PROF. BIJON B. SARMA
If water is considered as essential for men’s survival, electricity should be taken in the same state for the development of human civilization. As a matter of fact human civilization has been developed with ever increasing dependence on electricity. Bangladesh is a country that needs about 5,000 Megawatt (rounded figure) of electricity at present. The current per day production is about 3,000 Megawatt, that shows a clear deficit of about 2,000 Megawatt. Even though various programs and slogans of the government (like, providing digital technology in all spheres necessitating spending of huge sum) may indicate that the country is extremely rich, the fact is in the true sense the country is really poor. The country could not still employ the requisite number of personnel in its various administrative, service and maintenance sectors, not to say anything about the poor and inadequate facilities provided to the employed personnel.
When the question of producing this amount of electricity comes before the government of a country with above mentioned financial capability and having no facilities for the manufacturing such gadgets, one might guess that the problem is quite complicated. The 1991-‘96 BNP government left an extremely shameful record of producing electricity in the country. Te following Awami League government (1996-2001) could somehow solve the problem, of course with some genuine criticism. The reason for criticism was : the Awami League government arranged “barge-mounted plants” because such plants could be commissioned within minimum time. The suppliers were successful in understanding the urgency of the government. Naturally they compelled the government to sign a contract in which the government had to pay them at a higher rate than what they used to collect from the consumers. The amount of this subside reached to such a state that even when there was shortage of power and the barge-mounted suppliers were ready with the same, the government could not purchase due to financial constraints.
The above mentioned power crisis has reappeared again, with the following complications :
(i) The problem (i.e. supplying the deficit quantity of electricity) is to be solved immediately, by one week if possible.
(ii) In the previous solution would no more work because of the limited quantity and higher cost of production.
(iii) It is possible to procure the type of generators which produce electricity at less cost, but that needs vigorous world-wide surveys and of course time, where the government is in its extreme shortage.
This article would endeavour to give an acceptable solution to the above mentioned problem.
GENERATION OF ELECTRICITY :
In Bangladesh electricity can be generated in the following ways : (01) Hydro-electricity, (02) Thermal Power Plants by using (a) Coal, (b) Gas and (c) Furnace or Diesel oil, (03) Electricity by using solar energy, (04) Electricity by using atomic energy etc.
(01) HYDRO-ELECTRICITY : At present Hydro-electricity is produced in from Karnaphully Hydro-electricity Power Plant at Kaptai. Constructed at an extremely high cost, this plant is capable of producing electricity at the cheapest rate. It is known that some of the generators of this project are out of order. The government may take up program for replacing those. However, any program for further extension of this project may not be wise because of the following reason : the efficiency of this project depends upon the height of water in the dam, which again depends upon rainfall n the upper catchment area and silting inside the lake. Both these factors are unpredictable and beyond human control.
(02) THERMAL POWER PLANTS : In case of thermal plant the government would have to procure such plants from abroad. The process includes vigorous task of information collection, comparative analysis, availability of fund, cost-benefit analysis on the basis of maintenance cost, cost of fuel, site selection, life span of the plant etc. Naturally the job needs considerable time. The type which can be procured and established within the shortest time is the barge-mounted type. However, the capacity of such type is quite low, cost of production of unit energy is quite high and the experience with this type in Bangladesh is not encouraging.
Now we present hereunder the relative advantages and disadvantages of the 3 types of this plants (run by Coal, Gas and Oil) in the context of Bangladesh.
(a) COAL : Even though the thermal efficiency of power plant using coal is the lowest among the three, this one may be beneficial for Bangladesh because the country would not have to import the fuel.
(b) GAS : This type may not be considered suitable for a country, already suffering from gas crisis. It can be taken into consideration only if new gas reserves are found.
(c) FURNACE OIL : This type of plant is quite efficient. However, the problem in case of Bangladesh is, the country would have to depend on imported fuel for all time to come.
(03) ELECTRICITY BY USING SOLAR ENERGY : We mention this one only because at present some traders are constantly spreading that Bangladesh can have enormous benefit from this energy. The fact is, in the scale we are discussing about electricity, there is absolutely no possibility of Bangladesh to achieve any benefit from this source. Production of large scale solar energy is worth producing in countries with cloud-free sky and open deserts, both of which are absent in Bangladesh. At present a number of solar cell manufacturers from the developed countries and having blessings of international organizations are constantly shouting to say, as if solar energy can act as substitute for normal electricity.
