India looks to provide overhead power connection to Sri Lanka

  • Delhi plans to create new energy ecosystem for the neighbourhood against China’s Belt & Road initiative
  • Change in strategy comes as undersea power link turned out to be prohibiti-vely expensive

Utpal Bhaskar
Updated29 Oct 2019
India has an installed power generation capacity of 360.45 GW, with the national grid capable of transferring 99,000 MW of electricity from any corner of the country.
India has an installed power generation capacity of 360.45 GW, with the national grid capable of transferring 99,000 MW of electricity from any corner of the country.(Priyanka Parashar/Mint)

The Union government is exploring the option of an overhead electricity link with Sri Lanka as part of India’s strategy to create a new-energy ecosystem for the neighbourhood against the backdrop of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

The overhead line is being considered after the earlier proposal to set up an undersea power transmission link to supply power to the island nation turned out to be prohibitively expensive.

The earlier plan involved state-run Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd setting up a link for 1,000MW between India and Sri Lanka, of which 30km would be under the sea. The transmission link was to run from Madurai in Tamil Nadu to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka’s north-central province.

“We have to connect Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka needs power. The undersea link will be expensive. They are talking about an overhead transmission link,” said a senior official of the Union government, requesting anonymity.

Cross-border energy trade is a key part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s South Asia-focused neighbourhood-first policy. The electricity link is part of India’s strategy to negate the growing influence of strategic rival China in the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. In recent years, China has tried to co-opt Sri Lanka into its ambitious One Belt One Road initiative, a programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids, across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Mint reported in November 2009 about the Sri Lankan government questioning the long-term feasibility of the project, which is meant to enhance economic and political ties between the neighbours. The earlier proposal also faced opposition from the Tamil Nadu government.

State-run Ceylon Electricity Board has an installed power generation capacity of 35.8 gigawatts (GW). India has an installed power generation capacity of 360.45 GW, with the national grid capable of transferring 99,000 MW of electricity from any corner of the country.

Experts have welcomed the move of exploring the possibility of establishing an overhead electricity link with Sri Lanka.

“Over the last few years, India has become a well-coordinated and cohesive national market, which has helped tide over the disparity in demand and supply among states and regions in the country. The benefit of this transition that we have witnessed in our nation can be offered to our neighbours as well with the integration of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” said Prabhajit Sarkar, managing director and chief executive officer, Power Exchange India Ltd.

India has been supplying power to Bangladesh and Nepal, and has also been championing a global electricity grid that may initially aim to link countries, such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, with the sub-continent.

India’s energy diplomacy initiatives range from cross-border electricity trade to supplying petroleum products and setting up liquefied natural gas terminals.

“Participation in a common power market will lead to better utilization of generation assets, wider benefit of efficient price discovery, and reduced counter-party search and transaction efforts for all participants. The cross-border trading regulation has already been notified and, within the next few months, it is expected that a vibrant market will take shape, allowing our neighbours to also benefit from the highly liquid and extremely efficient power exchange developed in India,” Sarkar added.T

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