By Syful Islam
DHAKA, Oct 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Bangladesh's electricity generation from renewable sources has passed the 5% mark with the opening of a major new solar plant — boosting hopes the country might meet its goal of getting 10% of power from renewables by 2020, experts say.
The new 28 megawatt solar power plant in Cox's Bazar District is the largest yet opened in the country, following the earlier construction of a 3 MW plant.
The solar plants come on top of the widespread use of solar home systems in the low-lying country, considered one of those most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Currently about 5.2 million small-scale solar home systems provide electricity to almost 12% of Bangladesh's 160 million people, Dipal C. Barua, president of the Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He called the new plant "good news" for the country, saying the accelerating construction of solar power facilities "will build confidence among future investors".
The new 116-acre solar park will supply enough electricity to meet about 80% of power demand in the Teknaf sub-district where it is located, said Mahmudul Hasan, chief financial officer for Joules Power Ltd.
That area has about 300,000 power users, though little in the way of industrial or large commercial users, he said.
Nuher Latif Khan, managing director of Technaf Solartech Energy Ltd., a subsidiary of Joules Power that owns the plant, said the plant had begun operations ahead of schedule.
In Bangladesh, "the future of solar power is very fantastic," he said, noting that company "definitely" planned to invest more in renewable energy, including potentially wind power.
Khan said the solar park can produce up to 28 MW of solar electricity at peak capacity and has contracted to provide 20 MW to the government grid.
Barua said several other large solar plants are in the pipeline in Bangladesh, after receiving government approval, with a few at advanced stages of construction.
MORE COST — THEN LESS
While solar plants need a large amount of initial investment to set up, he said, they have very small operational costs afterward, unlike plants that need ongoing sources of coal or other fossil fuels.
The government has supported the construction of rooftop solar plants on factories and other commercial buildings, he said, with some facilities on large plants expected to generate a megawatt or more each.
With such solar plants, thousands of factories in Bangladesh should be able to meet their own electricity needs, and contribute surplus power to the national grid.
"I think one day we will see every building has a rooftop solar power system," Barua said.
However, finding available land to set up ground-level solar plants is a major challenge in densely populated Bangladesh, he admitted.
Sheikh Reaz Ahmed, director of the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA), said the country's 2008 renewable energy policy calls for generating 10% of electricity from renewables by 2020.
With the country expected to generate 20,000 MW of electricity in total by the date, renewables would have to reach 2,000 MW to hit that target, he said.
So far Bangladesh generates just over 530 MW from renewables, nearly half of that from hydropower plants, he said.
But the country is set to put online another 600 MW of renewable power in 2019 alone, he said, with another 1,100 MW rolled out in 2020 and 2021.
Altogether, plants now in the pipeline should bring the country's renewable energy generating capacity to 2,235 MW by 2021, Ahmed said.
Not all the construction is progressing smoothly, however, with some plants tied up in problems with land acquisition and other issues, he said.
Meanwhile, energy generation from fossil fuels also is rising to meet soaring demand for energy in Bangladesh, he said.
Last year, Bangladesh's cabinet committee on public procurement approved a proposal to construct 10 new oil-fired power plants, capable of generating 1,800 MW of electricity.
In January, construction also began on a 1,200 MW coal-fired power plant in Cox's Bazar, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
That means boosting Bangladesh's percentage of renewable energy above 10% won't be easy, because "each year total power generation from traditional sources will go up" too, Ahmed noted.
(Reporting by Syful Islam; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)