(04) ELECTRICITY BY USING ATOMIC ENERGY : Electricity can be produced from atomic power plants. Such plants may be procured easily and at a relatively cheap price, because manufacturers of such plants in the developed countries are already facing liability regarding the sale of their products. In such plant the rate of production may also be less. The cheapest and cleanest fuel “heavy water” is available in the country. Other fuels also will be available, even though their handling and after-use disposal is extremely hazardous. The major problem of such plant is the “possibility of accident”. A country with negligible number of experts in this field would have to considerably depend on foreign experts, which also is quite risky. Also the propensity of climatic (like, storm, cyclone etc.) and geo-tectonic (like, earth quake) hazards in Bangladesh do not indicate good prospect of this type.
In the above situation what the government can do for power generation is to expedite the various on-going power-generation projects including repair and refurbishment of the old plants and to initiate the establishment of new plants after proper investigation, analysis and intelligent thoughts. In such project there should not be any hurry and adequate time should be allowed in all phases.
TIME REQUIRED FOR PRODUCTION :
The Finance minister has mentioned that it may take about three years before new power plants may be commissioned. This time seems quite reasonable or rather conservative. The net findings of all written above indicates that the country may not get the requisite quantity of electricity within the next 3 or 4 years. In the mean time people have already started agitation for their sufferings, the industrialists and businessmen for business-loss due to it. Naturally solving this problem has appeared as the first challenge before the Awami League government.
FINDING OUT THE SOLUTION :
Does the above situation indicate that there is no way of solving this problem ? We know that the power distribution board usually endeavour to solve power crisis by “load management”, popularly known as “load-shedding”. The fact is, it is not at all a solution and can satisfy none.
In such a situation I believe, the most intelligent solution is “to withdraw power from the sectors which can be managed otherwise”. The various sectors from which the government may think of withdrawing power at this moment are : (01) Agriculture (small-size irrigation pumps), (02) Industries (withdrawing tax holiday and curtailing power in the loosing industries) and (03) Posh shopping complexes.
(01) Agriculture (small-size irrigation pumps) : In many regions of Bangladesh irrigation is done by water pumps driven by electricity or diesel fuel. One expert opined in the newspaper that about 1500 Megawatt of power is needed per day during the pick season. The production of crop depends upon irrigation, and not the type pump used for his purpose. We have seen that in Rangpur district vast areas of land is irrigated by the women by using “Tara-pump”. Other than “Tara-pump” a better and bigger version of men operated pump was devised by Late Prof. Dr. Fashi Uddin Ahmed (ex-Planning Minister). It is sea-saw type, portable and can irrigate water from natural sources and tube-wells. At present most of the electric or diesel pump operators themselves are not the cultivators, but are middle-men who sell water to the farmers. It is not possible to find out which of the three types of water pumps for irrigation is economic without having detail information. But we can mention the various factors on which this economics depends. Those with little intelligence may be able to assess the situation by understanding these factors.
ELECTRIC AND DIESEL OPERATED PUMPS : (i) Fuel : Scarce electricity or imported and then subsidized diesel oil is used.
(ii) Catchment and serving area : This are quite large and depend up on the capacity of the pump. When such a pump lifts water, the underground water table goes down at a rapid rate creating two problems : when the level of underground water goes much below (due to excessive lifting or because of dry season) the pump can no more lift water. This factor should be given more importance in view of the melting of Himalayan icecaps, resulting in lowering of water level in the rivers and underground water table. Lowering of water table at ever increasing rate may also agitate the lower level, where Arsenic usually exists. When the serving area of a pump is large, it needs wide drains and branches, thus spoiling cultivatable land.
(iii) Manufacture : Most of the good quality water pumps have to be procured by scarce foreign currency.
(iv) Personnel required : Such type of pumps need less number of personnel.
MAN-OPERATED PUMPS : (i) Fuel : No fuel is required in Tara or Sea-saw type manual pumps.
(ii) Catchment and serving area : Both the catchment and serving areas of the manual pumps are small. Thus there is less possibility of water lifting problem, arsenic hazard or loss of land due to wide drains.
