In a conversation, Mohammad Hossain, Director-General of Power Cell, elaborates on the accomplishments of the power sector over the last decade, the significance of quick rental power plants, and how smart grids will ensure the supply of quality electricity across Bangladesh.
Would you please brief us about the accomplishments of the power sector so far?
Energy and power are key drivers to expedite the economic progress of a country. All the developed economies have robust power and energy sectors that helped them to attain economic sustainability. Realising this fact, under the energetic, farsighted, courageous and dynamic leadership of the daughter of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, The Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Government of Bangladesh, has given top priority for the development of both primary and secondary energy to achieve the SDG and Vision-2041 ‘Transforming Bangladesh into a Developed Country’. The Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised in the election manifesto of 2008 to the people of Bangladesh that there would be 100% electricity for all the people of Bangladesh by 2021. She has kept her promise and Bangladesh has now 100% access to electricity. It wasn’t an easy task for any of us. Starting from building the infrastructures and removing the geographical impediments to raising funds to resource mobilisation – in every aspect, it required a coordinated effort. In 2009, the electricity generation capacity was below 5000 MW. From 2009 to 2022, the Power sector has taken a big stride in the meantime and unprecedented success has been achieved. After 13 years, the generation capacity of Bangladesh is now more than 25000 MW. The 5000 MW mentioned earlier was the achievement of 108 years since electricity came to this part of the subcontinent. If we only consider the rule of the present government for the last 13 years, we see that the power sector has made remarkable progress. Only 47% of the population had access to electricity in 2009. From there, now access to electricity has reached 100%. To achieve that, we had to build a 5000 circuit km electricity transmission line and 360 thousand km of distribution line. We would like to express our gratitude to the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her visionary and bold steps to accomplish such daunting tasks. In the past, it would take 4-12 years to make a power station. Thanks to the Speedy Power and Energy Supply Enhancement (Special Provision) Act 2010 which enabled us to complete the construction of a power station in 4 months. Gone are the days when people of this country used to face up to 12-14 hours of load-shedding a day. Due to our timely initiative, the problem of load shedding could be resolved. Many naysayers had criticised the quick rental based power plants, but, in reality because of those initiatives, we could achieve the target of providing adequate electricity to the industries. According to a report from the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, in the fiscal year 2011-12 alone, the contribution of additional electricity generated by the QRPPs to the GDP had been between BDT 23,312 crore and BDT 54,226 crore at constant 1995/96 prices, which are equivalent to between BDT 52,093 crore and BDT 121,168 crore at 2011-12 prices. Uninterrupted power thus has emerged as the oxygen of our economy. Our achievement in the power sector is the fulfilment of a dream of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who incorporated the right to get electricity as a constitutional right. His daughter took the responsibility and made it happen with her leadership and guidance.
According to a report from the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, in the fiscal year 2011-12 alone, the contribution of additional electricity generated by the QRPPs to the GDP had been between BDT 23,312 crore and BDT 54,226 crore at constant 1995/96 prices, which are equivalent to between BDT 52,093 crore and BDT 121,168 crore at 2011-12 prices.
Since we were producing enough electricity, did we need to import it from neighbouring countries?
We live in a global village. If you look at Europe, they have a European grid; there is a PSM grid supplying electricity to the 12 states of the USA and Canada. The Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed a historic joint declaration with India in 2010 which is the base of our successful import of electricity from India. All these were possible because a dynamic team is working relentlessly under the direct guidance of the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. I express my special gratitude to Nasrul Hamid Bipu, Honourable State Minister who is very active in the current cabinet. His leadership motivated us to walk the extra mile when it comes to achieving the milestone.
At present, the grid generation capacity of Bangladesh is more than 25,000 MW whereas the peak demand is around 14,000 MW. Even the peak demand during the winter goes further down to around 10,000 MW while the lowest demand goes down to even below 5000 MW. As such, there remains a huge gap between demand and generation capacity, leaving excess electricity unused during winter and off-peak periods. On the other hand, Bangladesh has low demand during winter whereas Bhutan, Nepal and some parts of India have high demand due to the heating load. At the same time, the capacity of hydropower declines during this season which also creates electricity demand. Therefore, Bangladesh can easily export its surplus power to neighbouring countries during the dry season.
