Renewable Energy Cooperation among Mekong Ganga Countries

The international community has earnestly begun to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and coal to contain global temperature rise to 2˚C or below. Natural gas, a ‘greener fuel’, is the preferred hydrocarbon but it would run out in the long term. Nuclear energy is an attractive option but entails technological and financial constrains; besides recent disasters such as the one in Fukushima in Japan loom large in the minds of energy planners. Although, hydropower continues to be very popular, its adversarial impacts due to excessive damming of rivers are of concern.

In the above context, non-hydro renewable sources such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal are in the forefront of the future energy landscape. These are the fastest growing sources of energy and by some estimates could contribute “half of the growth in global energy supplies and becoming the largest source of power by 2040.’

Among these, the growth in solar power development is noteworthy. It is finding reference and relevance among the governments, policy makers, industry, environmentalists, and people at large. A number of countries have taken bold initiatives to develop and use solar power to meet their Climate Change commitments as also SDG 2030 Goals. Significantly, some countries have announced plans to go ‘carbon neutral’ in the coming years through the use of electric transport, energy-efficient buildings, and smart grids to enable ‘intelligent, flexible and optimized energy system’.

The Mekong sub-region countries are at early stages of development of non-hydro renewable energy resources; but are constrained by lack of in-house technology and finance. The Cambodian government has a vision to provide access to electricity to all villages by 2020 and 70% of households with access to grid-quality electricity by 2030. Similarly, Lao PDR government has set the target for 2025 by which time it wants 30% of the country’s energy needs to be sourced from renewable. Thailand generates nearly 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Its non-hydro renewable target is expected to grow from 20 % to 30 % by 2036 and the solar energy component is expected to grow to 6,000 MW by 2036.

Unlike these, Myanmar renewable energy focus is on hydropower and there is limited investment in solar due to topographical constraints as also limited grid system. Vietnam has set renewable energy targets for 6.5% of the electricity production by 2020, 6.9% by 2025, and 10.7% by 2030.

The Mekong sub-region countries (Cambodia, Loa PDR, Myanmar Thailand and Vietnam) lie at the heart of India’s Act East Policy. India’s engagement with these countries is at three different levels i.e. bilateral; through the ASEAN; and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC). Under the MGC, five Working Groups on Tourism, Education, Culture, Communication & Transportation, and Plan of Actions have been setup. The Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) Fund is another powerful initiative to provide development assistance to the MGC countries.

India is one of the future solar energy giants and the Indian government’s spending on solar photo-voltaic is expected to grow. For the last three consecutive years, total renewable power investments exceeded those in fossil fuel-based power. India can potentially support MGC member states in solar power technology.

During the 9th MGC Ministerial Meeting in August 2018, the Ministers expressed support for ‘cooperation projects to develop sustainable and resilient infrastructure for sustainable and inclusive growth in MGC countries.’ Further, it was agreed to explore ways to ‘transform the MGC Policy Dialogue into a think-tank to carry out research and provide policy recommendations on specific subjects.

In the context of the latter, it will be useful to explore an agenda for cooperation among the MGC members in the domain of non-hydro renewable energy. Currently there is no Working Group set up for energy cooperation among the MGC and Thailand which is a pioneer in renewable energy in the Mekong region would be a natural choice. The Thailand based Mekong Institute focuses on capacity building programs and development projects in the Mekong region. Its current focus is on developing ‘Green Energy’ for industry, transportation sector, and domestic use. It is a good candidate to support the MGC Working Group on energy cooperation.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is associated with Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.

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