India’s energy supply security: prospects and challenges

Authors: Sanjay Kumar Kar and Prajit Goswami

I
ndia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It had been growing at a rapid rate of 7 percent for the last 10 years. Further, it is expected to grow over 7% percent in the coming decade. To fuel projected economic growth and cater growing energy needs, India requires a lot of energy.

With an area of 1.26 million square miles with diverse landscape and difficult terrain, India comprises around 1.2 billion people and their ever increasing needs. Currently India imports 70-80% of its oil and 30-40% of its natural gas requirements. Historically India’s energy import dependency rests on Middle East.

Coal is the most important and widely available fossil fuel in India. It supplies 55 percent of the country’s primary energy needs. According to BP Statistical Review, 2016 at the end of 2015, India had 60600 million tons of coal reserves with a global share of 6.8% and R/P ratio of 89 years. Compared to other fossil resources like oil & gas, India is better placed with coal resources for future production and use.

India intends to reduce coal imports by exploiting its own reserves. Import of coal has already decreased, by around 19 percent to 16.38 million tons in the month of May 2016 as compared to around 20.29 million tons in May 2015.

India’s current renewable energy capacity, 45 GW, is just about 14.7% of total installed grid connected electricity generation capacity of 306 GW in the country. Some of the major challenges faced by renewable sector are lower capacity utilization, lack of evacuation infrastructure, and funding for large scale expansions. Coal still the cheapest source for power production with per unit tariff in the range of Rs. 2.3-4.00. However, renewable sources like wind and solar are competing well to achieve grid parity. Current wind tariff is in the range of Rs. 3.39-Rs.5.92/kWh and recently solar tariff reached as low as Rs.4.34/kWh. In the beginning Government encouraged feed-in tariff but now the market is moving towards competitive bidding tariff. Therefore, renewable tariff is moving closer to grid parity.

Despite all kind of limitations the Government targets to achieve renewable installation capacity of 175 GW by 2022. Further, multiple initiatives are being taken by the Government to promote off-grid or captive renewable energy along with decentralized renewable applications. The Government is actively pushing installation and production of renewable energy through schemes like accelerated depreciation, generation based incentives (GBI), and viability gap funding. The Government already funded Rs. 25075 million under the GBI scheme for solar and wind power production.

Decentralized renewable applications are expected improve livelihood of millions of Indians in the rural as well as urban India. Because holds will have access to energy which would be helpful for enhancing scope of economic activity, thereby improve economic productivity and revenue generation. Further, affordable energy accessible to all citizens could improve situation of primary education in the country.

As India needs to diversify its energy mix and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuel nuclear energy could play a very important role in ensuring energy security of the country. Application of nuclear for electricity generation needs to be actively pushed forward. Media reports suggest that nuclear power cost is in the range of Rs.9-12/kWh.

India’s largely indigenous nuclear power program resulted in capacity installation of 5780 MWe. With the support of Russia and many other partnering countries India is expected to achieve 14.6 GWe nuclear capacity by 2024. It is high time for India to intensify strategic measures to address its energy security challenges like: making energy accessible, affordable, and available to all its citizens.

At least, India could aim to manage energy supply security if not complete energy security. One of the important source of energy could be natural gas as a transit fuel for meeting emerging energy needs. Natural gas can gradually reduce: (i) use of diesel and petrol in the transport sector, (ii) use of coal in the power sector, (iii) use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the domestic cooking, heating, and cooling; and (iv) use of coal and liquid fossil fuel in various industries like ceramic, textile, steel, etc. Further, natural gas could be used to produce hydrogen used in the refineries and in the transport sector.

India’s domestic natural gas production remains a big concern and future addition of new gas reserves provide no better comfort. As a result India’s import dependency continue to grow and we believe that the import trend may very much continue in future too. Unless domestic unconventional sources of gas offer some surprise, import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) would continue to play a critical to bridge the demand-supply gap.

