MOST of the traditional energy sources are to blame for pollution and global warming. In spite of the blame, it is the economic considerations that lie behind the unremitting demand of this kind of energy worldwide. But this demand leads to the scarcity of the traditional energy sources and attracts the world's attention to the alternative sources.
Renewable energy is such an alternative, which may help the world to improve global climate as well. It has now become a major concern of the entire humanity. However, Bangladesh appears not to be at all concerned about the issue.
Experts say that there is enormous scope of investment in this non-traditional energy business. But the country's investors are not well aware of the emerging opportunities in this sector, they complained.
Experts say that due to lack of enabling policies to attract and inform the investors about renewable energy, this awareness could not be created among the investors and efficient utilisation of this resource is yet to assume commercial dimensions.
Per capita consumption of commercial energy and electricity in the country is one of the lowest among the developing countries. At present, about 65 per cent of the total energy consumption is met by different types of biomass like agricultural residues, wood fuels, animal dun, etc. And this huge consumption is adversely affecting the soil fertility and environment.
According to an official estimate, per capita consumption of commercial energy and generation of electricity were about 200 KGOE/year and 120 KWh/year respectively. Only 2.2 per cent of total households, mostly in urban areas had piped natural gas connections for cooking and 30 per cent of households had electricity connections and only 3.9 per cent of total households used kerosene for cooking. Bangladesh is gradually diverting towards coal energy but there is no government intervention on adopting technology in the light of energy efficiency.
Development programmes in the energy consuming sectors like the industrial one have been constrained due to shortage and unreliable supply of commercial energy. During the last one decade, about 20 per cent of the total public sector investment was allocated for the development of energy sector.
It is believed that the country has a good reserve of traditional energy sources including gas and coal. But it has no alternative but to look for alternative energy sources since experts fear that the conventional sources of energy will dry up by the middle of this century.
In the Draft National Energy Policy, the country's renewable sources of energy were identified as biomass (including biogas and solid waste), solar energy, wind, hydro-potential, peat, tidal and wave.
But Bangladesh's share in the renewable energy is still insignificant. According to Beijing International Renewable conference 2005, Bangladesh's share in hydropower is only 1.2 per cent and that of geothermal, solar and wind is zero.
As per the statistics available on the website under Sustainable Environment Management Programme (SEMP) under Ministry of Environment & Forest, Grameen Shakti installed 2.15 MW of power, BRAC 300.545 Kw, Thanmara Mohila Sobuj Shangha 16.868 kw up to June 2005. Besides, Center for Mass Education in science, BCSIR, Coast Trust, Singer, Subhashathi and Srizony Bangladesh have also small contributions in solar energy. In wind power generation, Bangladesh Power Development Board has been able to produce only 1 mw out of its target to install 10 mw. The contribution of micro hydro and biomass is however very.
The energy experts say that the renewable energy sources can ensure larger energy supply and greater efficiency in off-grid location adding that 76 per cent of the population who live in rural areas would be benefited if there had been enough work done in renewable energy sector.
Dr Moinul Sharif of Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies said although from the point of view of the Kyoto Protocol, the country has no emission reduction targets to meet but the renewable energy has given opportunities and prospects for supplying energy and electricity in the rural areas, which needs to be met as per commitment of UN millennium development goals.
But there is lack of government initiative and coordination among different ministries to attract investment in this regard, he alleged, saying that except for tariff reduction on imports of equipment, for example, PV solar cells, the government has done very little to mainstream renewable energy in its energy policy.
He said biomass, of which large portion is used as energy in rural areas needs to be organised through technological innovation and institutional changes. "This will bring about qualitative changes of life in the rural areas and will bring about some equity (obviously not enough)", he added.
Dr Masud Karim, manager of Canada-based Engconsult Ltd, was for popularising ElectroFlow energy saving technology. He also emphasised tax rebates on the technology that supports alternative fuel and energy efficiency. Engconsult has been working on the development of energy efficient ElectroFlow system in Dhaka Export Processing Zone.
Bangladesh has a draft renewable energy policy since 1996. As per the policy guideline, Renewable Energy Development Agency (REDA), one window operation to be established under the Power Division, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, was supposed to work for the development and diffusion (dissemination / extension) of different types of renewable energy technologies (RETs). Yet the draft policy has not been finalised even after its revisions for several times. And the Power Cell, which is a designated institution of REDA, has yet to carry its due duties to facilitate the development of renewable energy.
BD Rahmatullah, Director General of Power Cell, although a few initiatives have been taken on renewable energy under the UNDP supported programme and projects, it however could not ensure the energy needs of the rural parts
He said renewable energy is environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable and economically viable option in the off-grid locations and added that to fulfil the government's vision of universal electrification by 2020, renewable energy sources will have to take a vital role for off-grid electrification.
Time has come to recognise the use of renewable energy resource, which is free from environmental pollution, stop deforestation and abating atmospheric emissions.