We are successful in connecting 100% of our population to the National grid but what is yet to achieve is to make this power supply uninterrupted. With the present system, it’s not possible to achieve that feat.
Going back to the criticism that was faced by the quick rental power stations, do you think spending that much money as the subsidy was worth the overall achievement we have today?
It was worth it. I have already explained the benefit of Quick Rental Power Plants
There is no denying that the government provided a bulky subsidy in this sector but that was done to uphold the constitutional right of every citizen to get electricity. Think about the poor or ultra-poor people of our country. In pursuit of achieving holistic development, they are also connected with the national grid. Considering their affordability, the government is providing electricity at half the usual price. The same is true for the farmers who need an uninterrupted supply of power for irrigation. Without irrigation, they will not get a good yield and that might threaten our overall food security. Keeping all these thoughts in mind, the government decided to invest in electricity and it had paid off.
Tell us something about Power Cell. What kind of reforms does it do in the power sector? What are the challenges?
In the past, during the early 90s, the power sector was highly corrupted and infamous among the development partners. International organisations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank decided to stop lending in this sector, citing corruption and mismanagement. It was a time when the system loss was around 25-30%. The Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to put an end to those debacles and decided to form a body that will supervise the ongoing activities while conducting the necessary reforms. Thus, Power Cell was formed. Besides improving efficiency and ensuring transparency, the body also took the responsibility to facilitate power generation by the private sector. At present, 50 percent of our power is generated by the private sector, which is indeed a great achievement of the sector. The sector has also set an example by reducing irregularities and instilling more scrutiny and timely completion of projects in an efficient manner.
Now tell us something about the importance of the smart grid, for which Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is doing an assessment.
You are aware that smart grids are implemented in the developed countries of the world today. Even smart grids are being implemented in other countries as well. Bangladesh has achieved its generation target to provide electricity to all people of the country. However, it is yet to fulfil its target to ensure quality electricity. That would be possible only when the implementation of smart grids across the country can be ensured. We are successful in connecting 100% of our population to the National grid but what is yet to achieve is to make this power supply uninterrupted. With the present system, it’s not possible to achieve that feat. For this, we need the support of the state of the art technology. Smart grid connects consumers with an automated system where IT and IoT are enabled and provides the opportunity to monitor supply seamlessly. This kind of internet-based facility will help us ensure quality power supply, reduce system loss and monitor the overall performance of a power station and distribution line. Honourable State Minister Nasrul Hamid Bipu has long been stressing the installation of a smart grid. As a part of that vision, we took some initiatives like installing smart metres at some places at the consumer end. Similarly, we initiated SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) at the distribution end. Our goal is to bring the entire network under SCADA. Such steps will enable us to make sure that the power supply is seamless and can pinpoint any glitch from an automated system, which at the moment has to be done manually.
How is BCG (Boston Consulting Group) going to help with this project?
At first, BCG is going to do stocktaking and gap analysis. For example, where do we stand in terms of smart metres or what are prerequisites for taking the entire system under SCADA? What are the things to do to implement a smart grid etc? Based on their assessment, they are going to provide a road map, I believe this Road Map will help to identify challenges faced by the Bangladesh Power Sector in the short, medium and long term and how they will affect the implementation of the smart grid and enable utilities to accelerate the development of the power sector with optimum utilisation of resources, which will guide us to start integrating smart grids in our country.BCG is supposed to finish the assessment study in the next six months. We are glad that USTDA is providing us with USD 1.5 million for this technical assessment. We aim to connect the whole country with the smart grid by 2030, which is in line with our commitment to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by providing uninterrupted power and ensuring renewable sources of energy. I strongly believe, under the dynamic leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the guidance of State Minister Nasrul Hamid, we will be able to reach that milestone on time.