Access of Bangladeshis to electricity has gone up from 3.0 per cent of the population to 77.9 per cent since independence. Also absolute number will most likely grow in the years ahead, in keeping pace with industrial growth, rising population and increasing rate of energy consumption.
In order to meet growing energy needs, while not destroying the environment, we are slowly trying to switch over to renewable sources. We have also started building our first nuclear power plant, and thinking of newer ways to generate more energy for residential and commercial use.
And to keep up with the energy consumption rate of the fourth industrial revolution, we need to be prudent and employ much of our focus and make investment in the energy sector.
Currently, Bangladesh is almost self-sufficient in our power production, generating 113 per cent of electricity demand, according to WorldData. This looks bright, but this growth won’t be sustainable with the current fossil-fuel-based energy production methods. Also electricity generation capacity didn’t increase proportionately to the growing energy budget, and in irrigation and harvesting seasons, load-shedding increases.
For the next 50 years, we have to think about how we can shift completely to cleaner, greener energy sources while also keeping up efficiency, cost-effectiveness and production rate.
Hydrocarbon Reservoirs and Future of Gas and Oil Based Powers
Natural gas provides 56 per cent of our domestic energy demands at present; the next two decades of energy production will probably still be dominated by hydrocarbon industries. We are lacking in oil-based power production with domestic production of only 3000 bbl crude oil and import of 21,860 bbl crude oil and petroleum.
Whatever is the progress relating to two LNG (liquified natural gas) terminals and a gas pipeline, that will not suffice to tackle the growing energy crisis and quick depletion of our hydrocarbon reserves.
Bangladesh is rich with hydrocarbon-bearing sediment structure and some of Asia-Pacific’s largest oil and gas reserves. Bangladesh has the likelihood of becoming one of the biggest hydrocarbon producers globally. Relatively cleaner LNG might be another option for the future.
While this is the more realistic path Bangladesh will most probably take within 2071, even by optimistic standards; we really shouldn’t want to be completely dependent on hydrocarbon-based energies in the future. There will be severe environmental consequences. We should really be focusing on renewables and alternative energy sources that are sustainable.
Clean Coals in the Future
Research on current energy consumption rates shows that the reserves-to-production ratio of reserves of coal is quite significantly higher than that of oil and gas. On the downside, coal projects are costly and coal is a major part of the greenhouse problem. Yet, it will undoubtedly maintain a major share in the world’s energy future. To mitigate the damage to the environment and the cost, Bangladesh should work towards Cleaner coal technologies for the future
Clean Coal or coal pollution mitigation is basically a technique to capture coal carbon emission and storing it under earth. While there is currently no economically viable method for capturing coal carbon emission in Bangladesh, there has been research going on worldwide and Bangladesh can certainly hop in on this.
Recently, Chinese and Japanese investors showed lack of interest in funding Bangladesh’s coal ventures, prompting the government to consider retreating from coal power. There are talks to turn the coal power plants of Bangladesh into LNG-run power plants. But the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) predicts that this transition would lead to tremendous energy overcapacity, making an already bad situation worse.
For these reasons, clean coal technology doesn’t seem like a very realistic solution for future Bangladesh. But, if natural gas reserves deplete at the current rate, and we don’t create enough alternative power sources by then, coal would be the only option left, and that’s why we need to invest in the research of clean coal technology at least as a failsafe.
Nuclear Power Plants, Possibilities in Fission and Fusion Energy
Nuclear energy has been a controversial topic everywhere including in Bangladesh, in view of risks. However, nuclear energy is one of the cleanest and most efficient sources of energy available right now.
Shafqat Amin Inan, a graduate of Nuclear Engineering from the University of Dhaka, said, “Wind/Hydro haven’t proven to be large sources, that's why we are moving into nuclear option. Around 32-35 countries have nuclear energy now and Bangladesh is one of the newcomers.
“Rooppur is going to supply 2400MW, and there's talk of new power plants in the southern region too. The latest nuclear technologies are inherently safe and can generate huge amounts of energy, regarding floor space and size of power plants.”
Shafqat believes more nations will get into the nuclear game in the coming years. “Also, nuclear technology is basically a green one, with next to no carbon dioxide emission. Therefore, it's eco-friendly as well.”
There is a question of toxic nuclear waste. However, it is argued, compared to coal, for example, the nuclear waste generated by a 1000 MW plant is almost negligible - 3 cubic metres of waste after reprocessing the spent fuel, 300 tons of radioactive waste and 0.20 tonnes of plutonium. Still, there’s no denying that nuclear waste is far more dangerous and expensive to handle and dispose of than coal waste.
For now, nuclear waste disposal generated by Rooppur Power Plant will be managed by Radioactive Waste Management Company, stored in a secured place for a given period, then sent to Russia for reprocessing. This will be done with sophisticated technology and security protocol, but 100 per cent efficiency cannot be guaranteed.
Despite all that, nuclear energy does seem to be the most futuristic option for our country. The nuclear journey the country has embarked on will only grow further; there have been plans to make a second power plant, and with the world being increasingly dependent on nuclear energy, Bangladesh will have no choice but to embrace it.
Right now, fission technology is the only available nuclear power generation option, which is costlier, more wasteful and more hazardous. If we can be optimistic for a while, we can dream of a future where nuclear fusion technology will become a reality, by the next 50 years.
If Bangladesh is ready to hop on the nuclear power game, when fusion energy does become available, it can hope to be one of the first users. Fusion power, for all practical purposes, will ensure cheap, efficient and almost unlimited energy for our people for decades to come.
But it is still all in theory, and for the realists out there, nuclear fission energy is the key to the cleaner and greener future of energy that Bangladesh can work towards.
Wind, Solar, Biomass and Hydro (Tidal Currents and Ocean Waves)
The renewable energy sector only produces 3.0 per cent of the total energy ratio of the country. And with the current energy budget, producing hydro dams or windmills for generating electricity will be unsustainably costly.
The Bangladesh government has taken a master plan of switching to renewable energies like wind, hydro, biomass and solar powers for electricity generation, but the installation capacity for adequate solar cells, windmills and water dams will tear through our current renewable energy budget by a lot of estimates. There are also predicted risks of un-industrialisation if the required amount of energy isn’t produced by the sector.
Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest solar energy programmes. Villages and small towns have been slowly shifting to solar power for cooking and other smaller energy intensive operations. But for vast industrial necessities, this has proven to be highly impractical.
To make solar energy viable for big industries, we would need futuristic super-efficient ‘Big Battery’ technology Until that, solar energy will have to remain in the households.
Ocean waves are a newer hydro-electric power source that many countries are working on. This is projected to be one of the significant future renewable energy sources of the world. Bangladesh has a chance to use the Bay of Bengal and the Sandwip area for energy production purposes and coastal energy needs can be fulfilled with this source.
But hydro politics around the region is a big issue hampering implementation of wave plants. A newer technology in this area is a specific wave energy generator which currently produces around 30 MW of energy, and research is going on to make it even more efficient. The tidal wave height, duration, water depth and many other factors suggest that this generator is a very suitable energy generating option for the Bay of Bengal.
It is a no brainer that an agrarian country like Bangladesh will lean on biomass energy more and more in the future. It is certainly one of the cleanest energy options out there, using only agricultural crop residues, animal manure and municipal solid wastes.
However, the current biomass practices of our country needs to be vastly improved; effective switching from thermo-chemical conversion to biochemical conversion (more efficient but less environment friendly), improved biomass plant and stove technologies to reduce energy waste and more needs to be done. Biomass also doesn’t seem to be a viable industrial energy generation option anytime soon.
Geothermal energy relies on the hotter region’s geothermal gradient, and according to multiple researches, the north-east region of this country is suitable for establishing geo-thermal power plants in the future. It is a clean, renewable source of energy, harvested from the thermal energy generated and stored in the earth’s crust. It is cost-effective, easy to collect and distribute and a very important energy option.
We all have seen how in the hotter seasons and in times of harvesting and irrigation, energy shortage becomes rampant, and there’s a lot of load-shedding going on. Geothermal energy is the ultimate solution to this problem, because this is the sort of energy generated directly from the hotness of earth. It will be a great public energy source in the future for Bangladesh if we start taking it seriously.
Electric Cars & Lithium Batteries
Electric cars are thought to be the answer to the solution of one of the world’s largest sources of carbon emissions- cars. Electric cars run on renewable energy sources or natural gas, and have little to no carbon footprint. This does seem like a very futuristic option for our energy crisis and a very good incentive to switch to renewables, but there are some problems associated with electric cars we need to know about.
While it is true that electric cars have very little carbon footprint; they use lithium batteries. Manufacturing lithium batteries, however, leaves massive carbon footprints. There is little life cycle emission for electric cars, and the reduction of direct emission from regular cars outweighs lithium battery carbon footprints by a large margin.
Nevertheless, people still need to know that this isn’t a 100 per cent safer, greener option that corporations will lead you to believe. Not to mention, there have been significant oppression and conspiracies going on in the South American regions, where most of earth’s lithium mines are located, propagated by these big electric car companies. Hence, a question of moral conscience arises too.
If we critically examine all the possible and realistic options for energy, it does seem like nuclear energy is the best option for the future. But we have to also make sure that we use the absolute best technologies and security protocols to not create another Chernobyl or Fukushima, nor destroy our beloved Sundarbans in the process.
The agenda is to meet the energy needs of every citizen of Bangladesh in the future, and build a completely self-sufficient energy sector that is greener, cleaner and sustainable for decades to come by 2071.
Arefin Mizan is a researcher at Centre for Genocide Studies.