For the time being India’s over dependence on Middle-East for fossil energy is not a concern from supply point of view. However, India should expand its energy sources basket carefully and strategically to avoid any future supply constraints. Considering the current supply glut of fossil fuel, this is the right time to expand the range of sourcing destinations. In the recent past, India actively searched for alternative or complementary destinations for sourcing natural gas. In the process, emerging destinations like the US and Australia were added.

India’s domestic gas production fallen from about 51 billion cubic meter (BCM) in 2010-11 to 31 BCM in 2015-16. As a result the gap between demand and supply has been widening. As results natural import dependency has been increasing which is evident from increase in LNG import from 12.9 BCM in 2010-11 to 21.3 BCM in 2015-16.

Natural gas is certainly tipped as the transition green fuel especially in the transport in sector. It has comparatively lower carbon footprint-thus more environment friendly compared to coal and oil. The uses of gas in cooking, heating and power generation stand to benefit millions of stakeholders. Apart from the above purposes use of natural gas for mobility sector addresses many concerns including the environmental concerns faced by urban cities. So, city gas distribution is poised to offer green energy solution to many struggling cities and upcoming smart cities.

In the present scenario India imports gas only through LNG carrier. It is believed that transporting natural gas through pipelines is found be cost effective over LNG carriers. For example, in 2013 China received pipeline gas imports at an average price of US$ 9.78 per MMBtu compared to average price of LNG import price of US$ 13.8 per MMBtu. LNG is costlier because the gas has to be liquefied to reduce its volume and transported using specially designed cryogenic tanks. Also at the receiving end specialised LNG terminals have to be built to store and re-gasify. Essentially the countries which import natural gas through pipelines enjoy cost advantage over import of LNG.

India has been pushing for transnational pipelines with limited success. However looking at India’s strategic location it would be viable for India to take gas from gas rich Iran, and Turkmenistan through pipelines. India already has agreed upon much talked about Turkmenistan--Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline which starts from Turkmenistan and passes through Afghanistan & Pakistan before reaching India. TAPI pipeline with a length of 1124.68 miles passes through terror affected areas of Kandahar and Herat. Thus this makes it a very risky project to operationalize. Although NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan would ensure to protect the part of the pipeline passing through terror prone territories but future sabotage and attack may not completed ruled out. The project is due to be completed by 2019 and India would receive 1341.78 million cubic feet per day of gas. Operationalization of TAPI would certainly improve gas supply security for India.

Another transnational pipeline project namely Iran-Pakistan-India couldn’t happen due to very many reasons including sanctions on Iran, geopolitical pressure, and security concerns. In a report published in the Indian Express on 22nd April 2016 the Iranian Ambassador was stated saying that this project should be forgotten.

Discussions with Iran is on for a deep sea 868 miles pipeline via the Oman Sea and Indian Ocean. Iran-Oman-India pipeline from Iranian port of Chabahar to India’s Gujarat Coast would transport 1098.141 million standard cubic feet of gas per day. This might compensate for the almost failed IPI project and also there would be no issue of any other transit country conflict.

India has also invested for the development of the Chabahar port and also funding a rail link between Chabahar and Zahedan in Iran. The completion of the rail link would connect Chabahar to North South Transport Corridor (NSTC). These investments are moulding the bilateral ties of India and Iran. This deep sea pipeline will not only connect India to Iran’s Gas fields but Oman is also slated to join the pipeline at a later stage. This would give India a strong foothold to the Gas trade in both Iran and Oman. Also it would boost India’s stand in comparison to China’s One Belt One Road Program (OBOR).

