25th November 2020,
COVID-19 has come to be known as one of the worst known health, social, and economic crises in modern times. Some of the world’s largest lockdowns in recorded history, including nationwide lockdowns in South Asia, resulted in halting commercial and industrial activities. This in turn led to contraction in power demand and economic growth. As per the SARI/EI paper ‘Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on South Asian Power Sector’, the Covid-induced lockdown led to the peak power demand declining by 18.38% in Nepal, 28.6% in Bhutan, 12% in Bangladesh, and ~26% in India. The lockdown also resulted in the number of subsidizing consumers (industries and commercial units) being outnumbered by subsidized consumers (agriculture and households).
The economic contraction and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has posed several challenges to the power distribution companies (discoms). Contracted power demand due to closure or mothballing of industrial and commercial operations, challenges in manual meter reading and billing leading to erratic billing, and irregular and/or non-payment by customers affected the cash-flow and liquidity. This has led to large accumulated dues to be paid to generators, creating an uncertain atmosphere for the sector.
This new-normal scenario necessitates innovative thinking and new strategies by power discoms, particularly in the rapidly growing South Asia region. The challenges posed by Covid-19 present an opportunity to couple economic recovery with regional power resilience, energy cooperation and accelerate the region’s transition towards clean energy.
The webinar is a part of the South Asia Knowledge Series organized under USAID’s Asia Enhancing Growth and Development through Energy (EDGE) initiative in South Asia. Jointly conducted by USAID’s South Asia Regional Energy Hub (SAREH) and South Asia Regional Initiative on Energy Integration (SARI/EI), the webinar brought together the senior leadership of power distributions companies from across South Asia on a virtual platform. The delegates shared their experiences and challenges faced due to COVID-19, the mitigation strategies adopted for risk aversion, and the way forward to build crisis-preparedness. The leaders were unanimous in their conviction that adopting innovative strategies, such as digitalizing collections and installing smart meters, will make the region’s power distribution sector more resilient to any such future contingencies.
The webinar also showcased USAID’s ‘South Asia- Distribution Utility Network (DUN)’ – an informal platform to enable sharing of knowledge, learnings and practices among South Asian power distribution companies.