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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Power crisis, solar panels and CFLs


THE power crisis has been a sore point for past and incumbent governments. For, it is dealing a crippling blow to the economy and giving rise to serious resentment among all sections of the society. Entrepreneurs, local and foreign, are deciding against new investments, particularly in the manufacturing sector, because of power shortage. And the sufferings of the existing industrial units has reached its peak because of frequent load shedding. Many large and medium manufacturing and commercial units have installed their own captive power generators, leading to a rise in their cost of operations.
Since the incumbent government's coming to power, a flurry of activities has been noted in the power ministry to beef up power production. Side by side with efforts to woo foreign and local investors for building a good number of large power plants, the government has completed formalities required to invite bids for setting up a few rental power plants to, partially, manage the power shortage in the short-term. The power ministry, reportedly, is planning to organise road shows in some of the world's major cities with a view to attracting renowned international power companies to build, at least, five independent power plants at an estimated cost of US$ 1.0 billion and generate over 1300 megawatt of electricity.
There is no denying that the government is serious about resolving the nagging power crisis. Though there would be an option to run, at least, two of the proposed power plants with furnace oil, the large power plants would have to be fed by a cheap energy source, natural gas. So, without receiving a guarantee about uninterrupted supply of gas, not many foreign investors would be interested to put in their money in new power plants in Bangladesh. It remains a puzzle how the government would provide guarantee to this effect when many industries have gone out of operation because of the non-availability of gas. Failing to get adequate gas supply for the last six months, the management of the Monno Fabrics Ltd. in Manikganj, one of the largest textile units in the country, laid off its workers from October 22 last. However, there could be improvement in the supply situation if the Chevron's reassessment of the gas reserve of the Bibiyana field was found to be genuine. A foreign firm engaged by the Chevron has reported the existence of more than double the size of recoverable gas reserve estimated earlier. The Petrobangla is now reviewing the report.
While doing all the necessary exercises to generate more power using the conventional methods, the government does also need to explore the possibility of exploiting other renewable energy sources for power generation and saving the power now in use. Solar power though becoming popular in some selected rural areas of the country is yet to get the much-needed official patronisation. An adviser to the Prime Minister, last Sunday disclosed that all government buildings in Dhaka would be fitted with their own solar panels to help ease the power crisis. He, however, did not elaborate. If implemented, it would, surely, be a good move. But what is more important is the financial support from the government to those who are willing to set up solar panels at their homes and establishments.

For instance, China is now producing 820 megawatt using solar power and expects to reach 20 gigawatt (GW) by 2020. The Chinese government would be subsidising half of the total construction costs of solar power plants. The Indian government with support from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is providing cheap loans through banks to individuals installing solar panels on their rooftops. While extending similar support to ensure wider use of solar panels, the government should implement with due seriousness the distribution of 10 million energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) free of cost among the power users by February next. The World Bank-supported programme, designed to replace an equivalent number of incandescent lamps, is expected to save about 360 megawatt of power that would help meet additional demand for power during the coming Boro season.

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