In a world imperiled by global warming triggered by burning fossil fuel, different nations are slowly switching to green energy and ditching the dirty energy from coal. But Bangladesh is unlikely to join the fight against fossil fuel burning meaningfully in the next two decades.
Bangladesh is handicapped with limited options of green energy because of its climate and geographical location. The best shot it can offer to the rest of the world is the 2,400 megawatt Rooppur Nuclear Power Project that is set to come into operation in 2024. While it has environmental and safety concerns, it offers zero emission.
While Bangladesh's energy policy has the good intention of increasing the share of renewable energy in the total energy mix-- so far the achievement remains insignificant.
The government's Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (Sreda) aims at installing 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2021 and thus attain one-tenth of the total power generation. But so far, it could attain less than 3%.
In contrast, India is already generating 38% of its energy from renewable, hydroelectric and nuclear sources. Although India heavily burns coal—remaining as one of the top polluters in the world, it has aimed at reducing emissions by 45% by 2030.
Meanwhile, on December 12, Pakistan announced ditching its coal projects— both power and mining. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that they aim at generating 60% power from clean energy by 2030.
China, the world's biggest air polluter due to its reliance on coal power, is also embracing renewable power in a big way. That is reflected from the fact that 38% of its present energy mix is from clean sources.
But Bangladesh's hands are tied when it comes to clean energy. For India, Pakistan or China, turning to clean power is way easy because they have huge hydropower potentials. They also have huge deserts or unused lands for installation of solar power. They have long coastal belts that are windy to tap wind power.
Bangladesh on the other hand has almost exhausted its hydropower potentials through constructing the 230 MW Kaptai hydropower project.
Bangladesh has not yet achieved any breakthrough with wind power. It ran three unimpressive small pilot projects in Kutubdia and Feni. Now in December, the government has awarded a 55 MW wind power project in Bagerhat to a China-Bangladesh consortium. If this works out the country may consider rolling out more wind power projects.
Right now, Bangladesh is left with the only major renewable power option--solar.
The country has made a lot of progress with the off-grid home solar power system. Off-grid solar units at homes are now providing 330 MW power and the government has initiatives to introduce solar irrigation pumps across the country with the target to replace 200 MW electricity worth of diesel generated pumps.
But that remains a paltry share of the total energy scenario where it can generate over 20,000 MW power against a demand of 12,000 MW.
It has initiated some larger scale grid-connected solar power projects. But so far, such projects added only 87 megawatt to the national grid.
The problem is, for each megawatt solar power generation, over three acres of land are needed, a scarce resource in a densely populated country like Bangladesh.
In addition, Bangladesh does not have high sun exposure like the Middle East and many South American countries where some of the world's cheapest large solar projects are being built.
Some countries are going for floating solar panels in the seas by their coasts. Whether Bangladesh can do so in the Bay of Bengal should first be scrutinized through proper studies. So far no such study has been conducted.
There are some initiatives to install large scale rooftop solar projects. In the Korean EPZ in Chittagong, there is a move to set up a 40 MW rooftop solar system that can be extended up to 200 MW.
The shortcoming of solar power projects is that there is no large scale battery technology to store the power and use it when consumers need it. Bangladeshi solar projects can supply power only when sunlight is available.
If Bangladesh could use wind power, it would have provided power day and night—without requiring a battery system.
But all of these efforts are not good enough to replace or even significantly reduce the fossil fuel dependency of Bangladesh.
Starting from 2010, the government had rolled out 29 coal powered projects. Of them, three large projects are under implementation: the 1,320 MW Payra project, the 1320 MW Rampal project and the 1200 MW Matarbari project.
In August, except for these three schemes, the government decided to revise all of the remaining coal projects. These projects will be powered by imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) instead of coal. This decision, prompted by lack of coal power funding, is a step forward to improved emission control—as emission from LNG is way lower than coal.
Considering that Bangladesh would be implementing more solar power projects; some wind projects and launching the nuclear power plant in the next 10 years, the country could at best attain 10% of the energy mix with clean energy. Because, alongside these clean projects, there will be a growth of fossil fuel based projects as well.
In the map of world's air polluters, Bangladesh stands nowhere near the developed countries because of its low energy consumption. Bangladesh still ranks very low in this regard. Bangladesh is not responsible for global warming like the USA, China or India or the western countries. But Bangladesh has to contribute with whatever strength it has in the fight against global warming—as the earth is just one place for all of humanity.