Thursday, January 06, 2005

Alternative Energy Bangladesh: Reaching Where the Grid Can't

According to this editorial in the Financial Express of Bangladesh daily loadshedding and suspension of production in industrial zones due to low gas pressure clearly indicate that Bangladesh is experiencing a severe energy delivery crisis.

The editorial describes energy, and especially, electricity, as being one of the most important ingredients required to alleviate poverty and ensure socio-economic and human development.

Access to electricity in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the world. The coverage at present stands around 30 per cent of the total population. However, the rural areas of Bangladesh, where nearly 80 per cent of the population live, are seriously deprived of electricity.

Larger energy supplies and greater efficiency of energy use are thus necessary to meet the basic needs of a growing population. As the conventional grid-fed electricity can only cover 15 per cent of the total households, tapping different sources of alternative energy can be used for the benefit of the people.

The government in its national energy policy clarified its vision that it wants to electrify the whole country by the year 2020. But, major electrification through grid expansion is not a viable option for most parts of Bangladesh in the foreseeable future mainly due to inaccessibility and low consumer density. There are many areas in the country where electricity will not reach in the next 30 years. Some experts say, the current rate of electrification will take decades to provide access to electricity to all people in the country. In contrast, favourable natural conditions like sufficient sunshine and wind-speed exist for promotion of alternative energy in Bangladesh.

To fulfil the Bangladeshi government's vision of universal electrification, alternative energy sources will have to take a vital role for off-grid electrification.

Of all the options, solar energy has so far been considered the most easy and viable option. Solar energy's attributes of needing no fuel, high durability and reliability and being able to operate for prolonged periods without maintenance make it economical for all types of remote applications.

Different private business houses have started introducing solar thermal and photovoltaic systems in rural areas.

As the Rural Electrification Board (REB) has a countrywide network through its cooperatives, it can take a leading role in electrifying rural Bangladesh instead of keeping it dependent on the Power Development Board (PDB), which provides it with gas-based electricity.

It has become increasingly clear that, for the development of alternative energy in Bangladesh, the funding windows of non-government and private sources as well as financial and development institutions should be augmented. Furthermore, innovative new financing opportunities including micro-financing may be utilised to attract private capital to supplement the energy deficiencies in rural areas and thus to fulfil the aspirations of the Bangladeshi poor.

Financial Express article on tapping sources of renewable energy in Bangladesh

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1:07 a.m., February 13, 2005  

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