The ruling Awami League has set three major objectives for itself in the energy and power sector if returned to power for the next 5 years through the election slated for January 7 – which may just be a formality.
“These are to ensure that power and energy supplies are uninterrupted, reliable and affordable,” State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid said in an interview.
“If we come to power, our main focus will be on dealing with these three main challenges,” he said, adding that technology will be the main tool to face the challenges.
In the coming days, he said, a huge amount of electricity will be added to the national grid from new kinds of sources like nuclear and renewables and synchronising the grid to manage the new electricity is a major challenge.
The nature of nuclear power is totally different from conventional energy generated from conventional fossil fuels while solar, a main source of renewable energy, is in turn different from both nuclear or fossil fuel-based plants.
Some 2,400 MW of electricity will be coming from Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant while contracts have been awarded for generating 7000 MW of solar power.
“This will pose a new challenge for the grid as nuclear needs a stable, constant demand in the grid while solar power will be coming to the grid for a certain time like 10 hours a day,” Nasrul Hamid said.
Maintaining balance between the systems with accurate frequency will be the key challenge for the national grid, he explained. For this, establishing a smart grid by replacing the conventional system is the only solution to ensuring grid stability, he observed, saying that when stability is ensured, it will lend reliability to the transmission system.
“But if we want to ensure uninterrupted power supply, the distribution system has to be taken underground which involves a huge amount of investment, mainly from the private sector,” he stressed.
The next government’s main task will be to take the distribution system underground and already Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC), a major distribution entity has taken up the plan to take its system underground, noted the state minister.
He said when the distribution system is uninterrupted, it will give reliability and the industries will not need to maintain captive power plants at their premises.
“Right at this moment we cannot ensure uninterrupted and reliable electricity supply to industries,” he said, adding that when uninterrupted power supply is ensured, the gas now being consumed by the captive power plants can be utilised for more power generation in the grid-connected plants. Captive plants are of course not connected to the grid.
Ensuring affordability has been another key area of the challenges where the next government will have to take some new measures like introducing flat rates for all consumers or special rates for consumers in certain areas.
Currently, Nasrul Hamid said about 18 million ‘lifeline’ consumers are getting electricity at a special tariff rate of Tk 3.75 per unit which puts extra pressure on the overall tariff structure.
“But at one stage, we have to get out of the lifeline category of consumers when their ability to pay will be higher than at present,” he said.
With regard to energy experts’ allegations that wrongheaded strategy and planning have created over 50 percent of surplus electricity in the grid for which the state has to pay capacity charges without availing electricity, Nasrul Hamid said these ‘experts’ have no real world experience in working with any power plant or power industry.
“That’s why they are making such allegations without considering the current state of the power system,” he added.
Many experts believe that the Speedy Increased Supply of Power and Energy (Special Act) which was frequently used in awarding contracts to unsolicited bidders, has created huge corruption in the power sector for which the electricity tariffs have gone up excessively.
Defending the law, Nasrul Hamid said it has helped the government to get projects passed and implemented rising above the bottlenecks in the sector and also ensured lower prices compared with projects which were awarded through open tender.