Bangladesh is an emerging economy widely acknowledged to be making strides in both human development and economic growth – In fact, with a growth rate of over 7%.
Bangladesh’s economy was the second fastest major growing economy of 2016. However, poor infrastructure, especially unreliable power supply, remains a significant constraint to growth.
Not only does poor power supply create significant commercial loses, thereby dampening national revenue earnings, but more than a third of the Bangladeshi population still remains without access to electricity today.
The Bangladesh government, therefore, plans to significantly expand its generation capacity up from 12.3GW in 2016 to 24GW in 2021 and 39GW in 2030.
The largest single addition to the current generation mix is coal-fired power plant, which will respectively account for 24% and 30% of total generation capacity in 2021 and 2030, according to the Power System Master Plan 2016, up from 2% in 2016.
Conversely, utility- and distributed-scale renewable energy has gained little attention in the future electricity mix, even though renewable energy is clean, pervasive, and fast to deploy.
A case in point is the globally unrivaled success of solar home system (SHS) penetration in Bangladesh. As of July 2017, about 4.5 million solar home system (SHS) are installed, generating over 200MW of electricity (SREDA 2017).
The Bangladesh Renewable Energy Policy of 2008 set a target that 10% of capacity comes from renewable in 2020 and 20% in 2030, and the Electric Power Master Plan of 2010 also sets the targets of solar at 1.7GW and wind at 1.3GW in 2021 (though only 2MW of wind are on-grid as of 2016).
Given the slow pace of utility scale renewable energy investment and project development currently, it is unlikely the 2021 renewable energy targets are met in reality.
[caption id="attachment_152299" align="aligncenter" width="631"] Average total levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of solar PV in suitable areas, estimated using resource quality, distance to nearest transmission line or substation, and the nearest road. Unsuitable areas such as forests, urban areas, and protected lands are excluded
Inadequate geo-spatial and economic information regarding alternative energy resources is often one of the significant barriers to policy-makers and project developers in promoting socially equitable, low‐environmental impact, and cost effective energy resource development.
A review of the literature shows that Bangladesh lacks even a basic, publicly available renewable energy resource assessment. To address this information gap, our research team at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), has analysed the cost and availability of different potential energy generation technology mixes in Bangladesh by building a robust, integrated, spatial energy system model populated with locally specific data.
In addition to the appropriate economic valuation of high-quality renewable resources, other criteria such as transmission and road infrastructure cost, proximity or overlap with environmentally sensitive areas, elevation, and population density are considered for making balanced decisions on large-scale grid-connected energy development.
Our analysis suggests solar PV is in fact the most promising technology for capacity expansion in Bangladesh, in terms of total costs and generation potential as compared to other conventional technologies currently part of the local generation mix, and as compared to other renewable energy technologies assessed in our model, including wind and concentrated solar power (CSP).
[caption id="attachment_152300" align="alignleft" width="300"] Relationship between land use discount factor in cropland and generation capacity of solar PV. Land use discount factor is the percentage of total suitable areas (or energy projects) likely developed given additional socio-economic, cultural, or physical constraints identifiable only with higher resolution data or through on-the-ground surveys
Solar PV energy resources are widely available across the country, including distant, less populated areas, which enable rural electrification much faster than fossil fuel projects.
Solar energy potential is vast with competitive costs with current coal-fired power plants. The annual generation potential and capacity are approximately 42.5TWh/year and 27.5GW for solar PV, assuming that the 5% of the suitable areas is used for solar PV project.
The levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of solar PV, which includes capital and operations cost of generation, transmission infrastructure, and road works, ranges from $84/MWh to $107/MWh, depending on location. Weighted average of the LCOE of solar PV is $91/MWh.
Compared with current generation costs by Bangladesh Power Development Board, the weighted average LCOE of solar PV is higher than that of hydro ($14/MWh) and domestic natural gas ($28/MWh), but cheaper than coal ($110/MWh), heavy fuel oil ($237/MWh), and diesel ($472/MWh). Considering the cost of utility-scale solar PV is rapidly falling around the world, this LCOE for solar PV is even more competitive, attractive option for Bangladesh.
Because practically all suitable project areas are located in cropland, it is inevitable to convert cropland to renewable energy project sites to some extent for large scale deployment of renewable energy. The relationship between the percentage to convert cropland POAs to solar PV farm and potential generation capacity is summarised in Figure 2.
However, our research finds that the necessary cropland area to convert is just a fraction of entire land. According to Quasem (2011), about 69,000 hectares per year of cropland was converted to non-agricultural land between 2000 and 2010 on average.
On the other hand, only 1,900 hectares per year of cropland is sufficient to achieve 2030 solar PV target, which is 30% of generation capacity. Likewise, about 6,600 hectares per year of cropland is sufficient to be converted to solar PV farm to achieve the above-stated 27.5GW capacity. Furthermore, solar PV project sites could be efficiently identified and developed based on geo-spatial renewable energy potential assessment like this analysis.
For next steps, further analysis in detailed and high resolution data and on-the ground survey for more accurate estimation of renewable energy potential is necessary to support development of optimal planning and grid operation strategies for Bangladesh.
Furthermore, this analysis excluded residential and commercial areas and focused only on utility scale solar PV. Bangladesh has, therefore, even more generation capacity and potential than these results indicate.
There is currently an intense debate taking place over the energy future of Bangladesh and its ramifications for social, ecological, and environmental spheres of life -- both locally and for the global commons.
Our study (i) provides much needed statistics on the potential for renewable energy resources in country; (ii) demonstrates the viable, socially appropriate, and cost effective nature of proven clean energy solutions for Bangladesh; and (iii) specifically identifies high-priority zones for alternative energy investment to support data needs for government planners, CSOs, and potential investors.