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The future of energy security

  • Published at 12:01 am April 18th, 2019
What we should be striving for BIGSTOCK

It’s time to turn our attention to renewable sources of energy

Energy security -- the uninterrupted supply of energy at reasonable prices, as defined by IEA -- has both external and internal dynamics. It can be ensured through local adequacy, that is, abundant and varied forms of indigenous energy resources, but the countries that face local shortages, as we do, depend on import. However, internal measures could attenuate reliance on external sources.

The internal dimension of energy security necessitates funding for maintenance of existing electricity networks as well as extension in light of growing demand for electricity and the government’s goal to ensure access to electricity. Another internal dimension of energy security is to invest in resource exploration, comprising both traditional and alternative sources, which can sharply reduce imports.

Energy security also includes the efficient utilization of resources. Energy efficiency improvement at the end-users does not only lower energy cost for them but also reduces the demand for production of the same. In the industrial sector, enhancing energy efficiency leads to lesser use of energy per unit of production and consequently, helps in decoupling energy-input and economic growth. While promoting energy efficiency by encouraging the adoption of efficient technologies, it is also essential to work on energy conservation to minimize wastage, be it due to behavioural or other reasons. In addition, there is scope to bring down transmission and distribution losses.

However, in the last decade, we were generally infatuated with power security rather than long-term energy security. Against the growing demand and looming shortage of natural gas, the initiatives to explore local gas resources were not geared up to requirement. Following settlement of maritime boundaries with Myanmar and India, Bangladesh has thus far done very little to explore gas. At the same time, the government pays a much higher price to the private entities producing power from liquid fuels compared to the average production cost of electricity.  Now, LNG is being imported, costing significantly more than the price of local gas. As things stand, the reliance on imported fuels would continue to be on the increasing trajectory unless we make a shift from business-as-usual to increase investment on gas exploration.

As far as transmission and distribution losses are concerned, over the period from 2001 to 2018, there has been a notable improvement from 27.97% loss to 11.87% according to Power Cell. Nonetheless, this means, 11.87% of total electricity being generated doesn’t reach the intended consumers. On the other hand, the global average of combined transmission and distribution losses stood at 8.25% in 2014, and that is on the downward trend as well. As such, there is no scope for complacency on overall transmission and distribution losses.

While the efforts on solar and wind are yet to yield significant results, the net metering guideline of the government would help the renewable energy sector in general. Business entities could undertake rooftop solar projects, particularly in cities, to generate power from solar to meet their own demand and supply surplus electricity to the grid. This could, further, address the land problem in implementing utility-scale solar projects in a land-constrained country. 

The cost of solar power, which is currently less than electricity generated from coal internationally, is favourable too. While the goal of generating 2,000MW electricity by 2020 might not be possible to meet, the net metering guideline along with the low price of solar power would certainly boost the sector.

Energy efficiency provides plentiful opportunities in the industrial sectors, commercial buildings, and households. The government also intends to reduce 8,000MW electricity by 2030, according to energy efficiency and conservation masterplan, through energy efficiency and conservation measures on the demand side. 

However, there is a propensity among people to select appliances and equipment based on the least cost option. The life-cycle cost assessment could help in that regard, but we are yet to be properly accustomed to that analysis. Be that as it may, industries either with support from development agencies and local financial institutions or on their own are undertaking energy efficiency measures. 

Local expert pools have also been developed to conduct energy audits. More importantly, the energy audit regulation has been approved by the government and energy efficiency standards and labelling regulation are undergoing an approval process.

The next step should be enforcement of the regulations, as well as, carrying out awareness-raising programs across the country. While absolute energy security might never be within reach, internal measures, exploring local reserves, harnessing renewable sources, particularly solar, and improving energy efficiency, could help reduce pressure on import. 

As we have been able to cope with the pressure of increasing demand for electricity in the last decade, the attention now should be on internal dimensions of energy security instead of power security only.

Shafiqul Alam is International Climate Protection Fellow at Ecologic Institute, Berlin, supported by Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany.