South Asian countries should engage more in cross-border electricity trade by exploring the largely untapped resources, which will not only lighten the whole region but also improve people’s standard of living, say experts.
Regional electricity trade can help countries save over $9 billion annually, while regional carbon emissions would go down by 8 percent, Syed Munir Khasru, chairman of the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG), said at a programme in the capital.
“Energy drives development which translates into poverty reduction. If we can’t reduce power poverty [lack of access to electricity], we will not be able to reduce poverty,” he added.
He was speaking at the opening ceremony of a programme titled, ”Power & Energy in South Asia: Connectivity through Cooperation”, at the Radisson Blu hotel.
The IPAG, a think-tank based in Dhaka, organised the two-day training programme in association with the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) and United Power.
Electricity coverage in South Asia ranges from a low of 40 percent to a high of 90 percent with most countries relying on one predominant form of energy while leaving other resources untapped.
The dependence on a single source limits solutions to meeting energy demands and poses a significant risk to energy security. Furthermore, the region’s economic growth is hindered and the supply-demand gap for electricity is exacerbated, according to the ADBI.
Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, said there was mismatch between geographical locations of countries and locations of resources. “But this mismatch can be overcome.”
He said policymakers should choose projects that can give quick benefits, allowing people to see the gains of cooperation.
The realisation of the full potential of cooperation was contingent on joint management of resources, taking into account the geographical realities, especially basin-wide management of the common rivers, energy and electricity, especially hydropower.
Rahman said benefits from trade and joint investment needed harmonisation of customs procedures, taxation laws, and regulation of transportations standards and movement.
He cited that movement from Bangladesh to Bhutan and Nepal, across a small patch of India, crosses multiple borders.
Naoyuki Yoshino, dean of the ADBI, called for more investment in harnessing renewable energy potential in the region.
He gave examples of Japan where individual funds helped set up one solar system project and revive a 100-year-old hydropower project.
Governments’ loans, taxation on carbon emissions and funds from institution investors and individuals can also help countries in the region to mobilise funds for renewable energy projects, said the professor emeritus of Keio University, Tokyo.
Nasrul Hamid, state minister for power and energy, said India is developing a cross-border trade policy that will allow Bangladesh Power Development Board to have access to electricity from any Indian company in real time. “This is a major development in our cooperation with India.”
At present, Bangladesh imports 600MW of electricity from India. About 350MW is coming from the India’s public sector while the remaining from the private sector.
Nasrul said if hydropower resources in Bhutan and Nepal are utilised, it will not only benefit the two countries but also the entire region.
Abdul Mubeen, chairman of United Power, said although the region is very rich in energy resources, a significant portion of its 1.7 billion people do not have access to electricity. “This is very pathetic.”
Policymakers from eight South Asian countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — are attending the event.