Energy justice denotes the concepts of equity, affordability, accessibility and participation in the energy system and energy transition regardless of race, nationality, income or geographic location. Energy justice aims to make energy accessible, affordable, clean, democratically managed for all communities and to protect from the disproportionate share of costs or negative impacts relating to building, operating and maintaining electric power generation, transmission, distribution system and to ensure equitable access to benefits from each system. Energy justice is a community centric approach which focuses on the ways communities should have a say in shaping their energy futures through policy involvement. Hence, energy justice is significant for a country like Bangladesh to ensure access to affordable, safe and sustainable energy for all.
However, Bangladesh becomes an extremely electricity-hungry country nowadays while the whole planet has witnessed a global crisis in the energy sector in recent times due to the aftermath of COVID19, climate change, the brewing economic recession, the Russia-Ukraine war etc. The global crises have also exposed energy supply chain shortfalls. Liquefied natural gas is becoming eight times costlier and crude oil is about five times, compared with April 2020. Just a few months back it was thought that Bangladesh had left its power outage history far behind as it fulfilled almost 100% of power demand following rapid progress in this sector by focusing on capacity building as well as increasing transmission and coverage in the last decade. We have overcapacity to produce enough electricity but do not get enough resources at an affordable cost now because of non-prioritizing sustainable sources to produce electricity continuously. Consequently, the previously short outage usually caused by a brief grid malfunction or a technological fault has now transformed into the signs of energy crisis.
Electricity generation in Bangladesh is mainly dependent on gas and coal whereas the current gas reserves of Bangladesh are not sufficient for industrialization and power generation concurrently. As a result, it becomes heavily reliant on the importation of coal, oil and gas from multiple overseas sources. However, the international reserve of fossil fuels is not endless and there are many power games and politics involved in the price and supply of them. The current massive price hike of traditional fossil fuels i.e oil, gas and coal in the international market made the present power crisis inevitable in Bangladesh. Lack of exploration of alternative sources and insufficient initiative to spread and popularise renewable energy creates threats to supply and national security as well.
The present Government of Bangladesh had prepared a periodic master plan for electricity generation namely the Power System Master Plan in 2016 which also focused on fossils instead of renewables that calls for 35-percent gas and 35-percent coal-based electricity generation. Thus, 70 percent of the projected energy demand for generating electricity in 2026 would have to be met through imports amid a declining contribution of domestic gas in the energy mix. Therefore, the country’s energy security will face threats in the coming days which is also reflected in the current crisis. Conversely, renewable energy is being emphasized to reduce the dependence on natural energy to reduce the effect of greenhouse gas globally.
Regrettably, the Bangladesh Power Development Board has drafted an Integrated Energy and Power Master Plan (IEPMP) in 2022 without following the energy justice approach which again prioritizes natural energy import for the next five years despite forecasts about the international energy market remaining volatile over the time. The draft IEPMP disregarded the potential of expanding renewable energy, need to explore internal gas resources, phase out costly oil-fired power plants and lacked a roadmap to reduce power sector system losses.
The authorities should concentrate on increasing investment in renewable energy gradually to overcome the existing power crisis and reduce importation of energy. Bangladesh holds ample exploitable renewable sources of energy that could be used to address and ease the country's current power issue. The solar power plants, winds, tide, bio, hydrological, solar thermal, ocean waves and the Bay of Bengal should be utilised on a large scale at this moment to handle the situation.
Experts roughly estimate Bangladesh’s wind and solar power potentials to be 60,000MW and 35,000MW respectively. A wind or solar power project is implementable within nine months to a year. Also, our wind potential is not confined to Cox’s Bazar and other coastal areas only. We have a good supply of wind power after a certain altitude in our country. Arguably it is possible to generate 33,000MW at an 80-metre altitude from wind power whereas the generation could be doubled by raising the height to 120 metres. Moreover, an agro-based country like Bangladesh may lean on biomass energy more, using only agricultural crop residues, animal manure and municipal solid wastes. Democratic management of energy, well-trained human resources coupled with modern technology can quicken this process.
Nevertheless, being a rising country, maintaining balance among the affordability, environmental sustainability and energy security simultaneously are not easy for Bangladesh. Hence, this is high time for establishing energy justice to frame a long-term sustainable plan in order to prevent energy crisis of this kind in future in Bangladesh.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of Law and Head of the Department at Dhaka International University and an Advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh