Md. Sadril Islam Khan
Bangladesh is a mono energy-based country in southeast Asia. Gas is the prime energy source in the country. But with the growing population and demand, it might get depleted by 2026, according to many experts and surveys. Alternatives like oil or coal are not in enough amount to supplement. Moreover, fossil fuels are greatly liable for the current global warming crisis. Hence, Bangladeshis are also at risk of adverse effects of climate change besides future energy crisis, where 134 million people might face lower living standards due to this in near future. So, green or renewable energy should be tried for mitigation as well as contribution to the energy sector.
Energy resources are divided into two parts, Renewable and Non-Renewable. To understand the basic difference between them, a word would come into our mind, ‘Renewal’. Think about a passport, when it is expired after its expiry date, then we need to renew it. But in the case of energy, it’s better to use the word depleted instead of expired. When the energy resources are depleted, we cannot use them again. Therefore, these are called non-renewable energy resources. Such as – various types of fossil fuels, like Oil, Gas, and Coal. And when we can use the energy resources again and again (like renewing), then these are called renewable energy resources. Such as hydropower, solar energy, tidal power, wind energy, wave energy, and geothermal energy. This article exerts to delineate the current status, prospects, and challenges of these renewable energies in Bangladesh. The findings are mainly from an extensive detailed dissertation thesis of my Master at the University of South Wales, United Kingdom, titled ‘An Assessment of the Potentiality and Challenges of Hydropower Generation in Bangladesh’
Solar energy in Bangladesh, we simply can say – ‘very good prospect and very popular as well. Wherever we go – villages, hospitals, cities schools, we will somehow find solar panels. In this country, there are both domestic and commercial solar power plants. Recently the country has opened a 28-megawatt power plant in Teknaf, a 50-megawatt solar power plant in Mymensingh, and a 35-megawatts power plant in Manikganj, which is a great addition to its national grid. The prospect of solar energy in Bangladesh is quite good. The average solar radiation is 2-6 KWh/m2, which is very much suitable for solar energy generation. There are also some challenges, such as the monsoon or winter season, which gets problematic often. And Bangladesh doesn’t have many more technical experts in this field. As this is a prospective field, so we need them more in our country.
Bangladesh is crisscrossed by numerous rivers, so someone might assume that this country is very rich in hydropower. But practically, it’s not. Bangladesh has one large-scale hydropower plant in Kaptai, which is able to produce 230 MW of electricity. The plant was commissioned in 1962 with the administration of USAID to then Pakistan. The country does not have any more large-scale hydropower plants and not much smaller scale as well. There are some places like Bamer Chara or Mirershorai, where some pilot projects were installed, to see whether they show any small-scale hydropower potential or not, but the projects were not much satisfactory. The country is actually keener to import hydroelectricity from its neighbors like Nepal or Bhutan, rather than its own production.
In terms of the prospect of hydropower in Bangladesh, there are some rivers like Sangu, Matamuhuri, Someshwari, and Dhalai, where are some smaller-scale or run-off river (using river flow to rotate turbine directly without dam) hydropower plants can be tried. In the Brahmaputra, a large-scale hydropower plant with a barrage that can produce 1300 megawatts, a possibility was assessed once, but it’s not sure whether it is possible or not. There are plenty of challenges to hydropower generation in Bangladesh. Some technical challenges; such as lack of detailed existing studies. Whenever we want to go for the project, we need detailed studies and data, which Bangladesh lacks. The country is supposed to have a low hydraulic head, which needs to be higher for hydropower generation. There are a lot of social challenges, such as differences in opinions. Not everyone is thinking that Bangladesh has the potential for hydropower. Another social challenge is rehabilitation. When the Kaptai hydropower plant was built, at that time, a lot of people had to be displaced because of flooding. There are a lot of economic problems like corruption and investment. Hydropower plant construction, more precisely the largest scale hydropower plant construction requires a lot of money. Environmental challenges like flooding and impacts on biodiversity are factors. Overall, Bangladesh might not have great hydropower potential, but still, something can be tried in this country because of the rivers. At least more studies should be done with detailed data. The government should come forward to solve this issue, by providing a better data set (for example dataset in National River Flow Archive, UK (http://nrfa.ceh.ac.uk ).
Bangladesh does not have any tidal power plants. If we talk about the prospect, it has been not proven yet. Bangladesh has an almost 710 kilometers long coastal line. Generally, the tidal heads rise and fall ranging from 2 to 8 meters. So, it is assumed that tidal wheel technology in the sluice gates can be useful there. The ISTP of Murdoch University, Australia planned for a demonstrative tidal plant in Swandip, a coastal area in Bangladesh. But it didn’t go ahead. Main challenges of tidal power generation here, firstly, lack of detailed existing studies and detailed data. The sea beaches or shores of Bangladesh is mostly sandy. So, it is quite difficult often to set up a tidal power plant. Overall, it can be concluded that this country doesn’t have many prospects, but still, as it has the longest sea beach in the world, and also a lot of areas in those parts, so something can be tried.
There is no active electricity-generating wind power plant in Bangladesh. Most of the MET offices have observed that the wind speed is quite low, the annual mean speed is 2-4 knots or 1-2 m/s typically, at 5-10 m height from the ground. There are some experimental windmills installed in Feni or Kutubdia. But their performances have been questionable. The LGED has installed some windmills with low cut-in-speed, to lift groundwater. It has also installed 7 wind turbines, with 3.2 KW capacity and 10.5 m/s rated wind speed, at Saint Martin Island as a part of ean xperiment, but they didn’t show that many good results. So, not much prospect has been evident so far. There are a lot of challenges, such as this country doesn’t have the wind like Scotland or Ireland to produce wind energy. Also, there are a lot of technical difficulties, lack of experts, and lack of data, and wind energy might have a lot of environmental impact on its local birds. Despite the challenges, experiments should be continued to discover prospects.
Bangladesh also doesn’t have any geothermal plants like waves or tidal. It is also said that there is no prospect. This is because wherever we want to produce any geothermal energy in a certain area, that area should have volcanoes or igneous rock succession. But the rock succession in Bangladesh is sedimentary. Though there is a place, 5 kilometers north of Sitakunda and 40 kilometers far from the center of Chittagong. This place has been called the labanakhya, a hot spring has been found there. So, some investigations like geophysical surveys can be done in there. There is definitely a challenge, which is mainly natural. Its geology doesn’t support geothermal energy production.
Finally, gas is contributing almost 58% to the country’s energy generation but it might get depleted by 2026 as stated before. Importing electricity can’t substitute the prime energy source. There are also risks of adverse effects of climate change by 2050. So, alternatives like renewable energy are the ultimate solution. Developed countries are moving towards renewable energy to get a sustainable environment. For example, China is now shifting towards renewable energy from coal-fired power plants. Sustainable Development Goal 7 – ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ signifies more energy mix by increasing the percentage of renewable electricity generation. Bangladesh should now focus as well. It is better to conduct more detailed studies on the country’s renewable energy generation potential. Besides solar, small-scale hydropower and wind power plants can be tried as suggested above. Governments should offer incentives in this sector for further development. Universities should do more research and open new courses to produce experts in this field. More dependence on renewable energy would ease the country’s tension over the energy crisis and also might help it to be energy independent.
The author is a Lecturer at Department of Environmental Science and Disaster Management, Daffodil International University.