An energy crisis in Bangladesh is inevitable in the upcoming months. We are facing severe power cuts for the last few weeks that the government blames on a natural gas shortage. The shortage has brought back load shedding. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government celebrated making electricity available to 100% of the country’s population in late March. But right now, the scenario is very different as we have overcapacity to produce enough electricity but do not have enough resources. Hence, a quick policy adjustment is required to adapt with the situation.
The government has decided to halt production of all the diesel-run power plants yesterday. They have also decided to keep fuel stations closed for a day every week in a bid to tackle the ongoing power and energy crisis. From today, planned load shedding will take place at different areas of the country including Dhaka for 1 to 2 hours to reduce electricity use.
According to the data provided by the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), about 51.49% of the country’s electricity comes from gas, while 18.90% comes from furnace oil, 14.98% from coal, 0.56% from hydro sources, 0.37% from renewables, and 10% is imported. The Russia-Ukraine war has pushed the oil and gas price in the world market and that is actually causing the current power cuts as the government is trying to protect foreign reserve. It is good that, we are taking steps at the early stage to reduce electricity use as we might have to face the same situation in any future time soon.
Bangladesh is rich with hydrocarbon-bearing sediment structure and some of Asia-Pacific’s largest oil and gas reserves. Relatively cleaner LNG might be another option for the future. While this is the more realistic path, we should really be focusing on renewables and alternative energy sources that are sustainable.
The country should concentrate all its efforts on the prospective offshore areas to locate gas reserves. Neighboring India and Myanmar have struck vast gas reserves in their offshore hydrocarbon blocks. Bangladesh must find one or two such gas fields. The international oil companies did not show interest in engaging themselves in exploration works in 26 offshore blocks, 15 deep-sea blocks and 11 shallow-water blocks, which Bangladesh had offered. The reasons had been the falling prices of crude oil and lack of multi-client 2D or 3D surveys of the blocks. There were talks about surveys. But progress to this effect is still unknown.
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. To mitigate the damage to the environment and the cost, Bangladesh should work towards cleaner coal technologies for the future.
Nuclear energy has been a debatable 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. Our Rooppur nuclear power plant will supply around 2400MW and there is talk of new nuclear power plants in the southern region too. Nuclear technology is also a green solution, with next to no carbon dioxide emission.
The renewable energy sector only produces 3 per cent of the total energy ratio of the country. The Bangladesh government has taken a master plan of switching to renewable energies like wind, hydro, biomass and solar powers for electricity generation. Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest solar energy programs. But for vast industrial necessities, this has proven to be highly impractical. Ocean waves are a fresher hydro-electric power source that many countries are working on. Bangladesh has a chance to use the Bay of Bengal and the Sandwip area for energy production purposes. But hydro politics around the region is a big issue hampering implementation of wave plants.
An agro-based country like Bangladesh may lean on biomass energy more, using only agricultural crop residues, animal manure and municipal solid wastes. 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.
Electricity production has always been a challenge for Bangladesh and one of the major development obstacles. During the last decade, the government has focused on capacity building as well as increasing coverage and has been successful. But unfortunately, finding the resources to produce electricity was not that much focused. Electricity or energy crisis can create real chaos in the country and Bangladesh now needs to take some quick steps.
The government must focus on finding new natural gas sources inside the country with utmost priority. Additionally, coal-based power plants need to be built as we have storage of coals to mitigate the crisis. Most importantly, any source of renewable energy must be explored. The government should even invest in solar energy panel to utilize it to the maximum.
The government is planning on electricity rationing considering the crisis. Experts said such rationing might bring some relief in the short run but that the government needs to revamp its energy and power policy for a long-term solution. But before that, wastage of electricity must be eliminated. The government can take few steps in this regard like; shutting down markets and shopping malls after 5pm, promoting use of energy-saving bulbs, cutting down use of air conditioning at different establishments. The government can also start a reward campaign for lower use of electricity at residential and commercial complexes.
The government has highly invested to ensure rural electrification. But there is huge electricity wastage. Considering the current situation, the use of electricity should be prioritized. We need to ensure electricity at cities and productive areas. Cent per cent electrification should not be a focus right now.
We have seen how Sri Lanka is facing the energy crisis. Due to their low foreign currency reserve, they are unable to purchase fuel. 12 more countries were identified recently to face the same fate as Sri Lanka due to their low foreign currency. Bangladesh is yet in a strong position due to its foreign currency reserve at around 40 billion dollar. But our foreign currency reserve is declining to some extent. If our foreign currency reserve falls drastically, we will also become prey of global politics due to our strategic position in South Asia.
Most importantly, the global power game after the beginning of Russia-Ukraine war is really making the situation complex. Hence, we cannot spend much of our foreign reserve to purchase gas for electricity production and the government must find ways of lower electricity wastage and usage for the time being. We must create and find own resources to produce electricity. If we cannot produce electricity with our own resources, then we will be in deep trouble.
Considering all the aspects, the Bangladeshi people should get ready to embrace a difficult situation in the upcoming months. The next general election will create additional chaos as the opposition parties will try to take advantage of the adverse situation though they do not have any solutions of our challenges. If a new government comes in power utilizing the adversities in the country, they will also have a tough time. Hence, everyone should support the current government in finding solutions to the current problems.
The farsighted leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made us overcome many challenges during the last decade. We have to support our leader and must trust in the fact that, for the welfare of the country, we will have to bear some adversities. With a little tolerance and government’s timely policies, we hope to overcome the future challenges to protect our sovereignty.
Writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela