What is the Future of Energy? The Driver of the Global Economy

Maeen Md. Khairul Akter, Managing Editor

Future of Energy?

The energy crisis perhaps is one of the major global problems of the current century. As the world is running out of fossil fuels quickly, stress on the renewable sources to generate power and energy is intensifying. Bangladesh is no different. Dependent on fuel imports, the country is in dire stress to ensure smooth supply as the import sources are becoming more vulnerable due to the current global affairs. The textile and apparel industry of Bangladesh is also suffering. This write-up is based on the reflection on the current state of the world in terms of the energy crisis and the future of energy. As an emerging industrialized country, knowledge and projection of global energy affairs are very important for us. This article sheds some light on the very topic.

Is 100% renewable necessary?

Different energy watchdogs suggest that the fossil fuel of the world is about to end if used at a current pace in the world.  According to International Energy Agency’s (IEA) estimation, oil, gas, and coal is going to run out in 53, 54, and 110 years respectively. In such circumstances, it is not hard to realize that a renewable source of energy is necessary. However, if 100% renewables are necessary, can be debated. Jacobson et al. (2017) support this statement and also propose a comprehensive model for how a 100% transition from fossil fuel to renewables can be done in the US. We can also see a significant surge in investment in solar, wind, nuclear, and hydropower plants in the EU, China, and many other countries all over the world (Fragkos et al., 2021). It is evident that most of the countries in the world have decided to invest more in renewable sources feasible in their respective geographic conditions and reduce dependence on fossil fuel sources. Furthermore, there is no other way but to opt for cleaner sources of energy in order to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to climate change mitigations (Cantzler et al., 2020). Hence, it can be concluded that renewables are a must however, whether a 100% transition is necessary is still a live debate.   

Is 100% renewables possible?

One distinguishable feature of renewable energy compared to fossil fuel is that it does not require fuel cost as the source of energy is (sunlight, wind) infinite. Again, solar and wind technology is becoming cheaper through learning curves (industrial productivity) and their operational costs are also lower than gas/coal-based technology. Hence, technically 100% renewable energy should be possible.  Jacobson et al. (2017) in his paper proposed that it is possible for the US to get rid of fossil fuels completely and ensure uninterrupted generation of electricity and power from completely renewable sources i.e. solar, water, and wind between 2050 and 2055. EU and Japan also have an ambitious plan to go 100% renewable by 2050 (Singer et al., 2017). China wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 (Chen et al., 2021). Though technically possible, economically it might be difficult for many nations as renewable energy plants require a big investment upfront. Therefore, it can be said that the world will eventually achieve 100% renewable energy but within the planned timeframe can be a little bit too optimistic for many nations.

What are the challenges to achieving 100% renewable?

From reading of the provided materials the challenges to achieving 100% renewables can be identified as followed:

  • High investment costs: Solar plants, hydropower plants, wind power plants and nuclear plants require a greater amount of investment compared to power plants based on gas or coal. However, due to low operation costs, no fuel cost and economies of scale the generation costs come down much lower than the electricity generation costs from fossil fuels. The enormously high investment cost for renewable plants can be a challenge for many developing economies.
  • Space: Solar and wind-based power plants require a huge open space preferably in a desertified land and offshore/inshore area respectively where there is sunlight and wind in abundance. This is a geographic challenge for many nations that don’t have such a landscape in their territory.
  • Intermittent in nature: Solar power is intermittent in nature like, in the night there is no generation because there is no sunlight. So it may be a challenge to supply uninterrupted electricity from such a source compared to fossil fuel. Wind power is also same in nature as the speed, direction and orientation of wind varies vigorously.
  • Transmission: Most of the mega projects of renewable energy plants are located at places (deserts, fields, off shore/in shore areas) where there is not much industry and residential areas. As a result transmission of the electricity from the plants to the required places becomes an issue. Long transmission lines are prone to system loss of electricity and are expensive too, posing a big challenge for renewables.

What are the technical/policy/regulatory solutions to address those challenges?

As more innovations and technological upgrades take place, the cost of renewable technology along with the investment costs will come down. Especially as the rich countries continue to invest in renewables it will lower the prices along the learning curves for the entire world making it easier for developing and poor countries to transition. Another technical issue is the transmission of electricity which to somewhat political as well. One viable solution can be to transmit energy to the nearest possible areas as the European countries are doing. They are on the way to developing a super grid network of renewable electricity that can be transmitted from anywhere within the EU. For instance, France produces nuclear power which, when in low demand can transmit to Germany and Netherland is good at wind power, when low in demand can transmit it to Belgium. Such a political mechanism enables them to counter the demand-supply gap and also solves the problem arising from the intermittent nature of solar and wind power. Governments can impose strict regulations to check carbon emissions as a preventive measure for climate change which in turn will discourage fossil fuel and promote renewable and clean energy. Other policy supports for subsidies, monitoring and law enforcement, research and development, capacity development can be ways to tackle the challenges associated with transitioning to renewable energy.

Overview of Energy Sector of Bangladesh

Demand for electricity in Bangladesh is projected to reach 50,000 megawatts (MW) by 2041.  The Government of Bangladesh has plans to increase power generation beyond expected demand to help propel growth in the export-oriented economy and meet the needs of a growing middle class by raising $127 billion in total investments in the power generation sector over the 20 years to 2041.  Electricity generation capacity has increased significantly over the last decade, despite poor transmission and distribution infrastructure, inadequate thermal efficiency in a large number of aged power plants, and a mismatch between the types of energy needed by existing plants and the fuel mix available.  Private power production units make up approximately half of total installed capacity.

Electrical generation capacity has increased from about 5 gigawatts in 2009 to around 25.5 gigawatts in 2022, and the government claimed in March 2022 that 100 percent of the population had access to electricity.  Still, the reliability and quality of electricity remain major issues.  Improving the supply and reliability of electricity and energy in general, while maintaining affordability is essential to supporting the continued growth of industry and commerce in Bangladesh.

The fuel mix of Bangladesh’s power plants is heavily based on natural gas.  The Government of Bangladesh plans to reduce dependence on domestic natural gas and increase the use of imported liquified natural gas (LNG).  Until 2021 the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources was reportedly reconsidering plans to shift Bangladesh’s fuel mix towards coal – including by generating as much as 50 percent of total electricity using coal-based power plants by 2030.  However, in a major development, the Bangladesh government scrapped plans to build 10 coal-fired power plants in June 2021, citing unsatisfactory progress of the projects.  In June 2022, Japan cancelled funding for the second phase of a coal-fired power plant in Matarbari.  In addition, the government is framing a new Power System Master Plan (PSMP) where the use of coal will likely get a lesser priority in the face of pressure from environmental groups and development partners.  The government is also considering importing more electricity from neighboring countries and expanding the use of renewable resources, including solar and wind power.

U.S. companies play an outsized role in the power and energy industry in Bangladesh.  U.S. companies supply around 55 percent of Bangladesh’s domestic natural gas production and are among the largest investors in power projects.  U.S.-origin power turbines currently provide 80 percent of Bangladesh’s installed gas-fired power generation capacity.

Take Away for Bangladesh

As a country with small land area and over population, most of the challenges associated with renewable energy is significant in Bangladesh. However, only being dependent on fossil fuel is dangerous as we do not have enough fuel sources and it is harmful towards the environment as well. Moreover, the World is moving towards 100% or close to 100% renewables soon. Keeping in mind the future trends of energy, a comprehensive energy strategy is a must. Recently, the government issued a National Solar Energy Roadmap (SREDA) draft. It recommends a new solar target to address the sluggish clean energy progress. The aim is to have up to 40 GW by 2041, with 40% coming from rooftop solar. If the government priorities the accelerated action plan, by 2041, Bangladesh could see a solar power potential making up 50% of its installed capacity. However, the challenges should be there. Innovative and inclusive mechanisms can be adopted to use the available lands for dual purposes. Like, fields for agriculture and solar, ponds for fish culture and solar both. with an estimated 1,500 km2 of ponds, Bangladesh has a significant potential for floating solar. According to estimates, even utilising only one-third of the ponds for solar installations can generate 15 GW. Furthermore, Bangladesh also has 2,500 km2 of shallow water areas. Installing floating solar on just 10% of these areas would generate 25 GW. Big lakes like the Kaptai and the thousands of kilometres long river pockets could add 20 GW. Regarding land-based options, it is calculated that Bangladesh has around 5,000 km2 of potential for roof systems. Fulfilling just 10% of this could generate 25 GW.

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) concluded that Bangladesh has significantly more wind power potential than previously thought, especially at a hub height of 140 to 160 metres. The areas with the highest potentials reaching 724 km, like the coastline along the Bay of Bengal, Kuakata, Sandwip, and St. Martin. Wind power installation in these areas would solve a lack of energy access for locals who have remained off the grid. The government is already beginning to move in that direction. In December 2020, it approved a major 55 MW wind power project in Mongla. Other projects are also in the pipeline.

Conclusion

Energy is the key to keep the industry and economy moving. We are already facing the hardship as the government reduces generation amid acute oil crisis due to the global current affairs. To be at a safe side, the private sector also has move smartly and invest in renewable energy. It will reduce their dependency on government provided electricity, enable them to become resilient in disruptive condition and gain competitive advantage in business and contribute towards the energy transformation of the country as large. For the new entrepreneurs it is a great learning- to make an inclusive and sustainable business model considering renewable energy investment as a priority. The more capacity in renewables and the less dependency on fossil fuel generation can be a business winner in the next decade.

Major References:

Clack, C. T. M., Qvist, S. A., Apt, J., Bazilian, M., Brandt, A. R., Caldeira, K., Davis, S. J., Diakov, V., Handschy, M. A., Hines, P. D. H., Jaramillo, P., Kammen, D. M., Long, J. C. S., Morgan, M. G., Reed, A., Sivaram, V., Sweeney, J., Tynan, G. R., Victor, D. G., … Whitacre, J. F. (2017). Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(26), 6722–6727. https://doi.org/10.1073/PNAS.1610381114/SUPPL_FILE/PNAS.1610381114.SD02.XLSX

Jacobson, M. Z., Delucchi, M. A., Cameron, M. A., & Frew, B. A. (2017). The United States can keep the grid stable at low cost with 100% clean, renewable energy in all sectors despite inaccurate claims. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(26), E5021–E5023. https://doi.org/10.1073/PNAS.1708069114

Singer, S., Denruyter, J.-P., & Yener, D. (2017). The Energy Report: 100 % Renewable Energy by 2050 (pp. 379–383). Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-45659-1_40