… despite India’s quest to generate surplus power 

Hydropower: India’s drive to augment its power generation capacity by three-folds to 800 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 and emerge as a power surplus country will not distress Bhutan’s energy market in India, the Indian power secretary has assured.

Going by Indian media reports, India is on track to add 100GW of solar power by 2022 and 8GW of wind power to its grid annually.

The secretary for the Ministry of Power, Pradeep Kumar Pujari, who is in the country to take stock of the progress on hydropower projects, said there is a huge latent demand for power in India.

Latent demand is the desire or preference, which a consumer is unable to satisfy due to lack of information about the product’s availability. In other words, it is a phenomenon by which supply increases after consumption. India has not spelt out its latent demand for power as yet.

Pradeep Kumar Pujari said the government of India has announced that it will provide electricity to every village and household by 2021. He said the per capita electricity consumption in India is 1,100 units, way below the global average, because the latent demand for those who have no access to electricity is not reflected.

“Once you provide access to those consumers who don’t have electricity today, this surplus capacity that is apparently visible today will get corrected,” he said, meaning that there will still be power shortage in India.

“This is a transitory sort of phase where capacity has come and we have large number of households without electricity,” he said. “Because of global economy slightly at recession today, in short term this capacity has been created.”

Moreover, the power enhancement that India is talking about is from renewable energy. “The more renewable energy capacity you create and integrate into the system, the more need for hydropower,” he said.

This is because energy sources like wind and solar are non-conventional, it depends on sunlight and wind direction, for instance. Thermal power plants, which are predominant in India, require about 24 hours to commission after every load shedding.

Thus to balance the grid, the secretary said that hydropower is very much in demand for India to take care of power fluctuations.

“There will always be demand for hydropower in the Indian grid even if there is enough power from renewable energy in the system,” Pradeep Kumar Pujari said. The excess power worked out in India is based on the demand from transitional phase.

Power trading

The SAARC framework for inter-regional grid connectivity is in favour of Bhutan, when the country has the potential to generate as much as 30,000MW of hydropower. Of late, Bangladesh has been keen on importing power from Bhutan.

Should this materialise, the grids for transmission have to pass through Indian territory. “It is in our interest too,” said the Indian power secretary.

But infrastructures need to be put in place. Besides, he said there are technical issues involved in the transmission system running between one country to another. The issues as to how the grid would be managed, the power secretary said, is a relatively new issue surfacing that needs to be addressed at the earliest.

“Talks are already in progress and technical experts from Bhutan, Bangladesh and India, have to sit together and discuss,” he said. “We never worked in such an environment, it was always bilateral until now but other parts of the world have done it and we will learn from their experience.”

Another area of such tri-lateral cooperation is the Kuri-I or the Rothpashong hydropower project in Bhutan.

The secretary said prima facie of the project is still under discussion. “Preliminary talks and exchange of papers have taken place and per se India is in favour,” he said. “But it is for individual countries to see how much they want to protect their own interest over common interest.”

It is a new area of business and may take some time, he said.

Sunkosh and Kuri-goongri

While Bhutan has halved its hydropower dream of 10,000MW by 2020, India is of the view that the dream is still on track.

A marginal shortfall is expected, he said because hydropower projects take time. “But implementation are pipelined and we are on track.”

After the commissioning of Punatsangchhu-I, II and Mangdechhu in the next two years, the country’s generation capacity would be enhanced by 2,940MW.

Another four JV projects of Chamkharchhu, Bunakha, Wangchhu and Kholongchhu have been approved, which again is likely to enhance the country’s generating capacity by more than 1,900MW. These projects are in the implementation stage.

“We have enough of work on hand (seven projects) and we should make sure that these projects get implemented in a way that both the countries desire,” he said. Simultaneously, he said around 2,500MW each of Sunkosh and Kuri-goongri is being looked at for the time being.

Pradeep Kumar Pujari said the three inter-governmental (IG) projects are on verge of completion with 70 to 80 percent of works completed and four JVs are coming up. “By the time these JVs start functioning we have DPRs for Kuri-goongri and Sunkosh ready to implement,” he said.

Because in-house capacity in Bhutan has developed after implementing several projects on IG modality, he said the JV projects would further lift the expertise.

Nevertheless, the secretary is satisfied with the progress of project implementation, despite the contingencies of geological surprises and cost escalations. “Geological surprises are expected but the issue is how quickly you address and learn from these situations,” the secretary said.

Tshering Dorji