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India’s energy supply security: prospects and challenges

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Authors: Sanjay Kumar Kar and Prajit Goswami

India 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.

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East Mediterranean Gas Forum and Turkish expansion

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Image source: Greek Environment and Energy Ministry

The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is a unique regional organization in the eastern Mediterranean region. The establishment of the organization was announced when Turkey was seeking to expand in the Mediterranean region, as well as some eastern Mediterranean countries, such as Libya. Libya’s national security is an integral part of Egypt’s national security. In 2020, President Al-Sisi stated that: “Sirte and al-Jafra are a red line.” It is worth noting that Egypt has played an essential role in achieving a ceasefire in Libya. Egypt does not seek to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs but seeks to preserve its national security. Egypt supports the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and calls on all the disputing parties in Libya to negotiate and end the dispute in Libya in order to restore Libya’s stability and security. Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean causes concern to both Cyprus and Greece, as Turkey is drilling for gas near the Greek island of Crete, which has led to an escalation of tension between Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. That led to the international community’s intervention to support Greece against the Turkish expansion, France pledged military aid to Greece, and Germany called on all parties to calm the conflict over gas in the Mediterranean. Turkey began the exploration process in 2019, and Turkey sees that it has many natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean and seeks to exploit it. However, there is still a problem of demarcating borders between Turkey and some eastern Mediterranean countries, which made the exploration process illegal. The demarcation of the borders between Libya and Turkey has led to the intensity of the conflict between Turkey and Greece. It is possible to say that Turkey did so in response to establishing the East Mediterranean Forum.

The East Mediterranean Forum is a regional organization, which includes six countries: Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy, and Israel. Its headquarters are located in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The East Mediterranean Gas Forum organization was a forum. This forum was co-founded by Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus, Palestine, and Israel. The international community welcomed the idea of the forum. France requested to join the forum, and the United States of America attended the forum meeting as an international observer. Although Palestine is one of the founders of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2019, it didn’t sign the protocol of the organization. Palestinian News and Information Agency reported that Palestine did not participate in the signing ceremony. And as a co-founding country of the forum, it will not retreat from the membership of any international organization that affirms its national and sovereign rights. The transformation of the Gas Forum into an international organization is an important and historic step in the region. It allows the countries of the region to cooperate in the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s worth mentioning that the eastern Mediterranean region includes nine countries, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Turkey, and Israel. And now only four countries from eastern Mediterranean region joined the organization.

The forum is an economic and political organization, which its primary goal is the economic exploitation of natural gas and the interest in strengthening cooperation and developing dialogue between the states of the organization; in addition to that, the organization works to protect the wealth of its members in the eastern Mediterranean region against Turkish expansion and it also puts an end to Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the region. As we can see, the organization attempts to reshape the balance of power in the region. Although the clear objectives of the organization, there are many challenges face it, including challenges related to the organization as an institution, such as the mechanisms of the institution, decision-making, conflict resolution, and protection of the region’s gas wealth. In addition to that, border problems between some organization members and other countries, such as the problem of borders between Palestine and Israel and the dispute over the demarcation of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel.

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Pakistan’s water-and-energy crisis

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The Indus Water Treaty talks between India and Pakistan had been in limbo since India abrogated special status  (Article 370) of the occupied Kashmir and usurped  hereditary rights(Article 35-A) of its permanent citizens. Following peace on the line of control, the two countries, water commissioners of the two countries held a meeting in March 2021 (though supposed to be held in 2019) to resolve outstanding issues. The main focus was on Pakistan’s objections to design of Indian hydropower projects on the Chenab River. India is building the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul Hydro Electric Project on river Marusudar, a tributary of the Chenab. The project is located in Kishtwar district of Jammu & Kashmir. The second project, Lower Kalnai, is being developed on the Chenab River.

The meeting was delayed because of India’s pugnacious attitude (surgical strikes, cartographic aggression on Kashmir, etc.).

