India has installed smart LED (light-emitting diode) streetlights in the Maldives and Bangladesh as part of the National Democratic Alliance government’s efforts to create a new energy security architecture for neighbouring countries.

These strategic projects have been undertaken by the state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd, as part of initiatives towards this end by India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA). The projects aim to help the Maldives and Bangladesh illuminate their streets, even as they reduce the peak electricity demand of these countries, help in energy savings, and reduce carbon emissions. The South Asia-focused neighbourhood-first policy is an initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a cornerstone of his government’s foreign policy.

“We have just completed establishing streetlights in Male. Recently we did a joint investment in Maldives for around 2,500 streetlights. We are doing this with the MEA," Saurabh Kumar, managing director, EESL, said in an interview.

India has been trying to draw the strategically situated archipelago deeper into its orbit, away from the embrace of strategic rival China. Ties between India and the Maldives have altered dramatically, especially after Ibrahim Mohammed Solih was elected president of the country in September. This followed tensions between the two nations over the close ties between Maldives and China during the tenure of Solih’s predecessor, Abdullah Yameen.

India has been playing a key role in creating a new energy ecosystem with some of its neighbours to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative, which is aimed at connecting countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe. 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 subcontinent.

“We have done a bit of work under an MEA grant in Bangladesh. It was a small project involving 500 streetlights. Now we are trying to push in South East Asia—Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia," Kumar said.

This comes against the backdrop of Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to India. Ties between the two countries have shown remarkable improvement since India’s Parliament ratified the 1974 land boundary pact in 2015 and the two countries signed a fresh agreement. Bangladesh has received $8 billion in lines of credit from India in the past seven years, the largest extended to any country by India.New Delhi’s energy diplomacy initiatives also include supplying petroleum products and setting up liquefied natural gas terminals. India, which has built power projects in Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, has power grid links with these countries and Myanmar. India also plans to develop power transmission links with Sri Lanka. “Energy is the key driver of growth in this region. We must have good trade relations, cross-border transmission lines to share electricity across borders and that should help mitigate constraints to rapid growth," said Nepal’s finance minister, Yuba Raj Khatiwada, in New Delhi.

As part of a strategy to combat climate change, EESL had commissioned 10 million smart LED streetlights across India under the world’s largest streetlight replacement programme. The move helped avoid 1,119.40 megawatt (MW) of peak electricity demand. The streetlights are illuminating 270,000 km of roads, resulting in annual energy savings of 6.71 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) and helping reduce 4.63 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

utpal.b@livemint.com

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