The current demand of electricity in Bangladesh is 12,000 megawatts (MW) and we claim that we have the capacity to generate 19,000 MW of electricity. Yet, the industries are depending on the captive power plants instead. And, we need to find out why this is actually happening.
Firstly, in our country, I have not seen any data regarding the availability of the existing generators. Our installed capacity of power generation is 19,000 MW but we need to know the reliability of the installed generators. Reliability means the actual capability of an installed generator.
A year consists of 8,760 hours and no generator can continuously provide support throughout the whole time as generators need routine maintenance work after certain hours of production. Also a generator cannot generate to its full capacity. For example, a generator of 100 MW cannot generate electricity at its full capability. Its reliability varies, and depending on the manufacturer the reliability varies from 80 to 98 percent. Thus we need to find out the number of generators that are undergoing maintenance and have become faulty.
If you have two generators of 100 MW, you might think that you are capable of generating 200 MW of electricity and you can connect a load of 200 MW. But, unfortunately, you cannot have 200 MW the whole time. And as a result, there will be load shedding.
More than 30 percent power plants of Bangladesh is engine-based and most of them run on gas and oil. But whenever there is a crisis in the primary fuel, production gets hampered and we cannot generate electricity at that time. Which finally results in load shedding.
Secondly, generating power is only half the work, we also need to distribute it as well. And there can be problems at transmission and distribution levels as well. But you cannot say that it is happening only in our country for poor infrastructure. The truth is, the problems we face in our country can happen anywhere in the world. And due to the problems in transmission and distribution, consumers might face load shedding as well.
Additionally, we also need to examine the generators before it gets down to production. Because if we set up equipment with low reliability, it will be a cause of loss in the national economy. For example, a power plant capable of generating 100 MW electricity cost Tk700 crore to set up. But, if the equipment used here are of lower reliability, it might become costlier than the power plant of the same capacity which took Tk1000 crore to build.
Industries on the other hand have heavily invested on machineries that need to run without any interruption. In Bangladesh, there are many process industries. In such industries, the machines process different things at the same time maintaining a chain. For example, in a garment manufacturing industry, cotton gets converted into yearns and yearns get converted into clothes. If there is any interruption in these processes, the chain breaks down resulting in massive loss for the industrialist.
We also have steel mills in our country and they use electric arc furnace to melt down steels and scraps. If there is an interruption of power distribution during the process, the scrap cools down and turns back to solid steel. Later, when the electricity comes, this process needs to be run all over again. Thus, due to such interruption, the industrialists face losses. As they have heavily invested in their business, they will in no way want to bear losses and thus look for reliable sources of electricity and as a result, they are opting out of the national grid and relying more and more on captive power plants.
Industrialists need highly reliable source of power and in our system we do not have a good assessment of power reliability. The distribution companies have been instructed to provide some calculation of reliability index. But practically, we need to appoint a third party to assess the actual scenario and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) has the capability play this role.
To decrease the dependency on captive power plants, we need to ensure the reliability of our power generation capability and provide an uninterrupted service. Though we get some reliability data from the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh on transmission, but we do not get any data of reliability of the power generation. Power plants assess the generation capacity reliability separately and later, gathering all the data from all the power plants, a combined report is made. Though it never comes to light for further assessment.
It is high time to gather proper data of reliability of power generation, as without it the number of generation capability remains vague. And to assess the reliability properly there is no way but to appoint experts. The faculty member of BUET in this case might come in handy.
Dr Abdul Hasib Chowdhury is professor of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.