Economic development requires energy. This helps to empower the process and also facilitate meeting diverse needs associated with the manufacturing industry, agriculture and also in providing a better lifestyle for citizens.
These imperatives have led countries to seek additional energy from hydrocarbons- coal, oil and natural gas. Such a dynamics has had a functional imperative in developed countries. At the same time, this equation has also led to the general assumption that greater use of hydrocarbons and fossil fuels is contributing to heating of our atmosphere and subsequently leading to climate variability.This has led the world to seek alternatives through the creation and use of renewable energy – in the form of solar energy, bio-gas, bio-fuel and wind energy.
This functional approach has gained momentum over the last two decades and half. Agenda-21 that emerged from the UNCED Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 spurred the process. Bangladesh, over the years has paid particular attention in this regard. This has emerged from facts that with global warming, Bangladesh will be one of the most severely affected part of the world map. This has also underlined the need for our relevant authorities to consider and attempt to undertake necessary measures that will assist in efforts directed towards adaptation and mitigation.The civil society has also been monitoring not only how the rest of the world is taking necessary measures but how Bangladesh can play a more inter-active role within the paradigm of the evolving efforts envisioned through the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The urgency in this regard has also grown because of the upcoming 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) that will be held in Katowice, Poland in the first two weeks of December this year. COP24, according to environmentalists is being considered as particularly important, because the concerned countries will expect to finalize the Rule Book for implementing the different Articles of the Paris Agreement. This will help efforts to measure, report and verify (MRV) each of the Articles of the Agreement. This aspect has led scientists to describe this meeting on factors related to Earth’s biodiversity and impact of global warming as a pivotal meeting at a pivotal time. In this context, analysis will be undertaken to ascertain whether conservation of biodiversity as well as net forest loss has been properly ensured.
The Bangladesh government as well as all the relevant agencies have been attaching great importance not only towards the above processes but also have taken pro-active steps to enhance our profile in the use of renewable energy in different forms throughout the country. This has been particularly true in the case of our rural regions. Solar power through the use of solar panels has now become part of the functional matrix in these areas.
Recent estimates have mentioned that solar panels are now being used in more than three million homes. This is facilitating students to continue their studies after evening. This is also helping families to watch television at different times. Another important role is being played in this regard- helping to recharge mobile phones. We need to remember that there are nearly 100 million mobile phone users within our rural parameter. Lately, solar panels are also being increasingly used for generating required power for water pumps necessary for lifting underground water for the purpose of irrigation. Solar panels are also being used in villages to generate power to recharge conveyances that run on batteries. In addition there is growing awareness and use of bio-gas as bio fuel in rural kitchens.
These factors are contributing towards the socio-economic growth in our economy. It has also persuaded our government to try and boost the use of solar power not only in the rural but also in the urban areas. Measures are being taken to boost solar power so that its contribution within the energy platform exceeds 10% of the total power generation capacity by 2021. The government has recently also approved 19 on-grid solar power parks being created by different companies in the private sector. Our Power Division has been helpful for completion of the necessary steps. However, they have also pointed out that they and the private sector are facing one big challenge- acquiring land being used for cultivation and agricultural purposes. They have drawn attention to the fact that a solar project with power generation capacity of 100 MW needs about 300 acres of land.
Nevertheless, it is being felt that the efficiency in generating solar power will increase in the future through new technological advances. No discussion on use of renewable energy will however be complete without reference to the potential use of wind power to generate energy. This is particularly true in the case of Bangladesh.
A recent study carried out by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has indicated that the coastal belt of Bangladesh holds wind power prospects. A comprehensive wind mapping exercise has demonstrated that the average wind flow in nine places is between 5.0 to 6.0 metres per second. This was good news for Bangladesh as, for commercial production; one needs wind speed of between 2.3 to 2.5 metres per second.
Before moving forward one needs to explain certain dimensions related to wind powered energy generation. A wind turbine consists of a tower, nacelle and rotor that carries the blades. The nacelle with the rotor is permanently aligned to face the wind. As with the wings of an aircraft, air flows past the blades. On the convex side it has to travel further, which creates low pressure; on the flat side of the blade, air does not have so far to travel, which causes the formation of high pressure. The rotor powers up and powers a generator, which produces electricity-similar to the bicycle dynamo principle.
Electricity from onshore wind energy, according to German energy specialists is nowadays one of the most affordable forms of renewable energy generation. The yields attainable in this respect, according to experts, however depend on- good energy sites, the impact of tower height and the size of rotors. Interestingly, it has also been revealed in the context of Norway, Sweden and Germany that doubling of the wind speed increases the energy contained in wind eight-fold. Another significant aspect is that with every meter of additional tower height, the yield increases by one per cent. The size of the rotors is also important. Apparently, according to German experts, doubling the rotor diameter, and consequently the usable area also increases the yield four times. Apparently, off-shore wind farms also offer great potential. This has been borne out through experiments and implementation in the North Sea near Sweden and Norway.
The US study carried out on behalf of the Power Division has found that the coastal areas of Khulna, Barishal and Chattogram Divisions have more than 6 meters per second available wind speed at the 120 meter height- sufficient for generating electricity from wind turbines. It has also come out from the mapping survey that, for wind speeds of 5.75 to 7.75 m/s, there are more than 20,000 square kilometers of land with a gross wind potential of more than 30,000 MW. Some have termed this potential as unrealistic. However, economists and other electrical engineers have observed that there is enough proven potential to suggest that with proper investment, Bangladesh can reach the 10 per cent renewable energy target by 2021.
At present only three wind turbines with 3 MW capacities have been in operation for the last few years in coastal Kutubdia. However, because the centrepoint of the blades are only 18 meters above the ground, they are yet to run upto full capacity. The wind turbine in Feni, with the blades centrepoint 50 meters above the ground has so far generated 588,334 kilowatt hours of electricity since resuming operations after repairs in April 2014.
The Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) has already formed a working Committee in this regard. Steps are also being undertaken to set up three towers to collect site specific data in different coastal areas including Kuakata and Patuakhali. At the same time another Committee has been formed to conduct in-house feasibility study on the wind energy potential in Mongla and Chandpur based on the US report.
These aspects indicate that we have several challenges ahead of us. However, all those who participated in the study agree that we have wind energy potential. That is the most important dimension. Now that we have a thorough study, carried out by experts, we should be able to move forward to further our strategic interests and overcome our energy challenges.
It also needs to be remembered that future steps in this regard will require bipartisan participation between the public and the private sectors. We are all presently focusing on LNG as the future mainstay to meet our domestic demand for energy. After this study, we should also encourage international financial institutions to come forward and help Bangladesh address this issue successfully. We have to work together and try to gain from the experience already obtained by- Germany, Canada, China and other countries from the Far East in this regard. We can then meet our goals by 2021.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador is an analyst specialized
in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance