Life without a sustainable supply of energy is almost unimaginable. The importance of energy is even more supplementary in the context of developing countries, which have traditionally experienced prolonged periods of energy crises. A common characteristic of all underdeveloped nations around the world is the inability to meet their demand for energy, to which Bangladesh is no exception. For instance, use of traditional indigenous energy resources in Bangladesh has proven to be inadequate in ensuring energy sufficiency across the nation. As a result, the country's growth prospects are being hampered. Moreover, the nation's vast dependence on imported fuel has also attributed to an unnecessary fiscal burden, exerting multidimensional pressures on its economic development drives. Furthermore, in the past there was a global trend of being heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels and non-renewable energy resources which not only minimised their reserves but also caused environmental degradation. As a result, the utmost significance of ensuring the availability of green and affordable energy across the world has been deeply acknowledged through the enlistment of energy as the seventh Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the United Nations.
Electricity is the main form of energy that is tapped on both private and commercial scales in Bangladesh. However, the country unfortunately has failed to match its energy demand through employment of its indigenous energy resources as well as from energy imports. Although some progress has recently been made in increasing energy generation capacities, generation in real terms did not proportionately increase mainly due to acute shortage in basic energy inputs. Traditionally, petroleum-based electricity power plants in Bangladesh were in action. However, following the oil price shocks in the 1970s, the government decided to employ natural gas in the production of electricity. However, recent shortages have compelled the nation to resort to the use of imported fuels. It is worth mentioning that the primary energy resources and power generation capacity and efficiency are limited in Bangladesh, which obliges it to rely significantly on expensive oil-based power generation in order to avoid major power cuts. Moreover, it has been estimated that at the current rate of natural gas employment and provided no new natural gas fields are discovered any time soon, the country is likely to run out of its natural gas reserves by 2031. Given the ominous concerns, the use of imported High Speed Diesel (HSD) and Furnace Oil (FO) has risen alarmingly which, although added electricity to the national grid, actually meant that the government's public expenditure budget was inefficiently allocated to pay the corresponding import bills. This had probably crowded out the nation's potential investment in other productive sectors creating adverse economic impacts. Thus, it is crucial for Bangladesh to prepare itself for the near future and plan its fuel diversification strategies keeping in line with the trends in the global energy markets.
As a part of its fuel diversification drive, Bangladesh can look forward to replacing fossil fuel and non-renewable energy with renewables in order to match its local energy demand. In particular, the nation can enhance bio-energy usage, an environment-friendly energy option, which can be exemplary in boosting its rural energy supply and relieving people from the burden of waste disposal and also resolve sanitation problems. Moreover, biogas produced from waste can be used to generate electricity that can be exhausted for the purpose of off-the-grid rural electrification and can even be utilised to run waste management plants. A possible use of bio-energy can also be in the household sector where biogas can be directly used for cooking and heating purposes. In addition to these, bio-energy can be extremely helpful for farmers who no longer have to rely on expensive diesel and kerosene to run irrigation pumps and lighten houses, using biogas as a substitute to these fuels. The abundant supply of solid biomass can even be converted into compressed natural gas that can be employed to run vehicles whereby the import bills, arising from petroleum imports, could be reduced. Furthermore, second generation bio-fuels from Jatropha, etc. can also supplement the national energy supply.
Apart from bio-energy, Bangladesh can also tap its superior quality coal deposits for clean coal-based electricity generation purposes, provided skills development in the energy sector is ensured. Large scale coal-based power plants can be set up which, although is subject to time, can resolve the nation's electricity deficit to a great extent, provided measures to protect the environment are ensured.
In Bangladesh, solar energy is another viable option; although start-up costs are on the higher side, small scale solar power panels on rooftops can effectively attribute to off-the-grid electrification, relieving demand side pressures. Electricity generated from solar power is relatively cost effective compared to imported oil-based electricity, which makes it a go to option in the near future. Solar energy is believed to be the most efficient and sustainable source of energy with absolutely no contribution to environmental degradation.
Finally, Bangladesh is advised to participate in cross-border electricity trading across the South Asian region, importing hydropower, the cheapest form of electricity, from Bhutan. It is important for the nation to participate in such regional power trade activities following its relative comparative disadvantage in producing hydropower due to its geographic limitations. Power trade can play a pivotal role in tackling energy insufficiencies whereby excess power can be exchanged with neighbouring nations. It is noteworthy to mention that regional trade among South Asian economies is not as much as regional trade between other countries, especially amongst the developed ones. At present, Bangladesh mainly imports electricity from India. However, it can also look to diversify its import basket in terms of trading partners and can look towards countries like Bhutan and Nepal that have comparative advantages in producing hydropower.
With sustainable clean and affordable energy as a part of the SDGs in the lime light, Bangladesh should ideally consider energy options which not only would mitigate its energy famine but would also contribute to its macroeconomic indicators. Transition from traditional energy to relatively environmental-friendly energy use would help maintain a harmony with the ecosystem, reducing the rate of global environmental degradation. Facilitating this transition would require the government's stern intervention in the financing of projects and the development of the country's energy infrastructures. However, once energy security is assured, Bangladesh can surely achieve much of its other developmental goals.
The writers are Assistant Professor, SBE, North South University and Research Assistant, SBE, North South University, respectively.