The government's goal to significantly increase renewable power generation within this year has gone miserably off track as only four out of 42 renewable power projects have been implemented in the last six years.
To ensure national energy security where power would be supplied from multiple sources, the government a decade ago planned to have at least 10 percent of total electricity from renewable sources within 2020. Today, the real number is less than 3 percent.
In 2014, to attain this goal, the government took up 42 renewable power projects totaling 2,500 megawatts (MW) capacity—connected to the national grid.
If these were implemented by today, they would have represented more than one-tenth of the country's electricity that are mainly produced by using natural gas, oil, liquefied natural gas, coal and some hydro power plants.
These 42 plants required around $1.5 billion investment and they were awarded to different agencies and private companies. But most of the projects remained stuck with zero progress while some companies have given up their projects.
Instead of 2,500 MW, the government today got only 38 MW from renewable plants—half of which came through the private sector.
Experts attributed this stunning underachievement to several obstacles that include land crisis, power factor and a bureaucracy that works at a snail's pace.
Unlike fossil fuel projects, the renewable energy projects did not get any special attention and incentives either, they noted.
This is happening when the world is moving towards renewable energy and gradually discarding power generated using fossil fuel.
Presently, at least 30 nations have more than 20% renewable energy supply. Countries like Iceland and Norway use renewable energy exclusively. India meets 35% and China meets 38% of their energy needs from renewable sources.
Why large renewable projects are failing
The country's lone bulk electricity buyer, Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) took eight solar power projects with a total capacity to produce 250 megawatts electricity.
In the last six years, the state-owned agencies could complete only two projects having a total capacity of 3.65 MW. Moreover, three out of the eight projects have been discarded from the list.
Ahmed Jahir Khan, director of the Renewable Energy Research and Development Department of the BPDB said a lack of financing and poor power factor of solar energy were the key reasons behind the incompletion of the renewable source power projects.
"The maximum power factor of a solar park is only 30%, whereas that of a fossil fuel-based plant is around 60-80%. Therefore, the financing agencies don't show interest to invest in solar projects," explained Ahmed Jahir Khan.
Besides the BPDB, private-sector companies at that time were awarded nineteen solar park projects involving 1,118 MW power generation capacity.
Of these, only two projects having a power generation capacity of 28 megawatts have come into operation. Panchagarh eight-MW solar park is one of those two projects, which was completed in July 2019.
The Sympa Solar Power Limited, a joint-venture company of Thailand-based solar PV developer; Symbior Solar; and Paragon Group, a leading agro-based firm in Bangladesh, built the plant.
Sympa is also supposed to build another solar park with a capacity of 10 MW in Moulvibazar of Sylhet, but it has not made even a minimum progress in that project.
When asked, Mostafizur Rahman, country manager of Sympa Solar, told The Business Standard that delay in getting required approvals from authorities concerned is the key impediment to timely implementation of the project.
"We are not getting necessary approvals from the ministry and the department concerned, which is holding the project back," he added.
Mohammad Alauddin, additional secretary of the Power Division and chairman of the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (Sreda), who looks after the renewable energy sector, however said they are delivering their services as fast as they can.
"There is no record of delay on our end. However, other stakeholders like the National Board of Revenue and the Ministry of Law might cause the delay," said Mohammad Alauddin.
Besides bureaucratic delay, problems related to land acquisition also act as a major obstacle to the implementation of the solar park projects.
Some three acres of land is required for generating one megawatt of solar power, which makes it very tough to manage sufficient land for implementing large-scale solar projects.
Therefore, most of the private investors in solar projects have failed to acquire the required land.
SunEdison Energy Holding, a USA-based company had obtained a 200 MW solar park project on an unsolicited basis, which was approved on October 1, 2015 by the Cabinet Purchase Committee.
As agreed, the Power Development Board was supposed to purchase electricity at 17 cents (equivalent to Tk13.26) per unit from the solar park.
The government had estimated to buy approximately 6482.4 million units of electricity from the firm over a period of 20 years at an estimated cost of Tk8,595.66 crore.
However, it failed to implement the project due to financial crisis and even failed to purchase required land in Teknaf upazila.
Way forward to generating green energy
Despite these insurmountable issues and limitations including land scarcity and low power factor, energy experts are still hopeful about reaching the renewable energy target.
They opined that the government should provide some incentives and facilities to the sponsor companies who have bagged the renewable projects but are struggling to implement those.
Siddique Zobair, a renewable energy expert and former member of the Sreda said the country could meet the energy mixed goal along with 10% electricity from renewable sources by incentivising the solar power projects.
"Renewable power projects should be taken care of similar to the fossil fuel-based rental and IPPs set up earlier. Such facilities could include helping the sponsor companies to acquire land and support to get approvals from other stakeholders," he added.
"Some of the struggling projects could have been completed, had the authorities concerned provided such support and facilities," continued Siddique Zobair.
In 2008 and 2009, the Power Development Board used to acquire land to hand it over to private companies.
When asked, Engineer Md Belayet Hossain, chairman of the BPDB said they are heading towards this method again.
"We are finding out places for renewable projects both in our asset areas and in other public companies' areas. We've already formed a renewable company named BCPCL (Renewable). So, things are progressing," he added.
Currently, the country's total power generation capacity is above 23,000 MW whereas the renewable energy installed capacity (including hydro and off-grid solar power) is only 647.44 MW.