Public-private collaboration for harnessing renewable energy

Muhammad Zamir | Published: November 25, 2018 20:53:53 | Updated: November 28, 2018 21:12:37

Economic development requires energy. Energy powers the production process in the manufacturing industry, agriculture and services sector. It plays a crucial role in providing a better lifestyle for citizens.

These imperatives have led countries to seek additional energy from hydrocarbons - coal, oil and natural gas. Such a dynamics has had a functional imperative in developed countries. At the same time, this equation has led to the general assumption that greater use of hydrocarbons and fossil fuels is contributing to heating of the atmosphere and subsequently leading to climate variability.

This has led the world to seek alternatives through the creation and use of renewable energy - in the form of solar energy, bio-gas, bio-fuel and wind energy.

This functional approach has gained momentum over the last two decades and a half. Agenda-21 that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 spurred the process. Bangladesh is one of the countries worst affected by global warming and as such has over the years has paid particular attention to this development. This has also underlined the need for relevant authorities to consider and attempt to undertake necessary measures for adaptation and mitigation.

The civil society has been monitoring what the rest of the world is doing and suggesting how Bangladesh can play a more inter-active role within the paradigm of the evolving efforts envisioned in the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The urgency in this regard has grown because of the upcoming 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) that will be held in Katowice, Poland in the first two weeks of December this year. COP24, according to environmentalists, is being considered as particularly important, because the concerned countries will expect to finalise the Rule Book for implementing the different Articles of the Paris Agreement. This will help efforts to measure, report and verify (MRV) each of the Articles of the Agreement. This aspect has led scientists to describe this meeting on factors related to Earth's biodiversity and impact of global warming as a pivotal meeting at a pivotal time. In this context, analysis will be undertaken to ascertain whether conservation of biodiversity as well as net forest loss has been properly ensured.

SOLAR ENERGY: The Bangladesh government as well as all the relevant agencies have been attaching great importance not only to the above processes but also have taken pro-active steps to enhance our profile in the use of renewable energy in different forms throughout the country. This has been particularly true in the case of the rural regions. Solar power through the use of solar panels has now become part of the functional matrix in these areas. Solar panels are now being used in more than three million homes. This is facilitating students to continue their studies after evening. This is also helping families to watch television at different times and recharge mobile phones. We need to remember that there are nearly 100 million mobile phone users in rural areas.

Lately, solar panels are being increasingly used for generating power for water pumps necessary for lifting underground water for the purpose of irrigation. Solar panels are also being used in villages to generate power to recharge conveyances that run on batteries. In addition there is growing awareness and use of bio-gas as bio-fuel in rural kitchens.

These factors are contributing towards the country's socio-economic growth. It has persuaded the government to try and boost the use of solar power in the urban areas also. Measures are afoot to make contribution of solar energy more than 10  per cent of the total power generation capacity by 2021. The government has recently approved 19 on-grid solar power parks in the private sector. The Power Division has been helpful for completion of the necessary steps. However, they have pointed out that they and the private sector are facing one big challenge - acquiring land for solar power parks. A solar project with power generation capacity of 100 MW needs about 300 acres of land. Nevertheless,  it is hoped that efficiency in generating solar power will increase in the future through new technological advances.  

WIND POWER: No discussion on use of renewable energy will be complete without reference to the potential use of wind power to generate energy. This is particularly true in the case of Bangladesh.

A recent study carried out by the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has indicated that the coastal belt of Bangladesh holds wind power prospects. A comprehensive wind mapping exercise has demonstrated that the average wind flow in nine places is between 5.0 to 6.0 metres per second. This is good news for Bangladesh as, for commercial production, one needs wind speed of between 2.3 to 2.5 metres per second. A wind turbine consists of a tower, nacelle and rotor that carries the blades. The nacelle with the rotor is permanently aligned to face the wind. As with the wings of an aircraft, air flows past the blades. On the convex side it has to travel further, which creates low pressure; on the flat side of the blade, air does not have so far to travel, which causes the formation of high pressure. The rotor powers up and powers a generator, which produces electricity-similar to the bicycle dynamo principle.

Electricity from onshore wind energy, according to German energy specialists, is nowadays one of the most affordable forms of renewable energy generation. The yields attainable in this respect, according to experts, however depend on - good energy sites, the impact of tower height and the size of rotors. Interestingly, it has also been revealed in the context of Norway, Sweden and Germany that doubling of the wind speed increases the energy contained in wind eight-fold. Another significant aspect is that with every meter of additional tower height, the yield increases by one per cent. The size of the rotors is also important. Apparently, according to German experts, doubling the rotor diameter, and consequently the usable area also increases the yield four times. Apparently, off-shore wind farms also offer great potential. This has been borne out through experiments and implementation in the North Sea near Sweden and Norway.

The US study carried out on behalf of the Power Division has found that the coastal areas of Khulna, Barishal and Chattogram Divisions have more than 6.0 meters per second available wind speed at the 120 meter height - sufficient for generating electricity from wind turbines. It has also come out from the mapping survey that, for wind speeds of 5.75 to 7.75 m/s, there are more than 20,000 square kilometers of land with a gross wind potential of more than 30,000 MW. Some have termed this potential as unrealistic. However, economists and electrical engineers have observed that there is enough proven potential to suggest that with proper investment, Bangladesh can reach the 10 per cent renewable energy target by 2021.

At present only three wind turbines with 3 MW capacities have been in operation for the last few years in coastal Kutubdia. However, because the centre point of the blades are only 18 meters above the ground, they are yet to run up to full capacity. The wind turbine in Feni, with the blades' centre point 50 meters above the ground has so far generated 588,334 kilowatt hours of electricity since resuming operations after repairs in April 2014.

The Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) has formed a working committee. Steps are being undertaken to set up three towers to collect site-specific data in different coastal areas including Kuakata and Patuakhali. At the same time another Committee has been formed to conduct in-house feasibility study on the wind energy potential in Mongla and Chandpur based on the US report.

It needs to be remembered that future steps in this regard will require public-private collaboration. We have to work together and try to gain from the experience of Germany, Canada, China and other countries from the Far East in this regard. We can then meet our goals by 2021.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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