Clean energy: Solar power the ultimate direction

Dhaka,  Wed,  27 September 2017
Published : 12 Jun 2017, 19:49:54
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Clean energy: Solar power the ultimate direction

It is disappointing that in the proposed 2017-18 Budget, solar panels have been subjected to 10 per cent hike in customs duty, VAT and other taxes. This will be a disincentive for entrepreneurs and businessmen to invest in this business, write Akbaruddin Ahmad and Touhid Alam
Excessive use of fossil fuel has been the cause of environmental degradation in many parts of the world. In addition, China, USA, India is emitting huge quantity of carbon-dioxide (Co2) that is aggravating green house impacts. Being major importers of oil, gas and octane, India and China have been the users of these fuels causing severe air pollution in principal cities like Shanghai, Beijing and New Delhi. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report labeled these cities as the most polluted on Earth in 2016. 

South Asia and South East Asia are also witnessing high level of air pollution in parts of Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. It is the responsibility of the governments of these countries to reduce fossil fuels consumption and increase solar power generation. Amidst the existing gloomy picture, Nepal has successfully installed solar power grids in areas which are difficult to access for installing electric power lines. Bangladesh has been trying hard to come up with a higher rate of success in providing electricity through solar power. Dhaka based IDCOL (Infrastructure Development Company Limited) has been promoting solar panel installation through NGOs to ensure solar power in remote areas where power grid lines are not available. 

Nowadays, solar power pumps for irrigation purposes have been found successful in Bangladesh and these have replaced the highly polluting diesel pumps in villages for agricultural farming purposes. Production cost of the farmers have come down considerably through solar power usage as against the costly diesel pumps. The solar panel costs have substantially reduced over the years and we expect the policy makers to pay attention for further reduction in cost. These will enable Bangladesh to extensively harvest solar power which now stands at 1.3 per cent of the total power generation through conventional methods. 

Coal as a fuel has been used for power generation in different parts of the world. In some countries, consumption of coal for electricity generation is as high as 35 per cent. Bangladesh has a number of coal fired power generating units. Some more are in the pipeline including the controversial Rampal coal fired power station close to the heart of Sundarban. Environmentalists are against the Rampal project as it is feared that biodiversity of the Sundarbans will be badly affected causing severe damage to the world's largest mangrove forest. 

Solar power generation should be a priority area where target has been set as high as 30 per cent of the country's total power generation by 2030. For this to become a reality, large-scale financing has to be encouraged within the banking sector to obtain substantial funds from international donors such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) etc. Bilateral agreements between Bangladesh-China, Bangladesh-India, Bangladesh-Russia, EU and USA for massive increase in solar power generation will certainly help Bangladesh achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

  Large-scale use of solar power pumps can be seen in different parts of Bangladesh. For irrigation of three bigha's of land through diesel, the cost is over Tk.6000. However, the same area can be irrigated through the solar power for less than two thirds the cost. The lower cost of production of our agricultural produce can help our farmers achieve higher level of income generation. Educational institutions in the upazila and union levels should be targeted for providing solar panels that will reduce electricity bills of schools and colleges. The electricity thus saved can be diverted towards industrial production and other priority areas. 

Solar panel cost which used to be high has now reduced substantially and is expected to be more cost-effective with mass production facilities in several countries including China. In the past, a farmer could harvest only 5 maunds of paddy in one bigha of land. Now, with the introduction of hybrid varieties of seeds and advanced agricultural practices and proper irrigation per bigha output of paddy has increased to 40 maunds. 

Bangladesh is certainly a role model in agricultural production that has helped food self-sufficiency, and it supports a population of 160 million as against 70 million in 1971 during which period there was an annual food grain deficit. It may also be noted that a part of the agricultural land has gone for building homesteads, mills and factories. It is remarkable that despite depletion of agricultural lands, the enhanced output has helped in feeding the huge population which ranks 8th in the world. 

When Bangladesh is heading to be positioned in the chart of lower middle income country, clean energy through solar has made irrigation easy and cheap to contribute in the said journey. Truly, it has resulted in a huge increase in the agricultural output to support millions of additional mouths each year. 

Indeed, 75 per cent of the population of Bangladesh lives in villages which are reaping the benefits of good road communications, telecommunication link up, road and transport sector improvements and easily available mobile communication equipment including laptops and smart-phones. This has resulted in the improvement of the standard of living. The RMG sector has been a boon for the local population. It has provided job opportunities for over 5 million women workers and it has also provided an extensive array of inexpensive clothes for the rural and urban working class. It is rare today to see a person walking barefooted in the villages. 

It is, however, disappointing to note that in the proposed 2017-18 Budget, solar panels have been subjected to 10 per cent hike in customs duty, VAT and other taxes. This will be a disincentive for entrepreneurs and businessmen to invest in this business. 

Bangladesh has installed over 30 million home solar systems in the remote areas where grid lines are inaccessible. This is a remarkable achievement; it was possible only due to zero import tariffs on solar systems. The current budget proposal will be counter-productive for the growth of clean energy source to help establish solar power irrigation and home systems and connection to the national grid. The country needs to invest heavily under the PPP system to promote solar power generation for the welfare of the nation.  

Prof. Dr. Akbaruddin Ahmad, 

Chairman, Policy Research 

Centre.bd (PRC.bd). 

akbaruddinahmad@gmail.com. 

Touhid Alam, Research Associate, 

Policy Research Centre. Bd (PRC.bd). www.prcbd.org
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