The delicate balancing act of development and being environmentally responsible
At the policy level, Bangladesh faces the apparently conflicting challenges of achieving self-sufficiency in power generation on the one hand, while taking measures to prevent climate change from decimating the country. Arguably, development without adequate power is next to impossible but the direction that policy is leading us in is in stark contrast to that which is happening around the world.
The EU ministers are mulling over not making funds available for gas, oil, and coal-generated power emphasising instead on renewable sources such as Solar power.
Germany is phasing out nuclear energy in generating power and France and Korea are making it mandatory for buildings to have solar panels. Germany is also in the process of taking out some 20 coal-powered power plants.
Contrast that with Bangladesh planning some 20 coal-fired plants, including the controversial Rampal plant that environmentalists argue will irreparably damage the Sundarbans -- which has time and again protected us from the vagaries of nature. It is an argument disputed by the government, that says all necessary safety valves are in place to prevent such damage.
As a signatory to the Climate Change Agreement that is now limping with the pull-out of the US, Bangladesh does not have enough mitigation funds to install protection, especially for its coastal areas that scientists say will go underwater as the sea continues to rise. This is what was agreed to by the developed world as penance for all the carbon damage it created.
Bangladesh was also looking forward to positive carbon trading with the developed world.
It is, therefore, a dichotomy that so much investment is planned in coal-fired plants that will increase the carbon footprint.
Rather, greater investment in solar energy may well bring about the situation that India is in.
Offers for quotations have revealed that solar power is now cheaper than coal-fired power leading to these plants largely becoming redundant.
So much so that while one private company is buying off these plants for a steal, they will be able to provide power at more competitive costs.
That’s because the owners are willing to count their losses.
In the meantime, the spectacular success in power generation courtesy of quick rentals, refurbishment of current plants, and continued investment in plants has led to a reported situation whereby power generation is in surplus.
This is as should be given the future requirements of energy, and, even as the Rooppur nuclear plant is being implemented, there’s news that a second nuclear plant is on the cards.
Given affordability, Bangladesh cannot choose more modern reactors and will be dependent on older models with the relevant risks involved.
Europe and the developed world is moving away from the very technology Bangladesh has more recently embraced, and though solar power is decidedly expensive compared to the traditional sources there’s a change in the world order that requires renewed thinking. Saudi Arabia is working on a master plan to sustain itself beyond oil.
Part of that involves listing its state-owned Aramco to attract investments that will be used to fuel a non-oil strategy. It won’t happen overnight but the writing is clearly on the oil.
The focus is on the sun-drenched Middle East and Africa with some studies suggesting that the solar energy available there could actually fuel the world.
Wind turbines are in selective use in some parts of the world, again expensive as they are. But with the right focus, our scientists may well be given the investment required to explore viable renewable alternatives.
Even as we seek to strike deals with oil exporting countries for Liquified Natural Gas, more and more car manufacturers are heading for electrically powered vehicles.
So much so that a number of countries have set zero emission targets and dates to phase in electric cars, thereby leading to the inevitable phasing out of traditional vehicles.
The crunch will be felt by the developing countries but with its aspirations of becoming a developed economy by 2041 Bangladesh has to Plan now rather than later. Otherwise, the target set today will become obsolete by that time.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.