- Rising fuel prices are driving power cuts and reliance on home solar
- Rooftop solar systems have high potential, experts say
- The government is encouraged to find more land for solar parks
DHAKA, August 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Topu Roy’s family had no electricity until 2005 when his parents built a solar power system at their home in Dinajpur, northern Bangladesh, to run lights and appliances. fan.
In the past two decades, about 6 million solar home systems have been installed across the country, bringing electricity to remote off-grid communities.
“This is an amazing success story,” said Shahriar Ahmed Chowdhury, director of the Center for Energy Research at United International University in Bangladesh.
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For the rapidly developing country in South Asia, solar power brings benefits for citizens while creating jobs. But the growth of the sector has been hampered by bottlenecks such as lack of land to build large plants.
Grid power finally reached Roy’s village in 2020 under a government program to electrify the entire country by 2021, enabling residents to use a variety of electric appliances for the first time.
“But with the recent power crisis in Bangladesh, we are back to square one, turning to solar home systems because grid power is often unavailable,” said the 25-year-old student.
Millions of Bangladeshis are doing the same to cope with severe blackouts, due to a recent power crisis amid extreme heat and high fuel prices, with rural areas suffering the most.
Bakirul Islam, 21, a student from Mymensingh, north of Dhaka, said he now gets only two to three hours of grid power every day and also relies on solar home systems.
Rising fuel prices around the world have undermined the energy policy of Bangladesh, which imports about a quarter of its natural gas supply, sparking calls for a more diverse energy mix. including greater attention to renewables, especially solar.
The country has slightly more than 900 megawatts (MW) of renewables capacity, out of a total electricity capacity of 25,700 MW, well below the target of achieving 10% of generation from clean energy sources in 2020.
Last year the electricity ministry announced a more ambitious goal to get 40% of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2041, with solar considered to have the highest potential.
The development of solar energy is partly because it was expensive a decade ago, more than $0.16 per kilowatt-hour, said Ijaz Hossain, a professor at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
But the price has since dropped, making solar cheaper than using imported fuels like coal, heavy fuel oil or diesel, said Chowdhury of the Center for Energy Research.
The recent increase in fossil fuel prices means that the industry can now save a lot of money by adopting solar power, said Ziaur Rahman Khan, another professor at BUET.
With rooftop solar, 1 kilowatt hour of electricity costs about 4 taka ($0.04) for a commercial or industrial user, compared to 8-11 taka per unit for grid power, said Md. Rashedul Alam, assistant director of the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority, a government agency in Bangladesh.
Estimates of Bangladesh’s solar energy potential support a greater push toward power from the sun, experts say.
A National Solar Energy Roadmap, drawn up in 2020 with the United Nations Development Programme, calculates that 6,000 MW could be obtained from solar by 2041 in a business-as-usual scenario – and with aggressive policies, up to 30,000 MW.
The report offers important policy points, such as “real opportunities” in rooftop solar installations, said Farseem Mannan Mohammedy, director of BUET’s Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development.
The recent expansion of solar power has focused on both rooftop solar photovoltaic systems and large ground-based plants.
Rooftop solar is attractive because it does not require land acquisition, said Munawar Moin, group director of Rahimafrooz Ltd, a pioneering solar-panel manufacturer in Bangladesh.
An early study estimated that 5,000 MW could be generated from solar plants on industrial rooftops.
Chowdhury noted that there are already more than 30 large rooftop solar PV plants, mostly installed in factories.
Apart from garment and textile manufacturing, other sectors such as steel and electronics are also venturing into rooftop solar.
Rooftop solar PV plants are a great source of job creation, said Mohammedy, noting that Bangladesh has the fifth highest number of solar PV jobs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency ( IRENA).
According to a 2020 IRENA report, there are 137,000 jobs in the solar sector in Bangladesh, mostly concentrated in solar home systems including 10,000 jobs in solar-module assembly.
But getting finance to expand the business is a significant challenge, experts say, with bank officials often lacking the knowledge needed to evaluate solar projects.
To create jobs in the manufacturing supply chain, the government should set quotas so that a portion of the solar panels must be sourced locally, Moin added.
LOOKING FOR THE EARTH
Nestled between the beautiful Brahmaputra River and farmlands in Mymensingh district, stands a 50-MW solar park built by HDFC Sinpower Limited, a joint venture between Bangladeshi, Malaysian and Singaporean investors.
The plant, which has been supplying electricity to the grid since November, is one of eight large solar plants operating in Bangladesh, with a combined capacity of about 230 MW.
Ibrahim Johny, 25, who worked as a security guard at the Mymensingh solar park was unemployed before getting this job, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the entrance.
Plant manager Ahsanul Muznebin said 42 local people work there as module cleaners, while another 14 work as security guards and 12 as operation and maintenance engineers.
But it is difficult to build a new solar park because there is very little available land in Bangladesh, said BUET professor Khan.
The national land use policy from 2001 prohibits the conversion of fertile agricultural land for other purposes.
Mymensingh solar park manager Muznebin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it took almost two years to acquire the 174 hectares needed for the plant, as the field was not available.
Chowdhury, author of the draft solar roadmap, said that there is enough land to be found for the solar park by reclaiming barren areas along rivers and estuaries, while farmland can also be used for agriculture and power generation.
He urged the government to take responsibility for organizing land for large solar parks and developing transmission infrastructure for solar power hubs.
It should also ease the stringent qualification criteria and approval process for solar farms installed on land, he added.
Alam, of the sustainable energy authority, said that falling investment costs give solar a bright future in Bangladesh and the government will support its development, including setting a bag -ong target of a revised renewable energy policy due in 2023.
($1 = 94.8900 taka)
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Reporting by Md. Tahmid Zami; edited by Megan Rowling. Please thank the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit the http://news.trust.org
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