Can the push for sustainable energy in Bangladesh ~ the South Asian nation which, it is projected, will be the worst-hit as global climate change leads to rising sea levels given its geographical location at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal ~ reduce its dependence on a China that is attempting to grow its strategic footprint in the region? The question assumes significance in the context of the effort by Dhaka to put in place policies and enforce regulations which promote renewable energy and enhance energy efficiency. The rather dramatic reduction in the cost of developing solar/wind power generation over the past 10-15 years has indeed made the transition towards clean energy more feasible for countries working to contain greenhouse gas emissions to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. But Bangladesh has its own set of challenges in utilising renewable energy at scale.
A recent essay by Shafiqul Alam, Fellow, Clean EDGE Asia, a US State Department initiative to support the transition to clean energy in the Indo-Pacific region, takes as its starting point that in March 2022 Bangladesh attained universal electricity access. The remarkable strides made by the country in its journey in the energy sector are evident from the fact that in 2009 access to electricity was at a mere 47 per cent. According to Alam, however, while access to electricity in Bangladesh is now 100 per cent, the overall contribution of renewable energies to national electricity generation is still very limited. Policymaking in the power sector is largely centred on imports of fossil fuels, including extremely polluting coal. The target of achieving 10 per cent electricity from renewable energy sources, originally set for 2021, is far from being accomplished. On an installed capacity basis, renewable energies have a share of only 3.4 per cent in the national electricity generation system.
Experts are agreed that the policy priorities for Dhaka would need to include accurately estimating future power demand, modernising electrical grids, stamping out energy price distortions, improving energy efficiency, reducing dependence on exports, promoting cross-border electricity trade, encouraging green investment, developing holistic power sector policies, and setting realistic renewable energy targets. While Bangladesh is on course to graduate from ‘least developed country’ status in 2026, and become a developed country in 2041, this is predicated on enhanced competitiveness.
“Subsidies, capacity payments, and the rising volatility of fossil fuel prices in international markets may diminish the competitiveness that has propelled the country’s rise,” writes Alam. Low-cost renewable energies, therefore, would offer significant benefits to the country as would prioritising improving energy efficiency. Bangladesh has raised its ambition for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in the revised nationally determined contributions; to meet this goal, both renewable energy and energy efficiency are crucial. In the process, Dhaka would ensure it will never face the situation that Colombo is dealing with.