Time to reduce dependency on imported energy

Published: 00:00, Jan 24,2021 | Updated: 22:03, Jan 23,2021


MANY city residents have faced an acute gas crisis for the past few weeks because of inadequacy in supply gas. The problem has, too, hit production in the industrial sector, with apparel factories having reported a 60 per cent decline in daily production. Household consumers have, meanwhile, complained that they face the supply shortage especially during the day. People in low-income neighbourhoods where multiple households share a single kitchen are the worst sufferers as they often need to spend their days half-fed. While gas crisis during the winter is common, the shortage is, as household and industrial consumers say, unusually acute this year. Officials attribute the situation to a reduced import of liquefied natural gas in recent months after a price increase of fossil fuels on the international market. The gas supply stood, as a Petrobangla report says, at 2,657mmcfd, about 15 per cent less than what it was in the past year and the liquefied natural gas import dropped by more than 70 per cent to 200mmfcd on January 19, which was 700mmcfd on October 1, 2020. The global energy market has been volatile since November 2020 and experts at home warned the government of an impending crisis, but the authorities have done little to tackle the situation.

Energy experts also view the volatile international market as a precursor to the energy crisis, but blame the government for its flawed policy that heavily depends on import to meet the domestic demand. A major shift from local to import-based primary energy means, as experts have for long argued, will create economic pressure on the country in paying for the imported gas and it will have less control over the supply, as is evident in the current problem. In the end, consumers suffer from the inadequate supply but are burdened with the increased price. In 2019, the government increased the average gas price by 32.8 per cent on grounds that the supply would remain steady. Aggrieved consumers point to another policy failure of the government that domestic consumers get supply from the same transmission network that supplies gas to industrial and commercial consumers. As a result, gas pressure is rather low in households, which forces many to buy liquefied petroleum gas or rely on fire wood. Such a flawed policy, as many consumer rights activists claim, has allowed the private-sector sellers and importers to control the market, compromising on consumer interests and security and put expensive gas power projects and LNG import facilities at risk.

The acute gas crisis makes it evident that an import-driven sector is unsustainable. The government must, therefore, look for a long-term solution to meet its energy demand. For an immediate relief, it must consider a dedicated transmission line for domestic consumers and arrange for emergency supply for people in low-income neighbourhoods. The government must also promote and incentivise biogas plant installation in households. The energy ministry needs a mechanism to monitor the international gas market so that it is not blindsided as it appears to be now.

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