By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is exploring selling "cheap power" to its South Asian neighbours and Myanmar on a long-term basis and wants state utility NTPC to expand overseas, its power minister said on Tuesday.
Indian companies such as Reliance Power Ltd and Adani Power Ltd have already signed agreements to supply power to Bangladesh, where New Delhi is fighting for influence with China. India also sells some electricity to Nepal and Myanmar, but power minister R.K. Singh said it could sell more.
"Neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh are viable markets ... where the per-unit cost of electricity is very high," Singh said in a statement released by the power ministry.
"There is huge opportunity to export cheap power to neighbouring countries which will be beneficial for the entire region," he said.
The ministry would look at sending teams to those countries to assess demand for power imports, he said.
Singh urged India's top utility NTPC to set up power plants in other countries and "become the world’s largest power producer", but did not say where it should expand.
India became a net exporter of electricity in 2016, although it also imports from neighbouring Bhutan.
Singh, however, said its power surplus would start to decline once all households are connected. Currently around 300 million of India's 1.3 billion people are without electricity.
"If you look at the entire power sector, the demand has been suppressed because not everyone is connected," Singh said. "We have just started taking off and are going to enter double digit growth. What we see as excess capacity today may not turn out to be enough if we unlock that demand."
Many Indian power companies have struggled to repay loans in the past three years after expanding aggressively at the beginning of this decade, as a combination of tepid demand and uneven coal supplies hit their operations.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Susan Fenton)