(iii) Manufacture : The manual pumps are designed and manufactured in Bangladesh. Dr. Fasih Uddin Mahtab devised the sea-saw type pump with only one capacity. So, still there is ample scope of redesigning the same with various capacities. The Mechanical Engineering Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) is quite capable of doing this job.
(iv) Personnel required : Manual pumps need bigger number of person. For example, for operating a Tara pump for 24 hours, one may need 3 persons @ of 4 hour work at a stretch per person. For operating a sea-saw-type pump continuously, 6 persons and so on. We all know, Bangladesh is over burdened with unskilled labourer and any proposition of their job-opportunity should be considered as a welcome proposition.
The comparative economic and other gains of the above mentioned two systems can be easily understood by considering the huge initial cost for imported pumps, imported or scarce fuel, easy availability of labour in the country etc.
The act of replacing electric pumps by manual pumps would not affect the farmers. The persons who may be affected due to such change might be the rich middlemen who make money by selling irrigation water. On the other hand, the farmers may be benefited because seemingly the cost of water by this pump should be less than that by electric pumps.
The job of replacing electric pumps by manual pumps does not seem to be a difficult job. What the authorities would have to do are : (a) Earmarking the areas with large concentration of electric pumps. (b) Issuing notice to farmers under each pump to use manual pumps within certain period (say, two months), (c) Making manual pumps available to such farmers on cash payment or easy loan, (d) Issuing order that no electricity would be supplied to such pumps after a certain period of time. This part of the job should be handled jointly by the electricity and agriculture authorities.
(02) Industries (withdrawing tax holiday and curtailing power in the loosing industries) : It is an open secret in Bangladesh that in order to take the advantage of “no-tax benefit” of tax-holiday the industrialists establish new industries and manipulate things to prove the older ones as ‘losing concerns’. In such case the government gets negligible tax from the industries. A government severely suffering from electricity crisis should in no way allow the scope for tax evasion. So, they should declare “end of the tax-holiday policy” immediately and also declare withdrawal of electricity from the “losing industries”. By closing such industries the government would not only clog tax evasion, but also fruitless use of electricity.
(03) Posh shopping complexes : After saving electricity from the above two sectors the government may look for sectors (i) who themselves are capable enough to generate electricity and (ii) whose services do not affect the common people. The air-conditioned posh shopping complexes of the cities fall under this category. It is now known to all that such shopping complexes sell common peoples’ items at reduced rate only as a camouflage. Their profit lies in the imported goods, where the buyers are extremely rich and the shops can sell the goods at any rate they wish. Thus they have wide scope of increasing their income. At present electricity generated by generator is costlier than that supplied by the government authority. So, even if the owners of posh complexes use generators, they can easily take care of the additional cost from their rich customers.
MANAGING POWER CRISIS : Generating electricity is the ideal way to meet the ever increasing demand for power. And for this definitely the government would have to follow the ideal procedure. But the truth is, it would need time. The quickest way of procuring barge-mounted plants did not give satisfactory result in the past. So, this time the government should take proper time for taking the most appropriate decision. The finance minister has said that the process may need three years or more. However, the newly elected government must realize that they do not have dearth of enemies at home and abroad. Scarcity of electricity leads to tremendous sufferings of the people. So, if it continues, the enemies may be successful in getting the dissatisfied electricity-users with them. That clearly says, the problem must be solved now.
The only possible and practical way to solve it is to withdraw electricity from the sectors (i) which can be managed otherwise (i.e. irrigation pumps), (ii) where the government does not get much return (i.e. losing and long-time closed industries) and (iii) where the users are capable of managing things by themselves (i.e. posh shopping complexes).
We want the present government to continue its term in a peaceful manner. The crisis of electricity is not this government’s creation. But the hazard due to it has fallen upon the present government. When a problem cannot be solved in the traditional way, endeavours should be made for alternate solutions. In this article I have mentioned such a solution for the consideration of relevant authorities of the government. I have not mentioned adequate data and specific information in this article, because (i) neither I am in a position to have such data and information, (ii) nor I feel those are necessary to understand this easy problem and the even easier solution. It is the duty of the government to collect those information (in case they do not already have) in order to study the problem and find out the effective and most appropriate solution.
PROF. BIJON B. SARMA, HEAD, ARCHITECTURE DISCIPLINE, KHULNA UNIVERSITY, KHULNA, BANGLAESH.