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Electricity changes all indicators of quality of life

The Power Division has provided electricity to hundred percent of every house in the country. In South Asia, Bangladesh is the first country to cross the milestone of 100% electrification. That is why electricity generation, distribution and transmission are widely workable in three sectors. As much as the Power Division has received applause, there has been no less criticism. In an exclusive interview with Mamun-Or-Rashid, senior reporter of Views Bangladesh, the Director General of the Power Cell, an international thermal power expert, and the Chairman of Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh (IEB), Mohammad Hossain talked about the issues.

Views Bangladesh: How will you evaluate the hundred percent achievement of electricity reaching every household?
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
The Honorable Prime Minister and daughter of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina's election pledge was to bring electricity to every home. We have also provided electricity to homes even in remote marshlands along with mountains and isolated islands. We have broken the tradition where some people would have access to electricity while others would not. We have ensured electricity access for everyone's homes, fostering equal rights for all. Now, people are enjoying the benefits of electricity beyond just having lights or running fans in their homes. Electricity has transformed people's lives. There is no area in the country now where establishing agro-based industries is not possible. There is no opportunity left to overlook this transformation.

Views Bangladesh: Electricity has been delivered nationwide, but there are various criticisms about how long this electricity lasts.
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
There was a time when people used to ask, 'When will electricity come?'And now people cannot take it easily! During that time, daily life was plagued by 8-10 hours of load shedding, and it was challenging. Currently, the entire world is going through an unstable period. Due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the global energy supply situation is in turmoil. As the government imports a large portion of its daily consumption of fuel, there was some shortage in import of fuel in power plant during the summer. But it never went out of tolerance, rather the government reviewed the global energy situation and informed the public about the challenges. This situation is temporary.

Views Bangladesh: There is criticism that while increasing power generation, we have built many unnecessary power plants. How do you see the matter?
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
Construction of power plant is subject to a technical survey. The decision to construct a power plant in a particular location undergoes a technical assessment. Electricity production planning involves maintaining a specific reserve margin by considering the highest demand for electricity and ensuring regular inspections and maintenance of the power plants. On the other hand, keeping in mind the limitation of energy we have to set up power plants slightly more than the demand. Let's take North Bengal as an example - the construction of power plants was limited there due to the complexity of fuel transportation. As a result, electricity had to be delivered from a long distance to North Bengal. This would cause the voltage level to drop. Now, with the ease of supplying fuel to the power plants in that area, even if a power plant is constructed, it may not seem economically viable despite having sufficient capacity from an emergency standpoint. But considering the technical aspect, there is no option to build the center. We had to build the center considering the peak summer demand. On the other hand we have irrigation season and summer season at the same time. Even in summer from late February to April there is additional electricity demand for irrigation. As a result we cannot provide uninterrupted power for irrigation and load shedding to meet the power demand of customers. When discussing these matters, I think these technical aspects are not often considered.

Views Bangladesh: Why does the electricity demand not change much during the day and night?
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
Due to the availability of electricity, people are now working day and night. In addition to light-fans, the consumption of electricity for other economic activities has increased during the night. It is a new aspect of electricity usage. On the other hand, a large number of easy bikes and battery-run auto rickshaws are being used in villages and towns. We cannot deny this fact. It has created employment for people. These electric easy bikes are charged at midnight. That is why there is a demand for electricity throughout the night. As a result, we can now turn them off if we want. As many employment opportunities have been created, they should not be stopped. Efforts should be made on how to enhance and improve them, and there should be initiatives to advance electric vehicles. The Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) has already formulated a policy. It costs 10 to 12 taka to travel one kilometer by petrol or octane car, while an electric vehicle only incurs a cost of 50 paisa to one taka. This not only benefits the common people but also, if the government reduces the import of diesel and petrol, substantial amounts of foreign currency can be saved, which could be advantageous for our economy.

Views Bangladesh: There have been various criticisms regarding the payment for the capacity of power plants. How would you explain this matter?
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
Before criticizing, one must understand what capacity payment is. In the electricity bill, there are two components, one being capacity payment, and the other is the fuel cost. When an entrepreneur invests in constructing a power plant, the invested amount is repaid through capacity charges. Now, if an entrepreneur does not have the certainty of recovering the investment for constructing the power plant, who would invest in such a venture? This is not only applicable to private centers but also for government centers. In government companies, it is calculated as Internal Rate of Return (IRR). Those who criticize should understand that no power plant is constructed anywhere on Earth without considering capacity payments or IRR. Criticism is natural when it comes to work, but it should be informed and understanding, not uninformed and ignorant.

Views Bangladesh: Is it still too logical to keep the law on fast supply of electricity?
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
This law has been enacted to expedite the processes involved in the construction of any electricity or power plant for any specific reason. For instance, in the past, it used to take at least three years to initiate the construction of a power plant. The time was consumed in acquiring land, designing, and arranging finances. Now, almost half of this time is saved, and the power plant starts production within a shorter period. The government has a committee of top officials to decide the tariff of power plants. The committee takes into account the previous tender bids and determines through negotiation how to reduce further. As a result, there is no opportunity for anyone to influence decisions alone. I think the electricity situation would not have changed so fast without this law.

Views Bangladesh: The participation of the private sector in the electricity sector has exceeded 25 years. You have discussed the involvement of the private sector in both operation and distribution of electricity. If there is private sector participation in operation and distribution, can better services be provided? I would like to know your expert opinion on this.
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
The private companies in Bangladesh's power sector are performing well. Nearly half of the production comes from the private sector. We have formulated a policy framework for private sector participation in operations. This matter is currently under consideration by the government. However, there is no consideration for privatization in distribution at the moment. When several organisations perform the same task, people tend to receive services from those that provide better service. But we also have to consider how good it is for our economy.
A large part of our electricity generation is still subsidized by the government. As a result, if it is left to the private sector, the decision has to be made considering how feasible it is for low-income people. It is not right to take any decision in this matter suddenly.

Views Bangladesh: Now entrepreneurs are showing great interest in solar power generation. Is this correct?
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
Our policy is that at least 10% of the total electricity generation will come from renewable energy sources. Moreover, we have set a target of up to 40% generation of electricity from clean energy by 2041 as per the intention expressed by the Honorable Prime Minister to the world at COP26. In this case, the biggest advantage is that there is no need to import fuel for this type of electricity production. Instead, it can be harnessed directly from nature, making the cost of utilizing such resources virtually zero. And now no one is leaving the land under solar power. We recently conducted a study. There I have shown how to profit by cultivating the land under the solar power plant. In other words, it is possible to construct solar power plants on zero-land. The cost of solar energy production is decreasing day by day. The entire world is now turning towards renewable energy sources. If we don't join this journey, we might fall behind.

Views Bangladesh: Thank you
Engineer Mohammad Hossain:
Thank you too

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