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A pool of power

  • Published at 11:54 pm January 19th, 2020
Have you got the power? 
Have you got the power? / BIGSTOCK

Is Bangladesh prepared for its future energy needs?

Energy is the prime mover of development. Over the last decade, Bangladesh has maintained a steady GDP growth rate and set a vision to be a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041. 

A continuous economic growth of 7.4% annually is required to meet that target in 2020. It is expected that the GDP would then grow steadily, which may slow down eventually. In this development phase, per capita energy consumption will increase significantly, particularly in the industry and transport sector. 

Consumption is expected to increase sharply in both business as usual (BAU) and energy efficiency scenario as stated in the draft Power System Master Plan (PSMP) 2016.

Natural gas and biomass are the main sources of energy in Bangladesh. Until 2009, the primary energy demand for power generation was largely met by natural gas. This has resulted in low gas pressure and shortage of supply in industries and, thus, the economy has started to suffer. 

Few power generation units had to suspend their operation and industrial progress slowed down. With this backdrop, Power System Master Plan 2010 put stress on diversifying the fuel mix in electricity generation. 

Subsequently, many liquid fuel-based power plants were installed and the use of natural gas for electricity generation dropped from 89% to 63%. To meet the future increasing demand for primary energy, it is necessary to further reduce the use of natural gas in electricity generation and explore alternatives. 

Imports of various primary energy sources like coal, LNG, liquid fuel, development of nuclear and renewable energy, and promoting energy efficiency and cross-border electricity might be a few ways to help reduce the dependence on natural gas. 

To meet the rapidly increasing demand for power and keep its stable supply, Bangladesh needs to develop robust infrastructure. There is no doubt that, among the developing countries, though many lack primary energy sources, some do have adequate supplies. 

Cross-border electricity trade and power market development can facilitate the overcoming of these limitations. In this case, experience sharing, technology transfer, and regional and international cooperation can bring a reasonable solution to the problem of energy deficit for participating countries. In many parts of the world, regional grids create a win-win situation for the participating countries with Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) being one of those.

The SAPP is the oldest power pool in Africa and was established in 1995 with a vision to develop an effective and competitive electricity and power market in Southern Africa and give the end-user a choice of electricity supply. 

The SAPP is the most interconnected of all the power pools in Africa and is regarded as the most advanced at the moment. There are currently 12 member countries of SAPP with a combined population of 280 million and an average electricity growth rate of 4.6%.  

The broad objective of the SAPP is to facilitate economical, reliable, and uninterrupted power supply to the consumers of the member countries. Its ultimate objective is to provide a consistent electricity supply with reasonable utilization of the natural resources and effect on the environment. 

The specific objectives of SAPP are:

• To harmonize planning and operation of electricity business among member countries

• To enable cross-border electricity trading among the member countries

• To promote regional cooperation in infrastructure development of transmission & generation (T&D)

• To increase electricity access in rural areas 

• To ensure the region attracts investment for large energy-intensive electricity users (attractive tariff)


All electricity supply enterprises situated in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) may become members of the SAPP subject to the approval of the SAPP Executive Committee. 

Currently, 16 utilities of the region are members of SAPP. The SAPP Executive Committee may admit any electricity supply enterprise licensed to engage in cross-border electricity trade from non-member states as members of SAPP subject to the provision of the inter-governmental MoU, the approval of the SADC, and any other conditions that may be stipulated by the executive committee. power plant

Due to the primary energy shortage in Bangladesh and the huge untapped hydro potential in Nepal, Bhutan, and North East India, it would be a good solution to develop a regional grid among these countries; it can be extended in the future to involve other South Asian countries. 

The bilateral agreements between India and Bangladesh can be extended to include Nepal and Bhutan to form holistic regional cooperation and determine a harmonious development of the region. The cooperation module can be taken from SAPP. 

The government of Bangladesh has already initiated dialogue and it is expected that the decision will be made very soon. A regional grid will facilitate participating countries to attract investment and resolve their energy needs in an affordable manner without causing damage to the environment. 

Riasat Noor is the Head of Research and Publications at the Institute for Policy, Advocacy and Governance (IPAG) and a Content Specialist at the MIT Climate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Drop him a line at [email protected]