Coal is less economically attractive than when Bangladesh drafted plans to build new coal-fired power plants - but will it switch to gas rather than renewables?
By Naimul Karim
DHAKA, Aug 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bangladesh plans to review the number of coal-based power plants it hopes to build, with an eye to reducing its dependence on coal as costs for the fuel rise and power demand grows more slowly than expected, a government official said on Friday.
About 3% of the country's power currently comes from coal, but plans to build 29 new coal-fired power plants in the next two decades would boost that to 35%.
But officials now say they may rethink their stategy as the country prepares its next energy plan later this year.
"In 2009 our plan was dominated by coal as it was cheap and we needed other sources of energy apart from gas. But it's not cheap anymore and our energy demand hasn't grown as expected," said Mohammad Hossain, head of Power Cell, a technical arm of the energy ministry.
"It's also not good for the environment. Because of all this we may have to review our coal projects and reduce our dependency on them," he said.
More than half of the projects are still in planning stages and "can be reviewed if required", he added.
Climate change activists say that building new coal power stations is incompatible with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit planetary heating - and could put the low-lying country at increasing risk from serious climate impacts.
Under the 2015 Paris accord, about 200 countries agreed to slash emissions to keep global temperature increases "well below" 2 degrees Celsius.
But the planet has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius, and is on track for at least 3.5C of warming as emissions continue to rise around the globe, scientists say.
Ongoing floods in Bangladesh have killed at least 41 people and affected more than a million this year.
The country is often included on lists of the nations most at risk from the impacts of rising global temperatures, from more extreme storms to floods and rising sea levels.
Experts say the floods this year have lingered for an unusually long time. They fear the impact may be particularly severe due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
FOSSIL FUEL SWITCH
If Bangladesh reduces its plans for coal power, it is likely to focus instead on importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a cleaner and more affordable option, Hossain said.
Clean energy advocates praised the potential shift but also urged the government to focus more on renewable sources of power, such as solar and wind, rather than depending too heavily on gas.
"If we go from coal to gas, it's like jumping from one frypan to another. Both are fossil fuels and it won't have a big impact on carbon emissions," said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.
"Our government has committed to ensure that 10% of our energy comes from renewable sources (but) we have just reached 3%. We need to focus more on this," she added.
Simon Nicholas from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis agreed the shift away from coal was a good step but said any future increase in gas prices could put a big economic burden on Bangladesh.
"Bangladesh should maximise renewable energy development as far as possible in order to benefit from the lowest-cost power generation and avoid dependence on fossil fuel imports," he said.
Bangladeshi energy expert Mohammad Tamim however, said that the country doesn't yet have the facilities, such as a smart grid, to depend solely on renewable energy.
Using imported gas - a much cleaner fossil fuel - instead of coal would be a positive step, said Tamim, an administrator at Brac University specialised in petroleum engineering.
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(Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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