Improved energy planning

Improved energy planning is proving to be more and more an absolute imperative for Bangladesh in the backdrop of its growing energy needs to expand its economy, fast and mindless depletion of its main prevailing energy source, inadequate attention and actions in relation to conservation and optimum utilisation of energy and non development of some vital sources of energy.
Indeed, the smooth supply of energy is seen as the Achilles heel standing in the way of faster economic growth in Bangladesh. Power is central to economic activity. But this power supply is substantially short of even prevailing demand not to mention the potential higher demand in the future. In this situation of power insufficiency, investment operations are understandably lagging from a lack of confidence among otherwise able investors who fear that they would not be able to run their new enterprises under a situation of power shortage. Thus, there is a pressing need to increase power supply but that involves choices like how to produce the power, whether from burning gas the availability of which is dwindling or by using coal the reserves of which are vast and remain largely untapped.
The stepped up use of coal for power production is a tempting one. But the extent of use of coal has to be weighed against environmental needs. It appears that nuclear power is cost-efficient and its application these days has become a lot safer than what used to be the case in the past. Even then, there would be potential environmental dangers of setting up nuclear power plants in a physically small but very densely populated country which is Bangladesh. The examination of the pros and cons of developing each of these as the bulk supplier of energy in Bangladesh has to be completed very quickly and a decision in favour of one or more of them taken decisively. After that, the decision must be executed in record time. It is likely that after the assessments are carried out, the votes will be greater in favour of utilizing the coal reserves in a major way for power production. In that case, no time should be lost in going all-out to produce power from the locally available coal reserves. Very precious time has been lost in only analyzing and discussing the various choices available without coming to a final conclusion for taking a decision followed by prompt actions. Bangladesh must cross this threshold at the soonest.
Besides, there is also the bright potential of developing off-grid power all over the vast rural interior of Bangladesh where the population is largely concentrated. Supplying conventional power through a nationwide grid in these areas can be less economical compared to a self sustaining community based approach through solar electricity production at individual or village levels. Similar possibilities are there for using biofuels, power produced from wind and even hydro-electricity in some areas. A great deal of the power needs of the future can be met by developing these non conventional sources of energy.
There are opportunities also for conservation of power or optimum use of power by popularising the use of special bulbs and appliances that can be helpful in conserving power. Presently, a vast amount of resources are wasted from direct import of refined fuel oils. But adding to capacities of the local refineries and overhauling them, local refining capacities can be much increased . In that case, a big saving can be made as the need to import refined fuel oil will be reduced substantially.
All of these plans and more must become the part of an integrated exercise. The sooner this comprehensive plan is drawn up and its implementation proceeds, the better for the economy in all respects. The present piecemeal attempts at addressing the energy needs are increasingly turning out to be a wasteful and hazardous experience.
The energy sector in the country, presently, is a source of worry for short, medium and long term planning. The state of the sector is causing serious concern both at the macro and micro levels of the economy. The macro level concerns are mainly due to the inseparable vital links between economic growth and investments on the one hand and the energy situation on the other. The micro level anxieties are from existing entrepreneurs finding it hard to cope with dwindled energy supply and the disincentives that have been created for further investments by them in different fields from these conditions of paucity of energy.
It is imperative to address the overall energy situation under a carefully considered master plan that would address all sides to the development of energy sources. The plan needs to be formulated and implemented at the fastest in view of the worsening energy related conditions. Once it is firmed up and clear signals are received about its full implementation, the same will raise investors’ confidence and accelerate the growth momentum in the economy. Essentially, such a comprehensive plan for the energy sector must be an ‘integrated’ one forging supportive or collaborative relationships in developmental activities between the energy sector’s sub sectors to lead cumulatively to a desired outcome.
For example, the augmentation of power generation is the biggest need in the power sub-sector. But this task must not be conceived of and attempted in isolation .Power plants that produce power in Bangladesh are predominantly gas based. For a long time, the inability to supply the gas fed power plants adequately resulted in their installed capacities not being fully used. The conditions in this respect improved two years ago after the going into operation of a major gas field operated by a foreign company. But this is still piecemeal strategy. There will have to be comprehensive plans to know what the effective demand for electricity is in the country and what would be that demand, say, twenty years from now. More significantly, it has to be similarly known how much of that power would be aimed for production by using gas. And then it would be very important to take stock of whether this amount of additional gas would be produced in the coming years in tandem with installation of capacities to produce power from gas. In that case, matching investments will have to be made in the gas sub-sector in exploration and production activities to find new deposits of gas and getting them ready for suppling to the power plants. In sum, there will have to be synthesis in the operations of the two major sub-sectors in the energy sector–power and gas — so that the main goal of energy availability for the users can be smoothly and progressively met.
The integrated policies in the energy sector must also examine and clearly prepare a vision and guideline for the development of energy sources in the other sub sectors such as coal, non conventional power from wind, sun’s rays, nuclear power, biofuel, etc. Steps to be taken for the development of all of these energy sources should also be an integral part of the integrated plan for the development of the energy sector as a whole. For instance, plans should provide for clear projections of the energy requirements to be met by the non conventional sources so that the same do not conflict with planning objectives in the areas of the conventional sources of energy.