Govt in Bangladesh turns blind eye to renewable energy: Shamsul Alam

Manzur H Maswood | Updated at 02:28am on August 18, 2018

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Energy expert and Daffodil International University engineering faculty dean Professor M Shamsul Alam talks to New Age about prospects and challenges in developing renewable energy sources in Bangladesh. — Abdullah Opu

Energy expert M Shamsul Alam discusses with Manzur H Maswood prospects and challenges in developing renewable energy sources in Bangladesh

With the demand of electricity growing, Bangladesh continues to depend on power generation from mostly conventional sources like natural gas, diesel and coal fired plants.
The perennial electricity shortage faced by Bangladesh could be solved by the proper utilization of untapped renewable energy resources, including solar, biomass, wind and hydropower, thinks professor M Shamsul Alam, dean of engineering faculty at Daffodil International University.
‘But the renewable energy is not yet considered a commercial energy product in Bangladesh despite its huge potentials,’ he said.
Solar energy just began to get some importance as a commercially viable energy product only in discussions but the other energy sources are not even unanalyzed, he said.
Shamsul Alam, also a former director of the Institute of Energy at Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology, threw light about the prospects and challenges of developing renewable energy in Bangladesh.
He said that the government was yet to take viable plans for investment in solar energy sector.
‘Power generation using solar energy could meet the nation’s 20 per cent demand of electricity,’ he said.
‘Power generated using solar energy could meet the cities’ demand during the peak hours besides feeding the rural areas outside the coverage of the national grid,’ he said.
‘This would help the government slash huge subsidies it spends annually on fuel oil fired power generation,’ he said.
Shamsul Alam said that electricity generation using solar energy costs about Tk 30 per kilowatt, known as unit, while fuel oil based power generation costs Tk 20-30 per unit.
He said that the cost electricity generation using solar power could be brought down to below Tk 10 per unit with proper planning.
Now, said Shamsul Alam, substandard machinery used to produce solar electricity in the country increases the cost of generation.
He said that the ‘solar plant use factor’ was quite important for maximizing generation capacity and a simultaneous reduction of costs.
He said conventional solar plant use factor was eight to 10 per cent in Bangladesh resulting in low power generation and the high tariff to Tk 30 per unit.
But by using efficient solar system the solar plant use factor could be raised by 25-27 per cent, he said.
And by using even 17-18 per cent use factor, per unit electricity cost could be brought down to below Tk 10, he said.
Shamsul Alam said that the government spends enormous sums of money on subsidies to supply electricity to consumers because it buys electricity at a high price from costly fuel oil based power generation sources.
In fiscal 2017-18, he said, the government spent Tk 8,600 crore on subsidizing electricity suppliers.
He said he could not understand what could be the justification for the government to provide huge subsidies on fuel oil based power generation neglecting the must less costly solar energy.
Currently, Bangladeshis using solar system get 50 per cent of the cost as grant for installing the equipment.
Shamsul Alam said if the government diverts money spent on subsidies to subsidize solar power users their electricity generation cost would drop to Tk four or five per unit.
In that event, he said, solar energy would emerge as a viable and effective alternative to meet the peak hour demand for electricity in the cities.
Roof-top solar panels in cities, he said, could be an effective answer to meet the peak hour demand for phasing out peak load power plants which now supply electricity during the two to three peak hours per day.
He said that the use of solar power in cities and other urban areas could also make IPS drawing electricity from the grid unnecessary.
Shamsul Alam said the government took the wrong path by spending on gird expansion though it keeps the goal of supplying electricity to rural areas elusive and unattainable.
‘It’s a wrong policy’, he said, adding, ‘The solar power would provide the best possible realistic solution to the crisis.’
It’s time that Bangladesh begins to explore biomass, wind power and the other renewable sources of energy, said Shamsul Alam.
‘We have huge biomass energy potentials,’ he said.
He said that wastes from forests, crop and animal farms as well as human waste could provide renewable energy in utilized in a planned way.
Shamsul Alam said that wind energy also remained a neglected area in Bangladesh.