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing treaty between India and Pakistan, facilitated by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. The treaty allocated the waters of the western rivers that are the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab to Pakistan and those of the eastern rivers, namely the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, to India. According to provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, all the waters of the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi), amounting to around 33 million acre feet (MAF) annually, is allocated to India for unrestricted use and the waters of the Western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) amounting to around 135 MAF annually largely to Pakistan. Under the treaty, India has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers, subject to specific criteria for design and operation.

The treaty also envisaged funding and building of dams, link canals, barrages, and tube wells like the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River.

Since time immemorial, the Indus-river system has been used for irrigation in undivided India. However modern irrigation- engineering work was initiated dating 1850s during the British rule. The treaty was necessitated by partition of India into the dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The fruition of the treaty is attributed to David Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

After six years of talks, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in September 1960. The Indus-water treaty required the creation of a Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner from each country, to resolve e any difference of opinion on architecture, design, and other aspects of the dams that the two countries may build on the allocated rivers. Aside from bellicose statements to scrap the treaty, the Indus treaty remained intact though the two countries fought many wars.

In 2017, India completed the building of the Kishanganga dam in occupied Kashmir and continued work on the Ratle hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River despite Pakistan’s objections.

In post-Ayub era, Pakistan was not able to make progress on making new dams particularly the Kalabagh Dam. The construction of the dam was delayed owing to frivolous objections raised by the three provinces that are Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Instead of trying to evolve consensus on the vital water projects, Pakistan’s politicians remained engrossed in pettifoggery or machinations to pull down whichever government happened to be in power. 

Necessity of the Kalabagh Dam

This project was approved by the Technical Committee on Water Resources during 2003-2005. However, the feasibility report has not been implemented for over 15 years.  Now three of the four provinces (excluding the Punjab) are at daggers drawn over it. The fact however remains that the inter-provincial committee was composed of eight technical experts, two from each province.

The Committee also looked into all aspects including the effect of dilution of seawater with fresh water, seawater intrusion into the groundwater, riverine irrigation, and forests fisheries (Pala fish, shrimp, kharif and rabi cultivation), besides growth of Mangrove forests. The project had already been  approved by the World Bank Indus Special Study Group in its report titled Development of Water and Power Resources of Pakistan: A Sectoral Analysis (1967). The estimated cost, then, was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982.

After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units, the KBD hydel electricity was Rs1.5 as compared to Rs16.5 per unit from thermal sources.

The dam was to serve as a receptacle to store monsoon flows of the upper reaches of the mighty Indus.

Our power shortage then was 4000-5000 MW. The estimated cost of constructing the dam was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982. After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units the hydel electricity was Rs.1.5 as compared to Rs. 16.5 per unit from thermal sources. We are losing Rs. 180 billion per year due to ten time costlier production (12billion xRs.15 billion). Add to it loss of US$ 6.12 billion per annum from due to the superfluous flow of 30 million Acre Feet at of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea (one MAF valued at US$1-1.5 billion).

Our water resources reserves have not risen pari passu with growth in population, 32.4 million in 1948 to 154.6 million in 2005, and 207.8 million in 2017. In  kharif season, rivers flow at 84 percent while only 40 percent during the rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77million acres per feet (MAF) that is about only eight percent of the annual flow.

Factors of water crisis

Three provincial assemblies resolved against building the KBD. A politician alleged the dam would convert Sind into a desert. Apprehensions against the dam could be allayed by reviewing Water Apportionment Accord (as directed by Lahore High Court also vide its Order dated November 29, 2012, case no. WP 8777). No justification to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Losses due to delay

The losses due to the delays in the project have soared up to Rs180 billion a year due to its 10-time costlier construction (1990 estimate).  Added to it is the loss of $6.12 billion per annum due to superfluous flow of 30 million acre feet of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea. In mangrove season, rivers flow at 84 per cent while only at 40 per cent during Rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77MAF that is only about eight per cent of the annual flow.

Legislative assemblies of three of our provinces, barring the Punjab province, have been bitterly opposing construction of the Kala Bagh Dam. Are they justified? To answer the question we have to look into various aspects of the construction of the dam, particularly feasibility and repercussions of constructing the dam. After enactment of the Eighteenth amendment, building of dams is now a provincial subject. The fact however remains that water security is more a national subject than a provincial one.

