Energy crisis: The case for renewables

Md Sajjad Azim | Published: August 08, 2018 21:28:34 | Updated: August 10, 2018 21:30:50

With the current population approaching almost 167 million, Bangladesh is facing an imminent energy crisis (Worldometers, 2018). This may seem counterintuitive as Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in energy generation in the recent past. In 1990, only 8.5 per cent of the population had access to electricity whereas, in 2016, 75 per cent is under electricity coverage (World Bank, 2016). Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) reported that currently 83 per cent of the population of the country has access to electricity (BPDB, 2017).

This increasing rate of access to electricity can largely be attributed to the availability of fossil fuels in Bangladesh, specifically natural gas. Due to its large supply, electricity generation in the country has historically been depended on natural gas. In 2010, nearly 89 per cent of the evening peak electricity was generated using natural gas (BIDS, 2014). Although reduced, currently 65 per cent of the installed power plant capacity is being met by natural gas (BPDB, 2017). This points to the fact that energy generation in Bangladesh is still largely dependent on natural gas.

Speaking of the energy crisis, the current electricity generation capacity of Bangladesh is at around 17,752 megawatts (MW) with the target to produce 24,000 MW by 2021 (BPDB, 2017). To sustain 7.0 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, Bangladesh will require around 34,000 MW of electric power by 2030 (The Himalayan Times, 2018). This is becoming very tricky as the natural gas reserve of the country is dwindling rapidly. According to one estimate, the known gas reserve will be used up by the year 2025 (Imam, 2013). By 2041, liquefied natural gas (LNG) import of Bangladesh will increase up to 70 per cent (Kemp, 2018). Everything considered, Bangladesh can not heavily rely on natural gas anymore.

As an alternative, the country is taking up projects on coal-fired power stations. Barapukuria Power Station is already in operation and a much larger Matarbari Power Plant is under construction. Coal is the primary fuel type for both of the plants. Other proposed coal-fired power plants include Banshkhali and Rampal power plants which will be established in an ecologically vulnerable zone (Islam, 2018). As Bangladesh moves towards a coal-powered generated economy, questions arise about the appropriateness of this solution.

Coal-powered power plants are often legitimised by its low-cost energy yielded with small capital investment. But Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that the cost of energy from a new coal power plant is $134-$203/MWh whereas wind and solar powered plants require around $61-$118/MWh and $78-$140/MWh respectively (Slezak, 2017). That means more energy can be produced from renewables by spending a lot less.

There is a growing list of other disadvantages of using coal as an energy source in power plants. Coal emits carbon-dioxide in the environment exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Carbon-dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas and it is responsible for climate change. As one of the worst climate change victims in the world, should not Bangladesh set examples by reducing its emission?

Toxic substances like Sulfur Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide are byproducts of coal-powered energy. When we have clean energy sources like solar and wind, isn't our decision to release these substances in the environment questionable?

Coal mining is hazardous and the devastation of natural lives close to coal mines is ravaging. People living near the mines are always at the risk of displacement due to a total environmental destruction (Shah, 2011). That means the decision of running a coal-fired power plant is surely taking a toll on somebody else's community. Thus, the mere decision of running a coal-powered plant has a distinctly humane component to consider.

To uphold the Paris agreement, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are required to shut down almost all of their coal-fired power plants within 2035 and the rest of the world would have to follow suit by 2050 (IEA, 2016). As one of the seven climate change hotspots around the world, Bangladesh should think twice before sponsoring new projects on coal-fired power plants (John Vidal, 2017).

A much better alternative will be the renewables. Around the world by 2023, wind and solar energy will be produced with much less investment than coal (Hodges, 2018). Considering that the average monthly solar irradiation in Bangladesh can reach over 6 KWh/m2 in April and May and never falls down 4 KWh/m2, solar energy generation can be a more practical solution in the long run (Islam et al., 2014). At this point in time, Bangladesh really needs to think through its option of using coal instead of other cleaner renewable energy sources. It would be imprudent for Bangladesh to solve its energy crisis by contributing to a much bigger global crisis of climate change.

Md Sajjad Azim is South Asian Fellow, Climate Tracker

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