Reaping what we sowed

On July 30, the lights went out all over North India, but that statement hides as much as it reveals. For many people in India, power supply (let alone uninterrupted power supply) is a distant dream. Many others prepare for outages in private, investing in diesel generators, inverters and more.

It is much harder, however, to build contingencies for something like the Delhi Metro. With Delhi crying out for power,

A Delhi Metro official said they received hydel power from Bhutan on a priority basis, and added that Delhi Metro was amongst the emergency services, including the Prime Minister’s residence and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), that were provided power. [When the lights went out

Apart from re-allocating power from the eastern and western grids, power bought from Bhutan helped India’s ailing infrastructure in a time of great need.

Much as we need to thank Bhutan for this, Indian foreign policy efforts over the last decade have played a crucial role in enabling this to happen. India has helped Bhutan set up three hydroelectric projects that are currently operational: a 1020 MW project at Tala, a 336 MW project at Chukha and a 60 MW project at Kurichhu, adding up to a total of 1,416 MW. July 30 was a day when India’s foreign aid efforts abroad overtly showed its benefits.

Bhutan is one of India’s close strategic and economic partners, and has been the single largest recipient of foreign aid going out India in the last decade. Apart from funding (and helping construct) hydroelectric power projects, India has also helped Bhutan in setting up cement industries, electricity transmission and distribution networks, highways and more. Below is a graph of annual estimates of development assistance provided to Bhutan by India, at constant and current prices. In 2008, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited the country, a year after India and Bhutan’s ‘Treaty of Friendship’ was renegotiated and signed. Aid efforts appear to have been stepped up since then.

India’s energy needs are increasing rapidly, but domestic ability to match that need has been insufficient. While India has found it difficult to set up hydroelectric power projects in Arunachal Pradesh, in Bhutan it finds a willing partner. Together, they are targeting 10,000 MW of power generation by 2020, with Indian plans of buying about half of it, or 5,000 MW of power for domestic consumption.

The 5,000 MW will constitute a small but essential step towards India’s goal of energy sufficiency.

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3 Responses to Reaping what we sowed

  1. Muthusubs August 14, 2012 at 3:52 PM #

    Firstly, India needs to plug the Transmission & Distribution before it goes all guns at increasing capacity. I read a report which said that the T&D losses in India are amongst the worst in the world coming close to 30% and in some places as bad as 50% whereas the leaders Germany and Japan have losses close to 4%. Unless the aging infrastructure is improved, electricity for all will continue to remain a distant dream.

    • Pavan Srinath August 14, 2012 at 7:28 PM #

      @Muthusubs I agree that T&D is a problem, but I would rank that second to rapid and solid increase to power generation. I base this on two questions that I tried to answer for myself:

      1) What fraction of the T&D losses is theft? I think theft is a significant number… maybe as much as half of it, perhaps more in some places. While it’s terrible for the power supply company, stolen electricity is still meeting some real demand. So the true “loss” that is not a productive part of the economy is actually a lot lesser – though very significant.

      2) Supposing we fixed our T&D leaks. That would take us to what – ~1.4 times our current power production capacity? Is that sufficient for India? For our per-capita needs, for robust growth?

      T&D losses would get resolved if transmission companies are run professionally – losses have come down tremendously at BESCOM, for example.

      In all, I would strongly pursue the minimisation of T&D losses – but only so long as it doesn’t distract from the primary drive to increase power supply and production.

  2. Arjun Pradhan August 14, 2012 at 5:32 PM #

    It shows the achievement of the current government (7-8 yrs old) to depend on small country like Bhutan to supply power to PM’s residence! The famous slogan “elephant (India) has become a mouse” is being proven yet again.