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All the energy we need

  • Published at 06:25 pm August 4th, 2018
Wind and solar are much more efficient than fossil fuels

Clean, renewable energy is the future

On July 5, 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 24,000MW of energy by that year. It is also being expected that we will be able to reach 40,000MW by 2041. 

In this context, it was outlined that the present power generation capacity within the country has risen to 18,353MW. In addition, 54 new power plants with a total generation capacity of 14,147MW are under construction. Among these, 36 power plants with 7,104MW power generation capacities are under IPP and 18 power plants with 7,313MW capacities are being completed by the public sector.

These details have been followed with another media report on July 12 that Bangladesh has signed two separate agreements involving $7.4 billion to generate 6,000MW 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 ton 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.

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.

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 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 biodiesel. 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 energy seriously. The Power Division is seeing a ray of hope because of wind mapping. They have come to the conclusion that coordination between different sectors and authorities can gradually facilitate the production of at least 10,000MW of electricity by using wind power in the coastal region. 

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 program, and has resulted in the installing of 5.2 million units in different parts of the country.  

Some 17 million people are now using this facility. The financial institution IDCOL has greatly helped in this regard. This has made a huge difference. 

It is heartening to know that Rural Power Company Limited (RPCL) under the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has decided to construct a 200MW 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 $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 the use of bio-gas is also changing lifestyles in Comilla villages. A total of 300 biogas 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 southwestern districts.

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 of evolving dynamics. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]