Power cuts in Bangladesh: an expiation for neglecting renewable energy

People in Bangladesh have been facing power outages for two to five hours, or even for longer periods in rural areas, every day from last week, that the government blames on high prices of fuel oils and gas.

Mohammad Eyamin

The authorities have said the recent power cuts are not actually load-shedding that consumers were used to with even a couple of years ago, and that the current situation is an outcome of generation shortfall triggered by lower than required supply of gas and oil to power plants.

The load-shedding will disappear once more LNG is bought and supplied to the power plants for electricity generation, they added.

Nevertheless, one source of power generation, renewable, has been completely ignored by the authorities while explaining reasons and ways out of the current energy crisis.

Energy and environment experts, however, have opined that the current power crunch could have been avoided if the authorities could build the renewable capacity that they had planned and promised to develop in the power sector master plans undertaken in 2010 and 2016.

They observed that the current power cuts are an expiation for the missing investment in renewable energies and an over enthusiasm for fossil fuel.

Hasan Mehedi, member secretary of Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED), said that the authorities concerned were not keen enough to implement the renewable energy projects.

“If the renewable energy target set in the power generation mix was met, the country would not have to face the current power outages,” said. 

“The 1,500MW to 2,000MW of load-shedding that the country is now facing could have been covered by renewable energy without any cost of primary fuel for power generation,” he maintained.

A costly power generation system developed

As per the World Street Journal, the price of per barrel Brent crude was $80.59 in January 2010, which jumped to $98.59 per barrel in July 2022.

On the other hand, liquefied natural gas (LNG) price has shot up from $7.5 per million British Thermal units (MMBtu) in 2010 to $38.99 per MMBtu in 2022, according to S & P Platts’s data.

Meanwhile, coal price has surged to $409 a tonne in 2022 from $94 a tonne in 2010.

During the period, Bangladesh has built its total power generation capacity based on the primary fuels as 51.49% of the capacity is based on gas, 33.11% on fuel and 8% on coal.

On the other hand, renewable energy sources account for only 0.59% of the capacity, which was supposed to be 10% as per power system master plan 2010.

M Zakir Hossain Khan, managing director at Change Initiative Limited, a renewable energy research organisation, said that the authorities have built up a costly primary fuel-based power generation capacity for which they have been incurring huge losses each year even after hiking electricity prices by 118% in the last 12 years.

“But the sources with which power can be generated completely free of cost have been neglected. The cost of renewable energies, especially solar and wind power, has sharply decreased in the last 10 to 12 years but we kept focusing on different sources that are costly,” he further added.

As per the International Renewable Energy Agency’s Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2021 report, the global weighted average of levelized cost of energy of newly commissioned utility scale solar PV projects declined by 88% between 2010 and 2021, while that of onshore wind fell by 68%, and offshore wind by 60%.

It also illustrates that the generation cost of per kWh fossil gas-based electricity was $0.0816 in 2010, while solar photovoltaic electric power was $0.4379.

But in 2022, price of fossil gas-fired electricity has climbed to $0.2691 per kWh, that of Solar PV-run electricity has dropped to $0.0636.


Missing investment in renewable

Since 2009, the country’s power generation capacity has jumped by 4.5 times from 4,942MW to 22,348MW. For this capacity building, around $25 billion was invested in the power sector, according to Power Division data.

Of the total investment, the renewable energy sector has received a paltry $1 billion, which was supposed to be at least $2.5 billion to meet the 10% renewable energy target.

Rightful incentive neglected

For implementing fossil fuel-based projects, the government has provided multiple incentives to the private sectors, which include land acquisition and tax waiver for importing materials.

But such incentives were missing in the cases of implementing renewable projects. Instead, tax and duties were imposed on imports of solar PV and other renewable projects.

Moreover, the authorities were allegedly found reluctant while their support was sought for renewable energy projects.

Sometimes, they were discouraging the renewable initiatives taken by private sectors.

Mohammad Alauddin, recent past chairman of Sustainable and Renewable Energy Authority (SREDA), told this reporter that the required policy was there but the implementation of the policy and planning was not at expected level.

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