Bangladesh: The case for renewable energy

Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the world, has identified Bangladesh as one of the ‘Next Eleven’ emerging economies, which means that Bangladesh has the potential to become one of the largest and most influential world economies this century. Although the country was rocked by political turmoil in the early part of this decade, the stability reached in  recent years has come to further aid the growth process.

Achieving growth is one thing; sustaining it is another. Bangladesh now faces a two-fold challenge or opportunity, if one looks at it that way. The first is to capitalise on the current growth rate of above 6 percent and take it a step further: a continued growth rate of over 7 percent, for the next decade is the most desired goal. The second challenge is to ensure sustenance of the growth rate. A coupled success in achieving both these targets would ensure the goal of reaching the middle income country status by the beginning of the next decade.

As the economy prospers due to growing industrialisation, the need for energy grows exponentially. Continued supply of energy is an integral infrastructural requirement that drives economic growth. Bangladesh, while performing impressively till date to meet surging energy needs, still has a long way to go to be self-sufficient in this sector. According to the United States Energy Association (USEA), the energy supply deficiency in Bangladesh this year stands at 19 percent. With the demand poised to rise with time, closing the gap will be a mammoth undertaking indeed.

The government is committed, and it will need all the help it can get. The amount spent in oil and coal imports is disrupting the annual GDP by as much as 2 percent annually. The natural gas reserves are expected to run out by 2020, while the coal reserves are expected to exhaust themselves with increasing use. The government has already invested huge amounts behind new grids as well as a nuclear plant that is to be established in Rooppur. However, despite the obvious advantages of the grids and the power plant, they are vulnerable to unstable weather or human accidents, and once disturbed, may cause environmental and health disasters. Ukraine (Chernobyl) and Japan (Fukushima) are among the victims of such catastrophes.

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. Acid rain created by the emission of chemicals like sulfur into the atmosphere, often as a result of conversion of fossil fuels into electricity, corrodes machinery and sometimes severely harms local ecosystems. News of oil spills in rivers and oceans, a very relatable example of which is the 2014 Sundarbans oil spill, have been on the rise. The recent sinking of a coal-laden vessel in Shela River is another tragic example. These accidents have devastating impacts on aquatic life.

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 shortage issues, while dramatically reducing the dependence on non-renewable natural resources. Only 62 percent of Bangladeshis had access to electricity in 2014. Initially introduced to supply electricity to those with no access to the power source, the solar energy method has already demonstrated great potential in solving the imminent crisis on a residential, industrial, regional, and even national scale. Very recently, 786 lighting poles in the Chittagong EPZ have been powered entirely by the use of solar technology, which speaks volumes about its potential to resolve the electricity crisis on an even bigger scale in future. Moreover, according to a report in Reuters, the introduction of solar power in 1996 in Bangladesh, which is steadily expanding, has already saved 200,000 tonnes of kerosene worth about $180 million in 18 years.

Bangladesh is blessed with an abundance of water. The Karnafuli Hydro Power Station, for instance, has a capacity to generate 230 MW power. Water power currently accounts for 1.88 percent of total power supply in Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Power Development Board. Effective utilisation of the resource, using apt expertise, efficient management and government support to explore further opportunities, will help support the energy needs of the country. Wind turbines are another highly effective solution to generate electricity using the power of wind. According to an article published in the International Journal for Sustainable and Green Energy, wind energy has the potential to generate as much as 2000 MW of electricity in the coastal regions of Bangladesh if the 724 km long coastline of the country can be utilised to generate wind energy.

Our counterparts in the US, and many countries in Europe, and even India, have started utilising renewable energy sources with a long term vision. The Geysers in California boasts of being the world’s largest geothermal power installation in the world, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. 11.4 percent of the energy consumed in the European Union comes from the utilisation of wind energy.

Germany presents the greatest success story in this regard. More than 30 percent of the total energy consumed in the 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; we can definitely take lessons from Germany’s success story.

It is time we start considering renewable energy as a potentially major national power source as well. There are experts in the country who are willing to help. We could also learn from our international counterparts who already have achieved success. All we would need is awareness among our people on the efficient use of power, and apt support from our government, which has already demonstrated a strong willingness to resolve the issue.

From a different perspective, the harsh truth that we often conveniently avoid is that Mother Earth is dying, and we are helping to quicken her demise. Global warming caused by excessive extraction and industrial burning of fossil fuels is making our environment more unliveable every day. Rising sea levels due to global warming is putting the very existence of Bangladesh at risk. The resources will all run out some day. It is high time that we consider what kind of a world, and country, we are leaving behind for our children.

Source: The Daily Star. Date: March 29, 2016