Renewable energy use enhances green credentials and marks environmentally responsible behaviour for a country in the global arena. Globally, there are set targets for less carbon use and reductions of Green House Gas (GHG) emission for all the nations. From the policy perspective, Bangladesh has no conflict with such targets and the country has been trying to set concrete goals to attain for increasing renewable energy use. The Government of Bangladesh has set targets for securing 10 per cent electric energy generation capacity using renewable energy sources within 2021. To help attain such a target the government established in 2012 Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources. A number of policy guidelines have been initiated by SREDA for encouraging increased use of renewable energy. The capacity for generation of electric energy from renewable sources (mainly solar, wind, hydro energy) have yielded so far only about 700 MW (including 268 MW grid connected along with the 230 MW Kaptai Hydroelectric power plant and 330 MW off-grid power generation capacity).
The present installed capacity for grid connected electricity generation in the country has reached 21,875 MW. Thus, the share of grid connected electricity generation capacity from renewable energy sources remain far behind the target set for 2021. The concerned authorities claim that within next couple of months the situation will improve, as a number of projects under implementation will be ready to generate electric energy from solar power plant. Among them, 50 MW Sutiakhali (Gauripur) of Mymanshingh grid connected solar power plant (almost ready for commercial production); 7.4 MW Kaptai, 8 MW Panchagarh, 20 MW Teknaf and 3 MW Sharishabari solar power plants are nearing completion of construction works. SREDA reports that installation works for 11 power plants based on renewable energy sources have been progressing with a total installed capacity of 615 MW. Since 1996, nearly 6 million Solar Home Systems (SHS) have been installed by different agencies in the country which cumulatively can generate 330 MW electric energy and light homes and shops and small enterprises in the areas having no grid electricity distribution network. However, the SHSs are off-grid power supply sources and they are independently very small to support industries and large consumers. Presently 65 per cent electric energy from renewable sources comes from solar energy in Bangladesh. On the contrary, 35.4 per cent renewable electric power (grid connected) is generated from Hydropower station located at Kaptai, Rangamati. Wind energy share is only 0.9 MW (grid connected) so far in the country. Biogas and biomass based off grid power generation facilities offer negligible 1.03 MW.
An impressive initiative for using solar energy for operating irrigation pumps has been progressing fast by various public and private companies in the country. A small infrastructure comprising mainly of an irrigation pump, solar panel and inverter enable pumping underground water for the remote agricultural fields usually having no grid electric connectivity. Already 645 irrigation pumps have been installed in different parts of the country and they run with the electric energy produced by the solar panels. The published information suggests that the functioning solar irrigation pumps have freed approximately 37 MW power from the grid. There are approximately 1.3 million diesel run irrigation pumps installed in the country. Mr. Dipal Barua, President of Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association of Bangladesh considers that approximately 200,000 diesel run irrigation pumps can be replaced by solar pumps in the country. Infrastructure Development Company Ltd.(IDCoL), Bangladesh Rural Electricity Board (BERB), Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), Barendra Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) and a number of private enterprises have been working for installation of solar irrigation pumps in the country with the assistance of IDCOL, the World Bank, German KFW, Japanese JICA, Asian Development Bank (DB) and USAID. IDCoL intends to install 50,000 solar irrigation pumps in Bangladesh within 2025.
The Bengal Group of Industries in collaboration with German Raach Solar have taken initiatives to install 700 solar irrigation pumps in north western Bogra district. SREDA estimates that solar irrigation pumps can free 200 MW electricity demand from the national grid within 2030. Part of the solar irrigation pumps now supply surplus electricity generated from the solar photo voltaic (PV) systems installed to aid the irrigation pumps. Net metering facilities enable the investors to earn revenue from Bangladesh Electricity Board (BREB) by selling the surplus electricity generated from the renewable sources.
Apart from agriculture fields, solar electricity generation facilities are installed on the rooftops of various industries and office/residential buildings. A published estimate suggests that the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) members and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) potentially can make available several million square feet rooftop spaces which can be utilised for solar power generation in the country. Other industries may follow the examples as well. Published reports suggest that the Korean EPZ at the Patenga, Chattogram has been installing rooftop power generation facilities and in near future approximately 40 MW electricity can be generated from the EPZ industry rooftop. SREDA Chairman Mr. Mohammad Alauddin in a media interview suggests that the cost of installation for 50kW power generation facility on rooftop is approximately Taka 3.4 million. Payback period for the investment is 5 years. If 20 years levelised tariff is considered, rooftop solar power could cost Tk 3 per unit (cheaper than the conventional power generation cost). SREDA estimates 500 MW electricity can be generated using rooftop spaces within next couple of years.
At present the investment impediments (lack of low cost financing) and absence of quality control mechanism for Solar PV equipment import and manufacturing in the country (a lot of initiatives failed due to bad experience from poor quality solar PV (SHS) equipment available in the market) discourage many entrepreneurs for rooftop solar power development. However, net metering policy introduced by the government has been encouraging entrepreneurs to gradually shift from their inertia. Also, the gradual reduction (already solar power price has come down nearly 40 per ent) of solar power cost compared to conventional fossil fuel based power attracts more investments. Moreover, the minimum time required for installation of rooftop solar power generation facilities (IDCoL estimates that approximately 3 months time is required for installation of 1 MW capacity solar power generation facilities on rooftops investing approximately Taka 52.2 million) can attract more investors in Bangladesh in the sector. PV solar is land intensive technology (approximately 3-3.5 acres of land is required to install 1 MW solar power generation facilities), therefore a land hungry country like Bangladesh needs to make best efforts to use its lands for optimum use. Experts feel that initiatives and innovative ideas may help find more free spaces including rooftops, riverbanks, railway strips and also water bodies (with the help of floating solar facilities) for installing renewable energy facilities.
So far, solar PV is the dominating renewable energy source for Bangladesh. But wind energy potential needs to be harnessed. Recently, Payra coal fired power plant at Patuakhali has taken initiative to install a 50 MW wind power plant as its survey indicates availability of 5.1 m/s wind speed availability in the plant area. More professional survey can help to find feasible wind power installation sites in the country. Innovative entrepreneurs can take advantages of enabling policy support and cost effective loan support to accelerate renewable energy development in the country.
Mushfiqur Rahmab, a mining engineer, writes on energy and environment issues.