Bangladesh may see a quantum leap in coal-fired power generation shortly with new capacity coming online as the country courts undesirable tradeoffs to avoid costly gases, amid a global paradigm shift.
With the new output to be available from plants inside Bangladesh and in India, sources say, coal's share in the country's energy mix would be catapulted to its highest on record.
The country is expected to add around 4,365 megawatts of coal-fired power-generation capacity both from within its borders and through imports from India, they say, incidentally as many other countries are shifting from climate-friendly energy use.
When in hand, it will more than double the share of coal in its domestic electricity mix to nearly 17 per cent from 8 per cent and increase the share of imported power-generation capacity to 11 per cent from 4.0 per cent -- mostly thermal.
The country could see over a quarter of its power capacity based on coal -- "in a significant shift" -- according to a senior official of the Power Division under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources (MPEMR).
"Once the coal-fired power plants come online, Bangladesh will be able to cut the use of expensive diesel, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and furnace oil for electricity generation," the official told the FE Thursday.
The construction of three new coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of around 2765 megawatts is learnt to be nearing completion inside the country.
The plant projects are: 1,320MW Maitree Super Thermal Power Project near the Sundarbans, 1,224MW SS Power, and 307MW Barisal Electric Power Company Ltd.
And construction of another coal-fired power plant having the capacity to supply 1600MW electricity is almost completed at Godda in India's Jharkhand to supply electricity to Bangladesh under power-import deals.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the unit-I of the 1320-megawatt Maitree Super Thermal Power Project during the former's visit to New Delhi this month (September).
Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd, or BIFPCL, a joint venture of Bangladesh's BPDB and India's NTPC Ltd, is implementing the power project.
A test run of the power plant will be initiated soon, the official added.
India's Adani group is implementing the Godda 1600MW power plant and its chairman Gautam Adani on a tweet after meeting with the Bangladeshi premier on September 6 in New Delhi disclosed the plan to bring the power plant online.
"We are committed to commissioning our 1600MW Godda Power Project and dedicated transmission line to Bangladesh by Bijoy Dibosh (Bangladesh's Victory Day), 16 Dec 2022," he said.
Of the total new 4,365 megawatts, at least half of the total electricity-generation capacity is scheduled to come into reality by December as the bigger power plants have two units and they have planned to commission their first unit first by yearend, a senior official of Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) said.
Second units of the big power plants are scheduled to come online within the next six months.
"These new coal-fired power plants altogether will generate electricity from imported coal and Bangladesh will require around 27,000 tonnes of imported coal daily to generate electricity from the power plants being installed in its territory," he says.
These power plants were scheduled to come online at least a couple of years back but the global COVID-19 pandemic and other relevant issues delayed their commissioning.
Bangladesh's total power-generation capacity as of September 2022 was 21,710 megawatts, according to official data.
With the addition of new 4,365MW coal-fired power, the country's overall electricity-generation capacity is set to soar to 26,075MW by yearend.
It will increase the stake of coal-fired power plants in overall generation capacity to 6,033MW or 23.13 per cent of the country's overall electricity generation capacity from the current 1,688MW, or 8 per cent
At present most of the generation capacity is from natural gas-fired power plants with a capacity of around 11,162MW, accounting for 51 per cent of the total, furnace oil-based power plants have a total of 5,925MW capacity, or 28 per cent of the total, diesel-fired plants have 1,286MW, or 6 per cent, and coal-fired capacity is around 1,688MW or 8 per cent, official data show.
Bangladesh has very low renewables-based generation, with hydropower at 230MW or 1 per cent of total and solar at 229MW or 1 per cent and it also imports around 1,160MW, or 5 per cent of the capacity of power generation, from India.
Before the commissioning of Payra 1,244MW coal-fired power plant in May 2020 Bangladesh's overall power-generation capacity from coal-fired power plants was only around 528MW or around 2 per cent of the then capacity.
"We are yet to calculate how much natural gas we shall provide for electricity generation once the coal-fired power plants come online," says Petrobangla chairman Nazmul Ahsan.
Industries might get additional gas if less natural gas is required for power generation, he adds.
Currently, a total of 22 natural gas-fired power plants, with a capacity of around 3,376MW, are totally shut and a few more are running with limited capacity as state-run Petrobangla is able to supply less than half the country's total gas requirement.
This equals to around one-fourth of the country's gas-fired generation capacity.
Bangladesh has halted spot LNG imports since July due to high prices and is currently relying only on long-term LNG imports from Qatar's Qatargas and Oman's Oman Trading International, or OQ Trading.
Switching to coal for power generation will be cheaper compared to gasoil, or diesel, HSFO and imported LNG-based power, says Prof M Tamim, who was in charge of Bangladesh's energy sector during the previous caretaker government.
Generation cost from coal-fired power plants will be around Tk 12-13 per kilowatt-hour (1 unit), which is around Tk 16-17 per unit for furnace oil, and over Tk 30 per unit for diesel.
Although coal price on the international market also surged from around US$150 per tonne to around $350 per tonne over the past several months, it is not too pricey as other sorts of energy like diesel, and furnace oil, said Tamim, now Dean at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
The upturn in the price of the 'black gold' is attributed to a latest development with many countries reverting to coal power in the wake of global-energy market volatility, particularly for the Ukraine war and sanctions.
"We run power plants according to least-cost generation procedure," the BPDB official said.
So, the BPDB will certainly choose the cheapest fuel for electricity generation to bring down the overall power-generation costs, he added.
BPDB is the lone buyer of electricity from power producers in Bangladesh.