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Saarc group to discuss regional power grid

Apr 24, 2009 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News -Sanjay Dutta The Times of India

Can electricity generated by tapping the hydel potential of Nepal and Bhutan light up homes in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? Well, this will be among many such possibilities India, as part of a regional working group on energy, will be brainstorming on later this week in Bhutan's capital Thimphu.

The proposal is part of a report on Saarc energy trade, prepared with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank. It broadly envisages linking the power systems of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka through the Indian network acting as an interlink hub. Such interconnectivity will also allow regions facing shortage at any point to tap surplus in other areas.

The jury is still out and it could be decades before power trading through a South Asian grid becomes reality. But bits and pieces of this already exists. India and Bhutan already have a heavy-duty link with a capacity to wheel enough power to light up Delhi. A power exchange arrangement exists with Nepal for 25-50 mw and India has offered to provide 500 mw and put suitable infrastructure by 2010-12. India has also made an offer for Bangladesh to buy power from the upcoming generation capacity in Tripura.

For Sri Lanka, TOI first reported on April 22 last year that the two countries were working on a plan to lay a transmission line under the sea between Tamil Nadu's Rameshwaram and Talaimannar in the island nation. A report by the Indian state-owned transmission utility PowerGrid had pegged the cost of the project at Rs 2,292 crore and said it could be completed within 42 months of getting investment approvals.

Several similar grids are operating around the world, such as the one linking Central Asia, Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. With "encouraging" initial response from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, a discussion on the report at Thimphu could mark laying the foundation of the future political passage for the proposal.

"The idea is to use electricity as a tool of regional integration. This can be an ideal example. We are already working with Bhutan while Power Trading Corporation and private sector GMR have got projects in Nepal and we are looking at linking up with Bangladesh and Myanmar," former minister of state for power Jairam Ramesh had told TOI on interlinking grids.

Nepal is estimated to have over 42,000 mw economically viable hydropower potential but has capacity to generate only 617 mw. Bhutan is estimated to have a capacity of 30,000 mw. India will help the country build a generation capacity of 11,576 mw by 2020, almost 85 percent of which will be bought by New Delhi. India faces a 16 percent shortage during peak demand, while Bangladesh and Nepal are reeling under shortages of over 50 percent in spite of their small demand base. Sri Lanka does not show much shortage but has a wide gap between peak and off-peak demand.

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