatives what is gaining added impetus to the sub-regional multilateral approach with regards to energy security is the initiation of BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal network). The institutional cooperation initiative over hydroelectricity among these four countries of the SAARC can be a milestone in this regard. The joint working group of BBIN countries which met in January 2016 spelt out the need for formation of “energy grid” and “hydropower cooperation” among all the four states. As has been argued, at the policy making circles, BBIN initiative on energy cooperation among these four states is more or less similar to the Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for the North-Eastern States of India, which was released in February 2016. The vision emphasises on “greater connectivity” with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. One important aspect of the vision document was that it focuses on bringing out a synergy between “energy security” and “human security” both in the North-Eastern part of India and Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In addition to the BBIN network which is at an incipient phase, the CASA-1000(Central Asia and South Asia 1000) project funded by World Bank aims at transferring the surplus electricity of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the power deficit South Asian states like Afghanistan, Pakistan. As quoted in the Kyrgyz newspapers the project will be completed within three years.
A burgeoning survey of energy situation of South Asia demonstrates that energy security is most urgent task before the South Asian states. A closer look at the poverty figure of some of these states (like Bangladesh and Pakistan) demonstrates that energy is necessary for ensuring perennial access to food security. Thus one can draw a parallel between “water-food-energy security” in the context of South Asia. This can ensure sustainable security in the region.