Besides Iran, Oman and Turkmenistan, India also has a potential import source towards its north-eastern side which is Myanmar. The main advantage with Myanmar is its proximity to India and that it shares its borders with North-eastern part of India. Myanmar large untapped reserves. According to BP statistical review report 2016 Myanmar has 18.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas with an R/P ratio of 27 years. But until now the investments that India has made in Myanmar although substantial are very less in comparison to China. According to a report in Journal Of Energy Security India’s investment in Myanmar Oil and Gas sector is around US $1.6 billion while Chinese investments is around US$ 8 billion. The 1.04 US$ Sino-Myanmar gas pipeline has been functional since 2013 transporting 423.72 billion cubic feet (bcf) gas to China annually. Lack of proper funding and coordination between public and private owned firms has resulted in India loosing important bids to other countries. Therefore, impacting India’s intention to secure long term energy supply.

Further, India failed to bring to table Myanmar-Bangladesh-India transnational pipeline because of Bangladesh’s unwillingness to act as a transit country. Although an alternative to this route was by bypassing Bangladesh and building a pipeline through North-East India that could connect to pipelines of East India. This deal also never came to reality due to multiple reasons including lack of funding. And thus China took advantage of this situation and entered into the gas pipeline market of Myanmar and built a similar transnational pipeline to China’s comparatively less developed Yunnan province.

However, an agreement with Myanmar through North-eastern states may increase the pipeline costs but it would also give India long term gas sourcing from Myanmar. The problems that India faces on its north-western part because of hostile relationships with Pakistan and with issues of pipeline security in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This however is not the case with Myanmar. Therefore having a gas trade relationship with Myanmar is much secure and mutually beneficial. In-case any problem occurs in the north-western side this may act as a contingency plan. This also has another benefit; the gas pipeline from Myanmar via North-East India can be used to develop the region which otherwise due to its difficult terrain is not easy to develop. Development of North-East provides a major strategic advantage to India in dealing with China in terms of monitoring and also preparing required infrastructure to handle any unforeseen situation.

To ensure long-term energy security for its all citizens India should continue to actively pursue multi-pronged strategies. Currently, the Government is focussing on exploiting domestic fossils fuel and renewable energy resources to address ever increasing demand. Simultaneous, New Delhi’s energy diplomacy with energy resource rich countries like the US, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Australia has been unfolding. Even Prime Minister Mr. Modi’s look Africa energy policy adds new dimensions to India’s interest in securing energy equity in Africa and enhancing India’s energy security. Further, clean coal technologies are being pushed to improve supply of much greener energy.

So in order to secure India’s energy future it is necessary for India to explore and exploit domestic fossil resources but seriously acquire fossil resources outside India. To improve energy supply security emphasis should be given to energy diplomacy, international collaborations, and efficient trade partnership. Building necessary energy infrastructure like LNG terminal and pipeline should be pursued with utmost priority. India should take advantage of global supply glut to improve accessibility, affordability, and availability of energy for its citizens. Further, creating investment climate for renewable energy should be facilitated at all levels to bring renewable energy revolution at the earliest.

Decontrol of petroleum product pricing especially petrol and diesel prices takes energy pricing toward market determined pricing. Even gas pricing is more market oriented than ever before. Direct cash transfer on use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for domestic cooking purpose is a step forward to address energy accessibility and affordability. Judiciary and environment regulatory authorities are seriously pushing use of natural gas or green fuels to improve air quality in metro cities. Within a decade the Government intends to increase city gas distribution to 200 geographical areas from current level of 70 geographical areas.

India is certainly capable of addressing existing and future challenges to improve its energy security in the long-run. Moreover, green and renewable energy would play an important role to improve future energy security in the country.

Dr.Sanjay Kumar Kar

Dr. Sanjay has been publishing in numerous peer reviewed journals such as Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews. In addition, he serves as a reviewer to many prestigious journals. Also, regularly writes columns for Financial Express (India), DNA, South Asia Monitor, Iran Review, and HansIndia. His chapters have been featured in books published by publishers like Springer, Tata-McGraw-Hill, Oxford, and CRC Press etc. His co-edited book “Energy Sustainability Through Green Energy” published by Springer in 2015. Further, his forthcoming co-edited book ‘Natural Gas Markets in India: Opportunities and Challenges’ is to be published by Springer, Singapore in January 2017.

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