At a time when the rest of the world is going for green power by abandoning dirty energy, Bangladesh is focused on increasing coal power generation so that it makes up 30 percent of its total power mix, from its present single digit share, by 2030.
The world's leading coal power users and top polluters – China and the US – are all drastically cutting down their dependence on coal power. They are switching to solar and other renewable power because these have now become very cheap – sometimes way cheaper than coal power.
On December 10 this year, American multinational investment bank and research firm Morgan Stanley forecast that about 70,000 megawatts to as much as 1,90,000 megawatts of coal-fired power generation is "economically at risk" from the deployment of a "second wave of renewables" in the US.
It added that under the base-case scenario, coal-fired electricity declined from 27 percent of the total US power mix in 2018 to just eight percent by 2030.
The firm predicted that wind and solar will grow from nine percent to 30 percent of the generation mix over the same time frame.
"Driven by the surprisingly low cost of renewables, we believe that carbon-heavy utilities that have not historically led the pack in clean energy deployment will accelerate their earnings growth by pursuing a 'virtuous cycle': shutting down expensive coal plants and investing in cheap renewables," Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in the December 10 research report.
Two decades ago, the US used to produce about 60 percent power from coal. Back then, it was considered cheap as the cost of carbon emission was excluded.
Coal is being heavily used as the primary energy source by China, India, Germany, Russia, Japan, South Africa and so on. In fact, most developed nations have been using coal as the primary source of energy. As their need for energy was very high, they have been burning coal like there is no tomorrow.
The net result: global warming triggered by unabated release of carbon dioxide (CO2) through the chimneys of these coal plants.
China and the US are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world's CO2 emissions today. India, though not a developed nation, is the third largest polluter in the world.
But these countries have been working on cutting down on coal-based power and increasing green power generation.
India is right now one of the top solar power producers. It had an initial target of 20 gigawatts capacity for 2022, which was achieved four years ahead of schedule.
China already has almost 200 gigawatts solar power capacity, and while the country has the largest coal-based power plants, it aims at reducing these plants in the new decade.
Solar energy in hundreds of Chinese cities is now cheaper than electricity supplied by the national grid, and it can even compete with coal-fired power in 75 of these cities, a new study has found.
Some 344 Chinese cities were found to have solar systems producing energy at lower prices than the grid without any subsidies, according to a research published in the journal Nature Energy. That could encourage further investment in renewable energy.
China has made huge progress in developing solar projects, and has pledged to invest $367 billion in renewable power generation — solar, wind, hydro and nuclear — from 2017 to 2020.
On the other hand, Bangladesh has not been seriously pursuing renewable power as much as it has been focusing on coal.
Bangladesh has been hammering on adding large-scale coal power since 2010, when the government began aggressively pursuing a massive increase in power generation and propel itself out of the era of load shedding.
The government had also diversified the primary source of energy from local cheap natural gas and added oil-fired, liquefied natural gas-based and nuclear-fired power generation.
In the last 10 years, the government has rolled out at least 20 coal power projects with a combined capacity of 20,935 megawatts. Considering that the country now consumes around 12,000 megawatts, but has a capacity of producing 23,000 megawatts, the coal goal looks way too much.
These plants will begin coming into operation in phases from early 2020.
Among these projects, Matarbari 1,200 megawatts, Rampal 1,320 megawatts, Patuakhali 1,320 (Chinese) megawatts and Patuakhali 1,320 (Norinco-China and RPGL) megawatts are under implementation. These are all public sector projects.
The remaining projects have been taken by both private and public investors. Among the top is Orion Power with three projects totalling 1,780 megawatts, S Alam 1,224 megawatts, and Isotech 307 megawatts.
For the public sector coal projects, the power tariff comes at around Tk6-7 per kilowatt hour. For the Orion project, the cost is around Tk4.5.
The government had also set a target of generating 10 percent of the total power from green sources by 2020. But until now, it could secure no more than three percent.
The biggest solar power project in Bangladesh is being implemented by Orion Power. The 100-megawatt plant just close to the Rampal project is being implemented with a power tariff of US 13.8 cents (around Tk12) per kilowatt hour under a "no electricity-no pay" arrangement.
On-grid solar power tariff is around US 14-15 cents (around Tk12-13) per kilowatt hour in Bangladesh. Off-grid per kilowatt hour solar power is way costlier – around Tk70.
But around the world, the tariff can be astonishingly low. Most recently, Saudi Arabia's Acwa Power submitted a tariff of just US 1.6953 cents (around Tk1.44) per kilowatt hour for the 900-megawatt fifth phase of Dubai's Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.
However, one should not mistakenly think that solar power in Bangladesh is cheap. It would actually be costlier than that in most other countries because of high land price and low sun exposure around the year. Countries in the Middle East have high sun exposure around the year and they have vast unused deserts on which to install solar power plants.
Orion's 100-megawatt solar plant needs 350 acres of land. This demonstrates that Bangladesh just cannot go very big on solar.
However, innovations in green around the world should not be ignored by Bangladesh either. We should be innovative in finding solutions to lower our solar power cost.
When there is a will, there is a way – we need to join the world and go green in power generation. We can begin this new focus by restricting our coal power projects.