Rural Bangladesh has already embraced renewable energy. Here’s what the rest of the world can learn

Rural Bangladesh 2018

UN/Regina Merkova Rural woman in a village in Bangladesh

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Shirley Chen, Founder and CEO, Narrativ

A transition technology bridges the gap between the old and the new. Once legacy technologies and incumbent business models stop producing the desired results, a transition mode starts. However, energy technology is moving too fast for any prolonged transition mode. Its speed of development has cost the big legacy players in certain markets dearly.

In Germany, for example, energy companies have always had strong backing from the government, and strong leverage through their oligopoly. So while ministers contemplated a greener future, they continued to place bets on coal and on atomic power.

However, through a mix of strong public opinion – significantly reinforced by the Fukushima disaster – and falling prices in the renewables industry due to technological progress, the Energiewende (energy transition) suddenly accelerated. The big players found themselves in existential crisis. Their hesitance to embrace the new energy world proved to be their Waterloo.

In Bangladesh, the energy policy realm could not be more different. Yet a closer look at the two countries reveals plenty of scope for mutual learning, from past mistakes and future technologies. Here are three arguments why Bangladesh should avoid a lengthy transition mode.

1. The danger of energy lock-in effects – don’t bet on transition technologies combined with old business models, but leapfrog instead

Bangladesh has adopted the strongest declaration of climate action – a target to use 100% renewable energy by 2050. It is among the countries most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. But given that its electricity supply is already unreliable – peak demand cannot be met, and in rural areas only 42% of the population have access to electricity – this declaration seems daunting.

However, Bangladesh, unlike Germany a decade ago, is clear about where it is heading. The challenges today are whether the country can learn from mistakes made by others, and how far it can afford to continue betting on transition technologies. The transition technology dilemma is not just a question of letting existing fossil fuel or nuclear power plants run a little longer. Rather, the majority of such power plants have not yet been built.

The country faces the very real risk of locking itself into outdated transition technologies and business models, ignoring lessons for which others have paid dearly. Every proposal to build a new power plant should be carefully weighed against its lifespan, and against the path on which the country is embarking.

2. Solar energy is the superior choice based on cost, food, health and safety

By 2021, the government of Bangladesh plans to develop 13.3 GW from new coal plants, but less than 2 GW from solar energy. Their main justification is cost and availability of land. In contrast, a recent study on clean energy investment opportunities for Bangladesh found that there is far more utility-scale and rooftop solar panel potential than previously estimated. Without displacement of communities, conversion of cropland, air or water pollution, premature deaths, public health costs or inflationary fuel prices, rooftop solar panel systems on commercial and residential buildings could provide 17% of current peak demand (2 GW) at dozens of urban locations across the country.

3. Bangladesh has been a new energy pioneer all along

The new energy world is fuelled by the 5Ds: decarbonization, decentralization, democratization, digitization and disruption. Since the Paris Agreement, there is a general global consensus on how this decarbonization process will shape up in coming years. Moreover, the more the world community is exposed to the adverse effects of climate change, the more it will embrace new energy.

As the planet decouples carbon emissions from economic growth, the old paradigm of centralization – where electric power is produced far away from where it is used – will also change. This will bring a democratization of energy generation and consumption, where prosumers will be the key actors disrupting conventional business and delivery models, empowered through digitization that allows automated payment for electricity trades. In The 3 Stages of a Country Embracing Renewable Energy, Christoph Burger and Jens Weinmann divide this transition path into three phases, at a country level:

First phase: A country focuses mainly on promoting renewable energy sources, possibly with secondary objectives of establishing a domestic manufacturing base.

Second phase: The share of renewables in the energy mix reaches a level where grid operators have to intervene more frequently to keep the grid in balance. The landscape of utility companies is undergoing significant transformations.

Third phase: The electricity supply industry sees first-hand how their sector is transformed from being a public infrastructure towards a truly private one, where solutions are customized for each producer and consumer.

The general consensus would place Bangladesh behind the first phase, given its mediocre total installed renewable energy capacity to date. Germany would be in the second phase, and so far no country in the world would be in the third phase.

I disagree. I would put Bangladesh in all three phases at the same time. Public discourse focuses on problems described in the second phase. However, the country hasn’t even seriously started to embrace the first phase, despite strong political commitments. Incumbent government institutions struggle to move past the legacy mandate of grid extension at any cost. This debate exacerbates economic pressure on communities trapped on the waiting list for a grid connection that is often inferior to that which a solar system can offer.

Nevertheless, while this debate rages in the national hubs, rural Bangladesh has quietly joined the global avant-garde in embracing the 5Ds. Many villages have jumped ahead very quickly and embarked directly on the third phase. Under the leadership of the Infrastructure Development Company Ltd. (IDCOL), more than 20 million people today produce their own electricity from completely decentralized solar home systems. Recent studies show that, on average, the quality of their electricity supply is superior to that of the national grid in adjacent areas. So why is the country trying to jump back from the third phase to the first phase?

While the political arena in Dhaka is still stuck in discussion on a net-metering policy, it is startling that in rural Bangladesh, solar peer-to-peer microgrids, based on existing solar home systems, have long been established. This is a micro energy transition, so to speak. Power can flow freely between houses and small businesses, all necessary appliances can be run, and surplus power is traded based on net-metering and mobile money in real-time. Overnight, remote villagers become solar entrepreneurs, trading electricity for income. These rural Bangladeshis are the prosumers, having embraced the 5Ds and the full cycle of the third phase.

The global energy transformation can no longer be stopped. The question is: what will drive it – community initiative, entrepreneurial disruption or adaptation by traditional suppliers? Manufacturers and businesses not only have to face it, but manage it effectively. National and industrial competitiveness is at stake. The energy transition in Germany was a societal movement, initiated by its citizens, and only later did political calculus pave the way for larger uptake of renewables. If the people in the capital of Bangladesh understood the benefits of solar the way people do in rural areas, a similar momentum could be gained. And with it, a giant leapfrog over transition phases.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

EU’s tougher privacy rules: WhatsApp and Facebook set to be soon aligned with telcos

Snowden is the “EU nomination” for this year’s Oscars

Trump questions US – Europe kinship, approaches Russia

Capital markets selloff: The financial moguls send messages to monetary authorities

European Youth calls on European Council for urgent action on “humanitarian crisis” and questions the EU/Turkey deal respect of human rights

MWC 2016 LIVE: Under Armour learns from “robust community of data”

Why climate change matters for future health professionals

Peacekeeping chief highlights challenges facing UN Police

Parliament votes reform for better European Co2 market but critics want it sooner than later

Is the ECB ready to flood Eurozone with freshly printed money?

EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: EUR 400 million Special Measure on education adopted

Bank resolutions set to remain a national affair

IFMSA and IPSF on the Health of Migrants and Refugees

Quality Education on the table at the European Parliament

Inflation keeps falling in Eurozone

A revolution, an ecosystem, an ocean: 5G is just the beginning

Why capital markets have no more reservetions about Eurozone

Here’s the secret to financing a greener future

Hungary’s laws on helping vulnerable foreigners are ‘blatantly xenophobic’: UN rights chief

PM May fosters chauvinism, declares trade war on Europe

No tears for Cyprus in Brussels and Moscow

Britain declares trade war on mainland Europe

These are the countries where it’s still illegal to get an abortion

UN says ‘many humanitarian achievements’, one year after ouster of ISIL from Mosul

The challenges of mental health among the Syrian medical students

Why does the whole world want Britain to stay in the EU?

Liaison Officer – 2020

Deutsche Bank chased away from US, threatened with more fines

The Americans are preparing for the next financial crisis

Greece did it again

UN chief hears ‘heartbreaking accounts’ of suffering from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; urges international community to ‘step up support’

Modern humanitarian aid at times of global crises

Russia won’t let Ukraine drift westwards in one piece

COP21 Breaking News_10 December: the final sprint of the Final Agreement Negotiations

UN chief welcomes formation of unity government in Madagascar

Ukrainian civil war: Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

Learn from the margin, not the center: digital innovation with social impact as transformative force bridging digital divide

The Fourth Industrial Revolution needs a social revolution, too. Here’s how we can make this happen

China is among the 20 most innovative economies for the first time

Eurozone closer to a deflation – stagnation trap

European Confederation of Junior Enterprises hosts in Geneva the Junior Enterprise World Conference

Half of Eurozone in deflation expecting salvation from monetary measures

G20 GDP growth nudges up to 1.0% in the second quarter of 2018

Europe led by Germany seems vulnerable to Trump’s threats

FROM THE FIELD: Weaving profits in Azerbaijan

EU-China trade: closer ties as US-China trade battle brews

A Sting Exclusive: “China-Africa Cooperation Sets a Fine Example of South-South Cooperation”, by China’s Ambassador to EU

Counting unemployment in the EU: The real rate comes to anything between 16.1% and 20.6%

European Commission determined to conclude EU-Mercosur trade deal this year despite French concerns

You’ve heard of 5G, but what about the quantum internet?

Refugee crisis: Commission proposes a new plan urging EU countries to help Italy

EU fight against tax-evasion and money laundering blocked by Britain

G20 LIVE: G20 Statement on the fight against terrorism

The European Parliament fails to really restrict the rating agencies

Europe enters uncharted waters with Kiev-Moscow standoff

Brexit uncertainty keeps shaking the world’s financial markets

A Sting Exclusive: “Regional Policy: a fully-fledged investment policy”, Commissioner Cretu reveals live from European Business Summit 2015

2016 crisis update: the year of the Red Fire Monkey burns the world’s markets down

MWC 2016 LIVE: The top 5 themes of this year’s Mobile World Congress

UN chief welcomes agreement by rival leaders in South Sudan, as a step towards ‘inclusive and implementable’ peace

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s