The country's largest rooftop solar power project with a cumulative capacity of 40 megawatts (MW) is being commissioned at the Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) in Chattogram – owned by Korean global business conglomerate Youngone.
The project costing an estimated $40 million will be executed in three phases and will cover all the buildings in the EPZ, said the KEPZ authorities.
In the first phase, a 16MW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant – which itself is the largest ever rooftop solar PV system in the country till date – has been installed at the expense of $16 million and is slated for inauguration by Energy Minister Nasrul Hamid today.
Work on a 4.3MW system that involves a cost of $4.3 million is expected to be complete by October this year, in the second phase.
Another 20MW system – to be set up as an Independent Power Plant (IPP) within a 12-month timeframe in phase-3 of the project – awaits approval from the government, according to officials of KEPZ Corporation.
The power plant will be connected to the national grid and will be eligible for exporting excess power to the grid under a net metering system.
Nazma Binte Alamgir, general manager of Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) told The Business Standard, "No other EPZ has such a large solar power plant with a capacity of as high as 16MW. We have some street lights at the EPZs. Nonetheless, we are encouraging industries to install individual solar power plants to reduce dependency on the national grid."
Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) Chairman Mohammad Alauddin told TBS, "Most of the rooftop solar power plants in Bangladesh are below megawatts capacity. There is a 1MW solar power plant in the Habiganj district set up on the roof of a factory. KEPZ rooftop plant is the largest one in the country.
As the first company, South Korean firm Youngone Corporation set up a private EPZ in Bangladesh in 1996 under the Bangladesh Private EPZ Act and formed a company named "Korean EPZ Corporation (BD) Limited" to promote, develop and manage the EPZ.
At present, 34 world class factories are in operation producing footwear, apparel and textile products in the KEPZ. They have employed around 26,000 people so far.
The EPZ is currently using 14MW power from the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB). It has got approval for using another 14MW from the BPDB for its expanding industries.
In this situation, with a view to making the best use of the power generated by the rooftop solar plants, Youngone Corporation (BD) has signed an agreement with the BPDB for supplying its additional power to the national grid under a back-to-back system.
Speaking on the project, Colonel (retd) Md Shahjahan, managing director of KEPZ Corporation (BD) Limited, told The Business Standard, "We have one of the best solar power plants, as all the high-quality panels have been imported from Korea.
"It has taken around eight months to complete the first phase. KEPZ will not only harness the power of the sun to meet its increasing energy needs in a sustainable manner but also provide any surplus renewable energy to the national grid, demonstrating its commitment to social responsibilities."
Ismail Hossen, executive engineer (distribution department) in Patiya BPDB, Chattogram, said it was good news that an EPZ had entered the clean energy sector.
Regarding the use of the surplus solar power of the EPZ, he said, "The surplus energy of the EPZ will be added to our grid and we will adjust the accounts with them."
"As they have installed a 16MW plant, they will not use much from us. Using this energy, we can give new connections to 12,000-13,000 households if needed," added Ismail.
Bangladesh energy policy aims to increase the share of renewable energy to reach 10% by 2020 and the government has a plan to reach a capacity of 2,400MW by 2021 and 4,000MW by 2030.
Mohammad Hossain, Director General, Power Cell, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, said, "Bangladesh's energy policy aimed to increase the share of renewable energy to reach 10% by 2020 but we achieved only 3.5%. We are working on it. The government is taking many initiatives to increase the share of renewable energy. "
Barren land turned into eco-friendly EPZ
Many of us are no strangers to the economic zones in Bangladesh.
When we think of an economic zone – an area designated for industries – in the country, the image that comes to our mind is of large buildings, heavy industries, and crowded places.
But, the Korean EPZ has changed this preset notion – not for industries but for the greenery, biodiversity and man-made reservoirs it is surrounded with.
The first private EPZ in the country, the KEPZ is located on 2,492 acres of land in Anwara and Karnaphuli upazilas of Chattogram.
The area was once a hilly barren land. But, the land has now turned into a green industrial zone, as 52% of the total area is covered with some 2.4 million trees of 400 species.
The Department of Environment (DoE), on 23 November 2009, gave the environment clearance to the EPZ authorities on the condition that 52% (1,295 acres) of the total project area will be preserved for greenery and the remaining 48% (1,196 acres) will be used for industrial and other infrastructure. Of the 1196 acres land, around 359 acres (30%) is kept for roads and other ancillaries and the remaining 837 acres of land are available for factories.
Md Shahjahan of the KEPZ Corporation, said, "Since its inception, we have been trying to make this EPZ eco-friendly. The project's key features are greenery and water bodies under Blue & Green initiative, green factory buildings, and clean energy.
"We have made all the buildings as eco-friendly green buildings, planted 2.4 million trees, created 25 water bodies which hold up to 500 million gallons of water being a single largest water harvesting project in the private sector of the country. Now, we are having 40 MW of solar energy projects. These have made the EPZ truly environment friendly not only in the country but also in the region."
Local people also praise the EPZ authorities for adding greenery to the area.
Mohammad Ershad, a local resident, told TBS that many people now come to see the area every day.
Employment and investment
On 2 October 2011, Karnaphuli Shoes Industries Ltd started operation as the first factory at Korean EPZ.
The EPZ has so far completed 40 state-of-the-art green factories with a cumulative floor space of over 65 lakh square feet.
So far, Youngone Corporation has invested $300 million on infrastructure development in the KEPZ. The company hopes the EPZ will attract foreign direct investment (FDI) worth $1 billion.
KEPZ Corporation Managing Director Md Shahjahan said, "Once the EPZ is completed, it will generate direct employment opportunities for around 1,00,000 people."
Around 95% of the local people are currently employed in the EPZ, he added.
Mohammad Ershad said, "The EPZ has changed the life of the locals. Many people, especially women, are working here, which has helped their families become financially strong."
The country's second private hi-tech park is also being built at the KEPZ. Youngone Corporation will invest $200 million for its sister concern "Tekvision (BD) Limited" here. The company will produce all kinds of software for industrial digitalisation, data entry and outsourcing. Among other buildings, a 41-storied building is also planned to be built to commemorate the great occasion of Bangladesh reaching the level of a developed nation in the year 2041, said the KEPZ authorities.
More than 200 Korean companies are currently operating in Bangladesh, contributing to the economic development of the two countries. The volume of bilateral trade has reached around $1.6 billion.