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Bangladesh electricity transition: A diverse, secure and deflationary way forward

November 01, 2016
Tim Buckley and Simon Nicholas and Sara Jane Ahmed
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Key Findings

Bangladesh has the world’s largest and most successful base of solar home systems (SHS), installed on some 4.5 million off-grid residences. This base demonstrates what a clear government renewables policy can achieve in Bangladesh.

With a growing gas supply crisis, Bangladesh has an excessive dependence on gas-fired power generation, which currently accounts for 62% of total electricity capacity.

Executive Summary

IEEFA has undertaken a detailed review of the Bangladesh electricity sector. A critical component underpinning Bangladesh’s successful economic growth to date, expanded supply of electricity is proving to be a key constraint to sustainable economic growth.

IEEFA has modelled Bangladesh’s likely strong electricity demand growth and then mapped out an electricity generation investment plan utilising the latest technology and cost analyses. This plan would build capacity whilst enhancing energy security via a bias toward a more diverse, predominately domestic generation profile. Combining increased electricity imports from India and Bhutan, a clear government policy driving energy efficiency and expanded solar energy options, this plan offers a cost competitive, sustainable solution.

Key Findings:

With a growing gas supply crisis, Bangladesh has an excessive dependence on gas-fired power generation, which currently accounts for 62% of total electricity capacity.

Fossil fuel subsidies and electricity-sector losses are an entrenched and growing drag on economic growth in Bangladesh. These range from a domestic price cap on gas, diesel and oil import subsidies; long-dated tax holidays for new power generation investments; and unfunded losses on electricity distribution that saw the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) report net losses of a cumulative US$4bn in the last five years.

Bangladesh’s plan to double fossil fuel generation capacity to 24 gigawatts (GW) by 2021 currently focuses on building heavily Export Credit Agency (ECA) and development assistance-subsidised thermal power generation almost entirely reliant on imported coal, diesel, oil and liquid natural gas (LNG). This plan would instil a long term dependence on fossil fuel imports (rising to 60-70% of capacity), bringing a destabilising drag to the current account deficit, eroding the currency, and importing inflation. The 2016 Bangladesh Power System Master Plan will note the higher energy security risk of relying on fossil fuel imports as well as the exposure of the energy system to imported fossil fuel price increases of the type currently being experienced by the Indian imported coal-fired power generation through higher coal prices.

IEEFA has modelled a cost-effective, more sustainable and faster-to-implement alternative electricity plan for the coming decade. The key ingredients would enhance grid efficiency and energy efficiency, build a fivefold increase in grid capacity for imported electricity from India and Bhutan, and set an ambitious energy program for solar power in all of its forms. An associated but much more incremental build of oil, imported coal and LNG generation still provides ample generation diversification and overall sector capacity growth. Under this plan, only 18% of generation capacity would be dependent on fuel imports, with a further 9% coming from electricity imports from India and Bhutan.

In the last few years increased cooperation and economic development has seen India and Bangladesh jointly commission two international grid connections with a combined capacity of 600 megawatts (MW). Plans are well underway for a fivefold increase in grid capacity for imported electricity from India and Bhutan. These plans would serve to boost diversity of electricity system supply and take advantage of India’s new surplus of minemouth Indian coal-fired power generation and growing, cost-competitive solar energy capacity.

Bangladesh also plans to jointly build, own and source competitively-priced hydroelectricity from Bhutan. Bangladesh has the world’s largest and most successful base of solar home systems (SHS), installed on some 4.5 million off-grid residences. This base demonstrates what a clear government renewables policy can achieve in Bangladesh. There is scope to accelerate this program and significantly expand the size of individual units to cost effectively and rapidly deliver on the government program of electricity for all by 2021.

The success of this solar program also has proven the cost effectiveness of smart solar system development. IEEFA sees an enormous opportunity for Bangladesh to replicate the long-term vision of the Modi government of India in pursuing a solar-driven electricity sector transformation. One of India’s leading solar PV developers, Adani, has recently demonstrated strong interest in the Bangladesh market by submitting proposals for 320MW of utility-scale solar power plants. Bangladesh has recently joined the International Solar Alliance, an initiative which aims to encourage collaboration between members which also includes India.

Bangladesh should immediately target a 1GW annual utility-scale solar installation program that would see 10GW of cumulative capacity operational by 2024/25. As has been demonstrated in countries as diverse as India, Dubai, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Australia and Morocco, the dramatic deflationary nature of gigawatt-scale solar has surpassed all expectations. Unsubsidised utility-scale solar reverse auction tenders have been completed at successively lower electricity tariffs as low as US$64/megawatt hour (MWh) in India, US$24/MWh in UAE, US$29/MWh in Chile and US$33/MWh in Mexico in 2016. Previous predictions of how much suitable, non-agricultural land is available for solar power development in Bangladesh are likely to have been too low.

The trend of reducing auction tenders for solar PV in India can be repeated in Bangladesh. Once scale has been achieved, tenders equivalent to US$70-US$75/MWh should be achievable, and should reduce 5-10% annually. This compares favourably to IEEFA’s calculated cost of US$93/MWh for new, imported coal-fired generation.

There is significant scope for distributed residential rooftop solar in urban areas, as well as on commercial and industrial (C&I) buildings, avoiding the complexities and costs of land requirement for any utility-scale electricity generation. Distributed, off-grid bioenergy plus solar hybrid for water irrigation pumps and telecom towers systems all show significant promise.

IEEFA also models in the development of cost-competitive concentrated solar power (CSP) with storage early next decade to provide increased peaking electricity capacity.

IEEFA’s analysis of wind and hydro resources suggests little if any scope for large-scale cost-competitive development in these technologies in Bangladesh. Incremental investment is possible and would serve to add domestic diversity of supply.

What is also clear is that Bangladesh needs to re-evaluate its exceptionally grand but entirely subsidised plans for ever more imported thermal power capacity. While headlines over the last few years report 21GW of imported coal-fired power capacity, 8GW of domestic coal-fired power, 7GW of new gas-fired capacity, 1.1GW of oil/diesel and 2.4GW of nuclear capacity, the reality is that few of these projects have moved beyond non-binding Memorandums of Understandings (MoU). Civil society resistance to the cumulative compulsory land acquisition orders and loss of biodiversity, plus increased water, air and particulate pollution (and associated public health costs) mean most of these projects fail on any independently assessed cost-benefit economic analysis. Far better would be ECA financing supporting domestic utility-scale solar.


Bangladesh can look forward to a continued period of strong economic growth and development. The electricity sector should play a critically important role underpinning sustainable development. IEEFA’s electricity system model shows that a cost-effective long-term investment program that prioritizes renewable energy, grid and energy efficiency, and increased electricity imports from India and Bhutan would best serve the country in terms of energy security in comparison to heavy reliance on fossil fuel imports, and would deliver a significantly larger, long-term cost-competitive energy supply. A robust government endorsement of a transformational US$15-20bn investment program in renewables, smart grid and energy efficiency by 2024/25 is likely to find strong international financial system support to develop long-term deflationary energy supply.

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Please view full report PDF for references and sources.

Tim Buckley

Tim Buckley, Director, Climate Energy Finance (CEF) has 30 years of financial market experience covering the Australian, Asian and global equity markets from both a buy and sell side perspective.

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Simon Nicholas

Simon Nicholas is IEEFA’s Lead Analyst for the global steel sector, as well as Asian seaborne thermal and coking coal markets.

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Sara Jane Ahmed

Sara Ahmed is founder of the Financial Futures Center and an advisor to the Vulnerable 20 Group of Finance Ministers (V20) of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF).

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