Debate about pros and cons

 The construction of Kalabagh dam is predicted to supply over 4 million acre-feet additional water to Sindh. While explaining benefits of Kalabagh Dam, WAPDA engineer Shamsul Mulk stated that China would be generating around 30,000 megawatts of electricity from dams. “Even India has more than 4,000 dams,” he said. “We lose billions due to the non-construction of dams.”

Concluding remarks

The opposition to the Kalabagh Dam is whimsical rooted in political rhetoric. According to the United Nations’ forecast, water scarcity would be Pakistan’s greatest problem in current century.

The country has been in the grip of a severe energy crisis for several years. No one even talks about Kalabagh Dam. Towards the end of the 1980s, Pakistan met 70 percent of its energy needs from hydel (hydroelectric) power and 30 percent from thermal energy. By 2012-13, Pakistan became dependent on thermal energy generated from costly furnace oil and diesel by up to 44 percent, with the remaining 56 percent being generated from other, mainly thermal, sources. This change had a cascading effect on prices and the consumers’ bills skyrocketed.

Hydel energy remains largely neglected, despite its low production cost. Many public sector electricity generation plants have outlived their utility. Without cheaper electricity, circular debt will continue to mount. Circular debt, accumulated in the power sector, is a handy excuse for the energy crisis. This debt piles up when downstream customers fail to pay their bills to upstream suppliers (or producers) in time. Who are the defaulters? They include not only ordinary citizens, but also the provinces, the public sector, influential corporations and powerful individuals (including political tycoons). To continue supplying power, the thermal producer has to borrow (and later pay interest charges and repay the contracted loan) and find alternative financial sources, unless the government makes the bounteous payment. The solution is simple: power distribution companies should promptly pay their dues to the generation companies.

However, circular debt is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other factors blighting the energy scenario. The government needs to evolve a policy in which the power sector is prioritized.

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Rosatom Empowering Africa

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After the first Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi, authorities have been moving to build on this new chapter of Russia‘s relations with African countries. As set in the joint declaration, the two sides have outlined comprehensive goals and tasks for the further development of Russia-Africa cooperation in significant areas including science and technology.

Business interest in Africa is steadily increasing and Russian companies, among them Rosatom, are ready to work with African partners. It is largely acknowledged that energy (construction and repair of power generation facilities as well as in peaceful nuclear energy and the use of renewable energy sources) is an important area of the economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.

Ryan Collyer is the Regional Vice-President of Rosatom for Sub-Saharan Africa, and his key responsibilities include overseeing, implementing and managing all Russian nuclear projects in Sub-Sahara African region. In this insightful and wide-ranging interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah early April 2021, Ryan Collyer discusses efforts toward providing nuclear power, training of nuclear specialists, the main challenges and the future plans for Africa.

Here are the interview excerpts:

Even before the first Russia-Africa summit held in October 2019, several African countries have shown a keen interest in building nuclear power plants. What is the current situation (overview) moving from mere interest to realizing concrete results in Africa?

It is important to note that nuclear is not new to Africa and Africa is not new to nuclear. South Africa has successfully operated Safari 1 research reactor for over 55 years and Koeberg nuclear power plant for over three decades. At one point, South Africa was the second-largest exporter of the life-saving medical isotope, Molybdenum 99, in the world. There are also currently research reactors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Another source is the cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Thanks to that, many countries like Benin, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and others benefit from modern nuclear technologies applications in healthcare and agriculture. In Zambia, a cancer disease hospital received much-needed support, and now over 20,000 patients have been diagnosed and treated at the hospital. Benin’s soybean farmers could triple their income using the benefits of nuclear irradiation. In Tanzania, its island of Zanzibar became tsetse-free thanks to the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).

