Renewable energy development is a major response to address the issues of climate change and energy security. The utilisation of renewable resources, however, highly depends on the climate conditions, which may be impacted in the future due to global climate change. For countries like Bangladesh, renewable energy is now being seen by many people around the world as a cost-effective development solution.

An Oxfam Australia report published last year argues that as a result of the changing energy landscape around the world, the decreasing price of renewable energies, and the often remote location of the majority of people who don’t have access to electricity, renewable energy may actually offer a more reliable and effective energy source. For Example, In Bangladesh, sixty thousand solar panels on average are installed in a month. A 40 to 120-watt solar panel is enough for a rural household, which is transforming lives.

This supports statements made by the World Bank, IMF and former UN security chief Kofi Annan, who have argued that renewable energy and not fossil fuels are key to improving energy access and reducing inequality, especially in developing countries. Yet, around 97% of the energy sources in Bangladesh are fossil fuel based, mainly natural gas. The popularity of renewable energy sources is low among high-intensity energy consuming class. This points toward urban population, who already face the dire consequences of climate change.

Bangladesh's Energy Mix

Figure: Bangladesh’s Energy Mix

For Bangladesh, the potential is enormous. According to Dr Simon Bradshaw, “Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas that are often not connected to a centralised energy grid, so local, renewable energy solutions offer a much more affordable, practical and healthy solution….” In rural areas, the majority of people primarily rely on biomass and kerosene for cooking, lighting, feeding, and heating. In Bangladesh, about 95% of households gather or purchase biomass energy for cooking whereas in rural areas almost 99% use wood, cow dung in the form of cake or stick, jute sticks or other agricultural wastes for cooking.

Resources Potential Entities involved
Solar Enormous Public and private sector
Wind Resource mapping required Public sector/PPP
Hydro Limited potential for micro or mini-hydro (max. 5 MW). Estimated hydro potential approximately 500 MW Mainly public entities
Domestic biogas system 8.6 million m3 of biogas Public and private sector
Rice husk based biomass gasification power plant 300 MW considering 2 kg of husk consumption per kWh Mainly private sector
Cattle waste based biogas power plants 350 MW considering 0.752 m3 of biogas consumption per kWh Mainly private sector
Table Source: Energy scarcity and potential of renewable energy in Bangladesh, Halder et al. 2015

Dr. Simon added, “But as well as failing to improve energy access for the world’s poorest people, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year due to air pollution and is the single biggest contributor to climate change.”

In spite of the best efforts of fossil fuel companies to spread climate denial and prevent the spread of renewable energies, they have begun to grow at an incredible speed around the world. In fact, according to Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century, “If you look back 10 years ago, Renewable energies were providing 3 per cent of global energy, and now, they provide something close to 22 per cent, so that has really sky-rocketed.”

Renewable Energy Network in their Global report stated that the experience of Bangladesh illustrates the strong potential for solar PV to extend energy access and employment to rural areas in developing countries. One of the most successful SHS programmes ever, Installations of solar home systems in the country had risen to 3.8 million units as of early 2015, and employment had expanded to an estimated 115,000 jobs, principally in sales, installations, and maintenance. Bangladesh has planned to meet 10% of total energy from renewable sources by 2021.

Bangladesh Renewable Energy Policy of 2014 formed a Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA). Infrastructure Development Company Limited distributed 160 MW of off-grid solar irrigation pumps in 2014 to replace 18,700 diesel-based irrigation pumps. Bangladesh has also announced a Country Action Plan for Clean Cookstoves with a target to disseminate 30 million units and make all kitchens smoke-free by 2030.

All these measures mostly focus on new energy consumers, and Government has not come up with a detailed action plan that can reduce gas and diesel dependency for electricity. The Rampal coal-fired power plant project that the government is planning to set up near the Sundarbans would bring no good for the country. Bangladesh must stop subsidising fossil fuel industry and focus on the vast potential of renewables.

Palash Sanyal

About Palash Sanyal

A development practitioner currently based in Bangladesh. Interests involve facilitation, creating data visualisation and community engagement in climate change.Follow him on Twitter @prsanyal.