When the price of crude petroleum is rising, the country's lone crude refining plant, Eastern Refinery Limited (ERL) is limping along and adding to the country's energy costs. Reportedly, the ERL currently produces 1.4 million tons of refined crude and other petroleum products whereas the annual demand for the same is 3.7 million tons. Thus, when production at the ERL has been remaining static or stagnant in the face of rising demand, the state-owned Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) has had no other option in this situation than importing directly large quantities of refined oil and other products from international markets at the climbing prices. Clearly, the energy costs could be much lower if the ERL had been functioning at higher capacity.
According to various projections, the country's demand for refined oil and other petroleum products would reach some 6.6 million tons by 2010. In order to meet this demand, the ERL needs to set up its second refining plant at the fastest apart from carrying out the urgent balancing, modernisation, replacement and extension (BMRE) of its existing plant. But plans do not seem to be there to indicate progress towards these goals. The government must mobilise funds from donors or take loans on emergency basis for the ERL's expansion and BMRE. The government may decide to have long term contracts with suppliers of crude to get the same at stable prices. But for receiving and storing of crude also, the capacities of the ERL will have to be much increased and improved.
Meanwhile, every effort must be made to boost the use of coal and gas as alternative fuels and also to substantially increase the use of non-conventional sources of power such as bio gas, solar electricity, electricity from wind energy and wave energy. An electricity generating unit from winds was successfully put into operation recently. Experts say that there is much opportunity for Bangladesh to meet its requirements of energy from the non conventional sources. Even in neighbouring India, electricity generated from wind energy is supplied to the national grid and notably meets the energy requirements of that country. There is every prospect for Bangladesh to acquire similar capacities, fairly soon, if only sincere steps are taken and sustained.
Furthermore, in view of the present situation of higher energy costs, the government needs to consider and implement a programme of energy conservation after consultation with different stakeholders. The same must include the taking of hard measures to reduce the theft of energy which is euphemestically called 'systems loss'.