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Tapping solar energy: An option to fossil fuel

| Updated: October 19, 2017 19:21:17


Tapping solar energy: An option to fossil fuel

Energy security of Bangladesh is threatened by lack of domestic energy resources, high dependence on imported fuels and poor energy infrastructure. The country has to look for alternative energy sources other than fossil fuels. This energy is often referred to as any energy source that is an alternative to fossil fuel. In view of the finite stock of natural gas and high cost of imported fuel, the attention is naturally focused on renewable source of energy like solar power as the government is committed to make electricity available for all by 2021.
Additionally, economic growth, urbanization, and expanding industrialization have increased the country's demand for electricity. Renewable energy will thus play a vital role in meeting the demand for electricity, especially in the off-grid areas of the country. The government has a target to generate 5.0 per cent of the total electricity supply from renewable energy resources by 2015 and 10 per cent by 2020 alongside addressing the undesirable consequences of fossil fuel use, like high carbon dioxide emissions (greenhouse gas), an important reason for global warming.
As the economy prospers due to growing industrialization, the need for energy grows exponentially. With the demand poised to rise with time, closing the gap between demand and supply will be a gigantic task. In this sense energy is a vital infrastructural requirement that drives economic growth. Bangladesh has to meet increasing energy needs to support growing industrialization but it still has a long way to go to be self-reliant in this sector.
Only 62 per cent of Bangladeshis had access to electricity in 2014 and therefore bringing those with no access to the power source under the electricity network, has become a priority. The solar energy method has already demonstrated great potential in this respect on a residential, industrial, regional, and even national scale. Very recently, 786 lighting poles in the Chittagong EPZ have been powered entirely by the use of solar technology, which speaks volumes about its potential to resolve the electricity crisis on a bigger scale in future. Moreover, according to a report by Reuters, the introduction of solar power in Bangladesh in 1996, which is steadily expanding, has already saved 200,000 tonnes of kerosene worth about $180 million in 18 years.
Being aware of the finite stock of fossil fuels and their negative impact on the environment, the use of renewable energy increased considerably in recent times, both in developed and in developing countries. According to REN21's Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, renewable energy constitutes about one-fifth of global energy consumption. More than one hundred countries now have renewable energy policy of one kind or the other.
Development of renewable energy has been identified as one of the programmes of Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. Renewable Energy Policy of Bangladesh, has been in force since 2009, which envisioed having 5.0 per cent power from renewable energy sources by 2015 and 10 per cent by 2020. Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) has been set up to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. To strengthen international cooperation, Bangladesh became one of the initial members of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the only inter-governmental agency working exclusively on renewable energy.  
Bangladesh receives an average daily solar radiation in the range of 4-5 kWh/m². Encouraged by the availability of solar radiation, Power Division has initiated a programme to generate 500 MW of solar-based electricity. Under this programme, projects for electrification of rural health centres, educational institutions, E-centres at union levels, religious establishments and remote railway stations are required to be implemented by authorities concerned. The private sector is expected to implement commercial projects like Solar Irrigation, Solar Mini Grid, Solar Park and Solar Rooftop applications.
The government is gradually meeting part of the lighting and cooling load of public offices by installing solar panels. The national capacity of solar power currently exceeds 150 MW. Most of the capacity addition is from Solar Home Systems (SHS) and until recently, more than 3.0 million SHSs have been installed with an aggregated capacity of about 135 MW. The international community recognises Bangladesh's SHSs as the fastest growing solar power dissemination programme in the world.
With the aim to strengthen its power sector, reduce costs, and increase energy access, Bangladesh has announced ambitious plans to set up renewable energy projects. The government has set a target to install 3GW of renewable energy capacity by 2021. The government also aims to have a 5.0 per cent share of renewable energy in electricity generation by the end of this year, which is planned to increase to 10 per cent by 2021.
The main focus of the 3GW capacity will be solar and wind energy technologies. Solar technology is an effective, environmentally sound way to provide the majority with electricity. As such, one of the world's most successful solar energy programmes has been working in Bangladesh for the last 13 years. Over 3.5 million solar home systems (SHSs) have been installed in the  rural areas since 2002-benefiting over 16 million people.
The government plans to add 1,740 MW of solar power and 1,370 MW of wind energy capacity by 2021, with the remaining balance to be largely made up of biomass-based power generation technologies. Less than 10 MW each will be added through biogas and hydro power. Accordingly Bangladesh has given a significant thrust on tapping solar energy and to install a set target 500MW Solar Energy in Bangladesh. A huge number of 'green jobs' are also being created with the growth of this newly developed sector. Currently, over 100,000 people work in the solar energy sector across the country. All VAT and taxes have been waived from solar panels. Bangladesh Bank has created a special fund of Tk.2.0 billion for facilitating not only ETPs, but also renewable energy technologies.
Achieving growth is one thing, sustaining it is another. Bangladesh now faces a two-fold challenge or opportunity. The first is to accelerate the current growth rate of above 6.0 per cent and take it a step further: a continued growth rate of over 7.0 per cent, for the next decade. The second challenge is to maintain the growth rate. The success in achieving both these targets would enable us to achieve middle-income country status by the beginning of the next decade.
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