On 5 July, earlier this month, attention was drawn to the fact that the present government consistent with its commitment to turn Bangladesh into a middle income country by 2021 had initiated steps through which Bangladesh will be generating 24,000 MW of energy by that year. It is also being expected that we will be able to reach 40,000 MW by 2041.
In this context it was outlined that the present power generation capacity within the country has risen to 18,353 MW. In addition, 54 new power plants with a total generation capacity of 14,147 MW are under construction. Among these, 36 power plants with 7,104 MW powergeneration capacities are under IPP and 18 power plants with 7,313 MW capacities are being completed by the public sector.
These details have been followed with another media report on 12 July that Bangladesh has signed two separate agreements involving US $ 7.4 billion to generate 6,000 MW of electricity largely from liquefied natural gas (LNG).One deal involves the local Summit Group, Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation and the US General Electric Company and the other Bangladesh Power Development Board and GE Switzerland. The projects will include two units of on-shore LNG terminal with a total capacity of 380,000 cubic metres and an oil terminal with a 100,000 tonne capacity- all to be located in Matarbari, Cox’s Bazar.
These are definitely welcome developments.
It has also been outlined by our Energy Ministry that we are giving utmost importance in shaping the future of Bangladesh by increasing the share of renewable energy in the total power mix to 10% by 2021. In this context energy-efficient appliance usage is also being promoted.
As someone who has been involved in promoting renewable energy since the 1992 UNCED meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, It is important that readers understand the importance of renewable energy not only in the context of climate change but also in the availability of affordable energy within the paradigm of overall socio-economic growth.
According to the International Energy Agency renewable energy flows involve natural phenomena such as sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth and geothermal heat. Renewable energy is derived from natural processes that are replenished constantly. Included in the definition is electricity and heat generated from solar, wind, ocean, hydropower, biomass, geothermal resources, and biofuels and hydrogen derived from renewable resources.
Renewable energy resources and significant opportunities for energy efficiency exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to other energy sources, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. It is also generally agreed that rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and technological diversification of energy sources, would result in significant energy securityand economic benefits. It would also reduce environmental pollution such as air pollution caused by burning of fossil fuels and improve public health, reduce premature mortalities due to pollution and save associated health costs that amount to several hundred billion dollars annually all over the world. It is believed by scientists that renewable energy sources, that derive their energy from the sun, either directly or indirectly, such as hydro and wind, are expected to be capable of supplying humanity energy for almost another 1 billion years, at which point the predicted increase in heat from the Sun is expected to make the surface of the earth too hot for liquid water to exist.
It may be noted here that worldwide investments in renewable technologies amounted to more than US$286 billion in 2015, with countries like China and the United States heavily investing in wind, hydro, solar and biofuels. Globally, there are an estimated 7.7 million jobs associated with the renewable energy industries, with solar photovoltaics being the largest renewable employer. As of 2015 worldwide, more than half of all new electricity capacity installed was renewable.
The significance of generating and using renewable energy can be best understood by monitoring what is happening in Scandanavia. Two countries, Iceland and Norway already generate all their electricity needs by using renewable energy. Many other countries have also set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy usage in the future. The government of Denmark for example has decided to switch the total energy supply (electricity, mobility and heating/cooling) to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
By 2040, renewable energy is projected to equal coal and natural gas electricity generation. Several jurisdictions, including Denmark, Germany, the state of South Australia and some US States have already achieved high integration of variable renewables. For example, in 2015 wind power met 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 23.2% in Portugal and 15.5% in Uruguay. Interconnectors have also enabled countries to balance electricity systems by allowing the import and export of renewable energy. Innovative hybrid systems have emerged between countries and regions.
While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also particularly suited for rural and remote areas in developing countries like Bangladesh where energy is crucial for human development. This dynamics was recognized by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who observed that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity. This is so because most of renewables provide electricityand renewable energy can be deployed and applied in conjunction with further efforts being undertaken towards electrification. This creates several benefits: electricity can be converted to heat, can be converted into mechanical energy with high efficiency and also that it is clean at the point of consumption. In addition to that electrification with renewable energy is much more efficient and therefore leads to a significant reduction in primary energy requirements; because most renewables don’t have a steam cycle with high losses. Interestingly, fossil power plants usually have losses of 40 to 65%.
Any discussion on renewable energy also requires reference to Bio-energy.
Biomass, it needs to be understood is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. It most often refers to plants or plant-derived materials which are specifically called lignocellulosic biomass. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly via combustion to produce heat, or indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel. Biomass can also be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodisel. Rotting garbage, and agricultural and human waste, all release methane gas. This is identified as- landfill gas or biogas. Crops, such as corn and sugarcane, can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats. Agricultural waste in Mauritius and in many countries in Southeast Asia is commonly used for this purpose. Animal husbandry residues, such as poultry litter, are also commonly used in the United Kingdom.
It has been determined that as of 2016, solar power was providing about 1% of total worldwide electricity production. However observers have stated that this is now growing at 33% per annum. This is so because many industrialized nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources while an increasing number of less developed nations have turned to solar to reduce dependence on expensive imported fuels.
In Bangladesh the relevant authorities appear to have started taking the process of generating renewable energywith seriousness. The Power Division is seeing a ray of hope because of wind mapping. They have come to the conclusion that coordination between the different sectors and authorities can gradually facilitate the production of at least 10,000 MW of electricity by using wind power in the coastal region. The relevant data in this context was collected after 24 to 43 months of wind tracking in nine places of Bangladesh. The United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NRIL) has after observation come to the conclusion that average wind speed in nine areas of Bangladesh is between 5/6 meters/ second, which is an ideal condition for setting up wind power stations.
It would also be pertinent to draw attention to another aspect- the introduction and usage of Solar Home Systems (SHS) in Bangladesh. The first one came through in 1996 in Sylhet. It has now become the biggest renewable energy programme and has resulted in the installing of 5.2 million units in different parts of the country. 17 million people are now using this facility. The financial institution IDCOL has greatly helped in this regard. This has made a huge difference in various areas- carrying on educational requirements after sunset, in the charging of mobile phones (the total number in the country being over 145 million pieces) and also in other recreational activities, including watching TV. This has changed the rural socio-economic profile. According to the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority renewable energy currently makes up 2.5 per cent of our total electricity generation- 218 MW.
Consequently, it is heartening to know that Rural Power Company Limited (RPCL) under the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has decided to construct a 200 MW solar power plant at Mollarhat. It will be fully in place by 2021. Bangladesh’s success in the field of renewable energy has also persuaded the Asian Development Bank to provide financing support of US $ 45.4 million for solar driven irrigation in our rural sector. This is being done to strengthen our agricultural sector through the installation of at least 2,000 SPV pumping systems in areas without electricity.
Rural surveys have also indicated that use of bio-gas is also changing lifestyle in Comilla villages. A total of 300 bio-gas plants have been installed in the last three years in a number of villages in the Sadar Dakkhin Upazila. Locals are taking advantage of household cattle dung and poultry waste to create the necessary gas. This process is also being replicated in different parts of the south-western Districts in Bangladesh.
These are good developments that need to be encouraged- both by the government as well as through public-private partnership. Efforts should also be undertaken to manufacture solar panels locally in Bangladesh rather than being dependent on import. Our domestic financial institutions should invest in this future evolving dynamics.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance