Coal Fired Thermal Power Plants in Bangladesh – Blessing or Curse?
Author : Tausif Ali
Bangladesh hits the global media for two reasons- for its robust RMG sector and another one is for its natural calamity. Bangladesh is difficult country, but it is a good destination to the foreign investors for its cheap and disciplined workforce. Therefore, the Western world is observing its development with their vigilant eyes. In the last two decades, Bangladesh has experienced a heavy urbanization and industrialization. Around 5 million people are directly or indirectly involved with the industry, primarily in the RMG industry. Therefore, It is felt in today’s modern life that energy is a prerequisite to a comfortable, healthy and happy existence.
The rapid economic development and industrialization has created a vast demand of energy in the country. According to the Bangladesh Power Development Board (As of February 01, 2017) present installed generation capacity is 13,179 MW (Including Captive Power Total Installed Capacity 13,179 + 2,200= 15,379 MW), where 62.01% installed capacity is based on Gas, 21.97% based on Furnace Oil, 7.83% Diesel, 1.75% Hydro, 1.90% Coal and 4.55% is imported power.
From the above statistics, it is clearly observed that Bangladesh power sector still heavily depended on natural gas. It is highly alarming for Bangladesh that this heavily power generation dependency on gas may create the imbalance in the energy mix. Besides, the experts speculated that the gas reserve of the country will diminish after 10-15 years. To get rid of this situation initially, the government of Bangladesh is focusing on coal fired thermal power plants. As it is mentioned earlier, only 1.90% installed generation capacity is based on coal; a lot of chances to explore in this sector to establish more coal fired thermal power plants. At present, Bangladesh has only one coal fired thermal power plant which is Barapukuria Power Station, located at Dinajpur, Bangladesh.
The government of Bangladesh is committed to ensuring access to affordable and reliable electricity for every citizen by 2021. According to the Power Sector Master Plan (PSMP)-2010, it is planned to generate 40,000 MW power by the year 2030. In line with the implementation of the PSMP-2010, the government has undertaken 24 coal-fired power plant projects, including public, private, joint venture and commercial initiatives, having electricity generation capacity of 21,785 MW in the country (‘The Independent’ on March 22, 2016).
But recently Rampal Coal Power Plant Project at the Sundarbans (The largest mangrove forest in the world) has drawn the attention. According to the green experts the plant will discharge various toxic gases such as Carbon Monoxide, Oxides of Nitrogen and Sulphur Dioxide, thereby putting the surrounding areas and most importantly, the Sundarbans at high risk. Some other noteworthy observation is due to the easy transportation of the imported coal, loading/unloading facilities, the majority of the coal fired thermal power plant project locations has been selected along the southern coastal region of Bangladesh. Despite some advantages to select the location also several problems may occur during and after the project execution. Executing of the plant not only create environmental disaster, but also other problems which may create social unrest. Such as displacement, land dispossession, catastrophy in landscape, loss of livelihood, militarization and law and order disorder etc. in those southern coastal areas.
It is agreed that to meet up the gap of supply and demand and to make faster the economic growth and infrastructure development coal fired thermal power plant projects needed to be implemented, but not at the cost of environmental and social disaster. It is also to be kept in mind that nowadays due to global warming a lot of countries are moving back from coal fired thermal power plant projects.
China, the top coal producer in the world, could be a salutary lesson in this respect. Recently, Beijing has shut down the large coal-fired power plant ‘Huaneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant’ with a capacity of 845MW. Since 1999 the plant was burning 1.76 million tonnes of coal annually. Up to 2013, Beijing has shut down four (4) coal fired power plants which have reduced 10 million tonnes of coal emissions annually. According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, government has no plans to build any new large-scale coal fired thermal power plants in the future. China is also moving now towards sustainable energy and leading in this area.
As a small country with limited resources Bangladesh needs time to move back from coal fired thermal power plants. But to reduce the dependency from non renewable natural resources, especially coal the country should give more concentration to initiate and implement renewable energy projects. Though the government of Bangladesh has set up a plan to generate 5% of the country’s total electricity from renewable sources within 2015 and 10% within 2020, but it is unfortunate that the government has reached only 3.5% electricity from renewable sources in 2015.
Nevertheless, the government is working hard to achieve its next target. According to the statistics of Bangladesh Economic Review 2016, the government has installed with a total capacity of 411MW Renewable Energy Plants where 4.4 Million Solar Home System (SHS), 38,000 small biogas plants, 32 large biogas plants, 366 solar irrigation pump and 7 mini grids has been established. If the development pace of the renewable energy projects becomes fast; a day Bangladesh can step behind from Coal fired thermal power projects. It could be said for a long term perspective that coal fired power plants would be a curse in the context of environmental pollution and social problems. But in recent times it could be a blessing for us in the context of countries’ economic development.
College of Energy and Electrical Engineering
Hohai University, Nanjing, China.