Many other African countries are already working on joining the atomic club in one form or another, whether it be the construction of a Nuclear Power Plant or a research reactor or the development of nuclear infrastructure or the training of professional personnel. In this undertaking, Russia is a trusted partner for many. We have signed intergovernmental agreements in the peaceful use of atomic energy with Algeria (2014), Ghana (2015), Egypt (2015), Ethiopia (2019), Republic of Congo (2019), Nigeria (2012, 2016), Rwanda (2018), South Africa (2004), Sudan (2017), Tunisia (2016), Uganda (2019) and Zambia (2016). Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) were signed with Kenya in 2016 and Morocco in 2017. 

How would you estimate the potential nuclear energy requirements in Africa? How is that compared to other alternative power sources such as solar and hydro-power?

Today, 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (one-out-of-two people) do not have access to electricity. Any significant change is not forthcoming, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Estimations show that 530 million people (one-out-of-three people) will remain without electricity in 2030. As GDP growth and urbanization in Africa escalate, the power demand will increase exponentially. Today the electricity demand in Africa is 700 terawatt-hours (TWh), with the North African economies and South Africa accounting for over 70% of the total.

According to the IEA estimate scenarios, by 2040, the electricity demand will more than double in the Stated Policies Scenario to over 1600 TWh. It may reach 2300 TWh in the Africa Case Scenario. It is undeniable that Africa needs vast amounts of sustainable energy to transform societies, grow economies, and reduce the global carbon footprint.

No single source of electricity can provide these amounts and considerably lower greenhouse emissions. A healthy mix of several intermittent and base load options can satisfy these criteria and allow for the economy and society’s prosperity. The top-5 performers in the Energy Trilemma Index by World Energy Council have a combination of both nuclear and renewable resources to balance all three dimensions: equity, security, and environmental sustainability, thus enabling their prosperity and competitiveness. For example, Switzerland has over 30% nuclear, Sweden roughly 40% nuclear, Finland – 18%, and France – over 70% nuclear.

Apart from energy poverty, nuclear can solve other continent problems, from low industrialization to advances in science, healthcare, and agriculture, thus propelling the continent towards the African Union’s Agenda 2063 Master plan, which envisions Africa’s transformation into the global powerhouse of the future. So, we are advocating a diverse energy mix that utilizes all available resources, including renewables and nuclear, to ensure climate resilience and environmental safety, social equity, and supply security.

Can you discuss concretely about the planned nuclear projects in South Africa, Zambia and Egypt? Say why these have still not taken off as planned, the necessary agreements have been signed though?

Our plans for projects in Egypt and Zambia are proceeding at the pace acceptable for both parties. In Egypt, we plan to commission four power units with VVER-1200 type reactors with a capacity of 1200 MW each by 2028. We will also supply nuclear fuel throughout the entire NPP life cycle (60 years), provide training services, and carry out maintenance and repairs within ten years after each unit’s start. With our initial agreement signed in 2015, and necessary infrastructure still being put in place, the El Dabaa project is firmly underway. 

Our project in Zambia, Center for Nuclear Science and Technology, is implemented in several stages, starting with a Multipurpose Irradiation Center. Once the Center is built, a training complex within it will contribute to building capacity in nuclear technology by providing opportunities for training students of different degrees from Bachelor to PhD and carrying out advanced experiments and research that provides a new level of practical competencies. With Zambia being new to nuclear, the installation of infrastructure is the key priority at the moment. 

As for South Africa, we maintain a cordial working relationship with crucial nuclear industry bodies and are monitoring their ambitions to add 2500MW of new nuclear to the grid very closely, but we are not currently engaged in any active nuclear projects. The initial 9600MW nuclear new build program in South Africa was halted in 2017 as a result of internal procedural issues of the country. It is important to note that the 9600MW program did not make it past the Request for Information (RFI) stage, and Rosatom was only one of many vendors interested to bid for the project.  The program was then downsized to 2500MW and restarted in 2020 as the country grapples with power shortages due to an aging coal-fired fleet. 

To what extent, the use of nuclear power safe and secured for Africa? What technical precautions (measures) can you suggest for ensuring nuclear security?

A nuclear power program is a complex undertaking that requires meticulous planning, preparation, and investment in time, institutions, and human resources. The development of such a program does not happen overnight and can take several years to implement. All countries, which embark on the path towards the peaceful use of nuclear technologies, do so by adopting the IAEA Milestone Approach framework. This approach provides newcomer countries with well-structured guidance and a clear to-do list, which gives them a clear understanding of how to safely and effectively implement and manage their civil nuclear program. This approach includes necessary policy and legal framework, human capital development, installation of management and regulatory bodies, implementation of safeguards, and educating the public. 

Since many of our partners are relatively new to the technology, we are able to provide full support to them on their path towards achieving their national nuclear energy programs, this at all of its stages of the project and in full accordance with IAEA regulations. 

Do you also envisage transferring technology by training local specialists and how does this currently look like, how many specialists per year undergoing training in Russia?

The ultimate goal in our projects is to help our partners gain independence in terms of human capital. Still, it will need at least a decade of education and training of many young people and professionals. 

As part of our commitment, we assist our partner countries with training local personnel via a government-sponsored bursary program by the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Since 2010, hundreds of students from Algeria, Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa have been receiving nuclear and related education at leading Russian educational institutions. Currently, over 1500 students from Sub-Saharan Africa study in Russia under bachelor, master and post-doc programs, 256 students are on nuclear and related programs. 

Another aspect is short-term training for professionals – managers and specialists in nuclear. The topics of training range from nuclear energy, technology management and technical regulations to safety features of Russian designs in nuclear. 

In your view, why many African countries opting for renewable energy? Is it nuclear power affordable for Africa? With this trend, what is Rosatom’s plan for future cooperation with African countries?

Currently, renewables show the fastest-growing curve in meeting this demand with the solar potential of 10 TW, the hydro of 350 GW, the wind of 110 GW, and the geothermal energy sources of 15 GW. Many are easy to install and demand little in terms of investment. 

However, the critical question regarding these sources is reliability. US Energy Department estimates show that nuclear power plants produce maximum power over 93% of the time during the year. That’s about 1.5 to 2 times more than natural gas and coal units and 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar plants. To replace a nuclear power plant, one would need two coal or three to four renewable plants of the same size to generate the same amount of electricity onto the grid.

Another critical question is the cost. Most of the funds are needed to during the construction period. Building a large-scale nuclear reactor takes thousands of workers, massive amounts of steel and concrete, thousands of components, and several systems to provide electricity, cooling, ventilation, information, control and communication. However, apart from a reliable source of electricity throughout several decades (from 40 to 60 years minimum), the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the construction of new NPPs is competitive compared to other green energy sources like wind and solar. It is also worth noting such an economic advantage of nuclear power as the electricity cost’s stability and predictability.

Our experience shows substantial dividends for any country that joins the international nuclear community. We are talking about thousands of new jobs, quantum leaps in R&D, and the creation of entirely new sectors of the economy. According to our estimates, US$1 invested in nuclear power plants under the Rosatom project brings in US$ 1.9 to local suppliers, US$4.3 for the country’s GDP, and US$1.4 to the Treasury as tax revenues. 

We have recently calculated even more specific data based on El Dabaa nuclear power station. During the construction period, the NPP project will increase the country’s GDP by over US$4 billion or 1%, bring around US$570 million as tax revenue, and employ over 70% of local personnel. Apart from the NPP itself, Egypt will have a new seaport, several roads, and schools constructed. After the start of operations, over 19% of the population or 20 million people will have access to electricity, and the NPP will prevent over 14 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

In general, I would like to say that while the capital cost for nuclear energy may be higher, the reliable energy that it produces over its lifespan is very affordable. Beyond this, the inclusion of nuclear energy into the energy mix itself gives a powerful qualitative impetus for the economy, the establishment of high-technology-based industries and, as a result, the growth of export potential and quality of life.

Reference: Rosatom offers integrated clean energy solutions across the nuclear supply chain and beyond. With 70 years’ experience, the company is the world leader in high-performance solutions for all kinds of nuclear power plants. It also works in the segments of wind generation, nuclear medicine, energy storage and others. Products and services of the nuclear industry enterprises are supplied to over 50 countries around the world.

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