Bangladesh has the potential to become a viable, modern and sustainable electricity-generation expansion hub, a research conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), Australia said.
It said the country, by redoubling its efforts in deploying solar home systems, can take its world-leadership position on this front to the next level. Such transformation will be cheaper, cleaner and provide more energy security than the government's current plans, it added.
The report, unveiled this week, said the Bangladesh government's 'Access to Electricity for All by 2021' campaign can effectively be delivered by redoubling efforts on the solar home system programme. This will rapidly eradicate energy shortage and facilitate health and education improvements where they are most needed in rural Bangladesh.
The study outlines an affordable, more sustainable and faster-to-implement alternative electricity plan for the coming decade. The key ingredients will enhance grid efficiency, energy efficiency and build a ten-fold increase in solar energy in all its forms.
Bangladesh, which has a population of almost 160 million, is among the most electricity-impoverished countries in the world. The country is on the brink of an electricity-generation push that is tied to outmoded coal-fired generation. Yet the coal exploitation in the country is still at the nascent stage.
Fossil fuel subsidies and electricity-sector losses, to mention, are a growing drag on economic growth in Bangladesh. Current plans to double fossil fuel generation speak of a long-term dependence on fossil imports, which will lead to more national debt, devaluation of the currency and an increase in inflation, all of which tend to destabilise the economy.
The report recommends that Bangladesh immediately target an International Gateway (IGW) annual utility-scale solar programme that would see its cumulative capacity operational by fiscal year (FY) 2024/25. It urges Bangladesh to re-evaluate its entire subsidised plans for ever more imported thermal power capacity.
Use of solar home systems shows how a cost-effective long-term investment programme can best serve the country in terms of energy security in comparison to heavy reliance on fossil fuel and expensive grid infrastructure. Researchers found that the initial investment in solar energy is a bit costly, but long term gain from the system is highly cost effective if it is installed at appropriate places considering the scarcity of land in the country.
The government has reportedly endorsed a transformational US$15-20b investment programme targeting renewable energy, smart grid and energy efficiency by FY 2024/25 because it is likely to find strong international financial system in supports that will help develop a long-term deflationary energy supply.
Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the world, found that the amount spent in the oil and coal imports is disrupting the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 2.0 per cent. The natural gas reserves are expected to run out by 2020, while the coal reserve will exhaust with its increasing use.
Use of non-renewable energy resources has multi-faceted environmental and health hazards as well. Burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil for power generation emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which are primarily responsible for ozone layer depletion, global warming, and respiratory diseases.
Goldman Sachs said the only globally acknowledged way to address the situation right now is to make optimum use of renewable energy sources. It will help to mitigate any power shortage issues, while dramatically reducing the dependence on non-renewable natural resources.
Only 62 per cent of the country's population, to mention, had access to electricity until 2014. Initially introduced to supply electricity to those with no access to the power source, the solar energy system has already demonstrated great potential in solving the imminent crisis on a residential, industrial, regional, and even national scale.
Germany presents the greatest success story in this regard. More than 40 per cent of the total energy consumed in that country comes from a combined use of renewable energy sources like wind, biogas, and solar. The proportion of usage is poised to increase every passing year. Bangladesh can definitely take lessons from Germany's success story.
On its part, Bangladesh needs to develop local infrastructure and not rely on costly imports to effectively harness the solar energy. The government should ensure proper installation of solar panels on rooftops. People responsible for monitoring are not doing their jobs properly. As a result, new buildings have mushroomed with low-quality solar panels. Even many of them are avoiding mandatory installation of such panels.
The government has to pursue a steadfast policy that is supportive of, more in actions than in words, expansion of the renewable energy. This is more so, because there is an organised group that is out to downplay the significance and potential of this energy. Unfortunately, it, being the sustainable future source of energy has not been given much weight by the government. In fact, solar energy is an untapped mine for Bangladesh. It has to be made affordable to people.
It is thus high time for Bangladesh to start considering renewable energy as a potentially major national power source. Such an approach is expected to deliver a significantly larger, long-term cost-competitive energy supply and create a modernised plan that will allow Bangladesh to adapt to climate change.