40pc of power generation capacity unused

Lack of transmission, distribution lines blamed

Emran Hossain | Published: 00:17, Nov 30,2019


Despite having an almost four-fold increase in the installed electricity generation capacity, Bangladesh’s power sector is not faring well because of poor transmission and distribution systems.

Many household consumers often complain about power cuts or voltage fluctuations, even in the capital.

Household users represent some 90 per cent of the country’s power consumers.

On the other hand, industries account for less than one per cent of the power consumers as they cannot rely on the national grid for an uninterrupted power supply.

They rather depend on expensive captive power while about 40 per cent of the country’s installed electricity generation capacity remains unused, Power Development Board data show.

PDB officials, however, were unwilling to accept poor transmission and distribution lines as the sole reason for its power capacity remaining unutilised.

They said that some of the power plants were out of operation because of gas crisis and some others for maintenance.

‘This is true that we could not yet ensure an uninterrupted power supply because of transmission and distribution shortcomings,’ said Power Division secretary Ahmad Kaikaus.

‘We are still building the infrastructure required to support our growing economy,’ he said.

Kaikaus said that globally it took more time for power transmission and distribution infrastructures to improve than the generation infrastructures because the work on improving the former needed to be done in daylight.

‘We hope to win the trust of industries soon,’ he said.

The government invested $15 billion in increasing the country’s installed electricity generation capacity from 4,942 megawatt to 19,141 megawatt in 10 years since 2009, according to the PDB. 

On the contrary, the investment went in improving the transmission infrastructure during the same period was a little over $1.5 billion while about $ 2.6 billion was spent on updating the distribution sector.

So far the highest amount of power that passed through the national grid on a day was 12,893 megawatt – on May 29.

During the summer, PDB’s power supply a day on average stays around 9,000 megawatt, reaching up to 11,000 megawatt for a few hours after the nightfall.

The daily average supply during the winter goes down to maximum 6000 megawatt.

An aggregated estimate shows that Bangladesh’s six power distribution companies have a capacity to handle about 21,530 megawatt while the transmission systems can carry 15,600 megawatt.

But even though the companies handle far less than their real capacity they suffer from dysfunctional electrical equipment every now and then.

In June, power supply was interrupted in many parts of the country after overloading rendered 1,023 transformers non-functional.

In the same month, 1,535 transformers got burnt tripping distribution lines in many areas.

Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board owned most of the 1,790 overloaded and burnt transformers while the rest five distribution companies also had their share of non-functional transformers.

PDB annual reports show that power failure because of trouble in grid equipment rose to 46 times in 2018 from 10 times in 2017.

In 2018, the PDB recorded 64.18 hours of total power outage.

Similarly, faults in transmission lines caused power failures seven times in 2018, up from four times in the previous year, PDB reports showed.

In 2018, problems in transmission lines caused 10.13 hours of power outage, up from 7.33 hours in 2017.  

New Age talked to the chiefs of all six distributing companies who said that they could use 60 per cent of their capacity in order to avoid electric equipment going out of order.

According to Power Cell officials, PDB subsidiaries maintain a power disruption ledger where inputs are given manually and this power outage account is rarely referred to because of its lack of credibility.

The officials said that they were pushing the electricity companies to install an automated system to have credible power outage data.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh energy adviser Professor M Shamsul Alam, however, said that there was a lack of reliable data for assessing people’s access to quality power.

‘It is clear that the PDB is unable to fully utilise its generation capacity and then to supply it at required frequency and voltage,’ said Shamsul Alam.

He said that it was not normal for transformers to get burnt from overloading unless they were left uncared for and overused for years.

For instance, he said, power supply was uninterrupted in the 1960s when transformers never went out of order because of overload.

Even many new transformers get easily burnt nowadays as they are substandard and their purchases were not transparent, he added.

Shamsul Alam noted that power transmission and distribution lines should operate to their full capacity and could even stand overload for some time if their quality was not compromised.

‘Our power lines are of very low quality,’ he said.

Power secretary Kaikaus admitted that in many areas power equipment were ages old and under enormous strain from increasing dependence of people on electrical equipment.

PDB chairman Khaled Mahmud said that they were constantly updating power distribution and transmission lines.

Shamsul Alam said that the government had undoubtedly failed to ensure a balanced development in the power sector.

‘The power transmission and distribution capacities are not consistent with the growth in the generation capacity,’ he observed.

He viewed that power sector planners needed to be prudent because power cannot be stored.

Keeping power plants out of operation costs a lot too, he further said.

Last year the government spent Tk 80 billion as capacity payment to the idle power plants, according to the PDB.

‘The government’s claim of power sector development is misleading,’ Shamsul Alam emphasised.

‘By inconsistently increasing the generation capacity the government increased power cost manifold,’ he noted.

‘The people are paying the price,’ he added.

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