Coal-fired thermal power plants: Some questions | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 06, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 06, 2010

Coal-fired thermal power plants: Some questions

A coal fired power plant billowing smoke in atmosphere.

Of course energy deficiency is one of the biggest problems and challenges for Bangladesh. About 90% of our power plants are natural gas fueled. As we have limited natural resources to generate electricity in conventional ways, we have to look for the alternatives. It will not be a wise decision to plan and install any more natural gas based thermal unit at this stage. So a few other alternatives that come in view are coal or oil based plants, nuclear power plants, hydro units and renewable energy sources i.e. solar, wind, biomass, etc.
Recently we came to know that Bangladesh is going to install two coal-fired mega power plants in Khulna having electricity generation capacity of 660 MW each (1320 MW in total) in joint venture with India. Bangladesh and India will share 50% of the cost to each install the two power plants under the Independent Power Plant (IPP) mode where Indian technical experts would manage and handle the plants.
No doubt it is a big plan to improve our power quality, but we have to be careful about some technical, contractual and environmental issues. Environmental issues should be considered more seriously as we are the biggest victim of global warming although our emission level is simply negligible.
All energy supplies have substantial effects on the environment. Gases from fossil fuels, especially coal, pollute the atmosphere leading to climate change and acid rain. Countering the effects of increased energy use on the environment requires a global response and cooperation between the developed and developing world. Developing nations produce considerably less CO2 per capita than the developed world, but their consumption of fossil fuels is rising rapidly and consequent emission is set to overtake the emissions of the developed world within a few decades. India, China, Brazil and South Africa are considered to be the major contributors of green house gas emission in future.
Therefore an international agreement is required, without affecting the economic growth of developing countries. The Kyoto agreement set a target of reducing global CO2 emissions by 12.5% from their 1990 levels by 2010. This is clearly a step in the major direction, but even this step is seen as too much for the likes of the United States where 25-30% of the world's emissions are produced.
The UK government has gone further than Kyoto pledging to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% of 1990 levels by 2010. Now the final question is how is this going to be achieved? It can be seen that as the switch away from coal-fired power plant has been made, CO2 emissions have dropped considerably in UK. Like UK many other European and industrialized countries are planning to replace their conventional coal-fired power plant with different alternatives.
Since the development of India and China are quite remarkable, their green house gas emission is increasing at a rapid rate which is closely monitored by the advanced world. As a result they will have a natural tendency to distribute their emission among neighbouring least developed countries by shifting few industries like coal-fired power plants. The energy will be imported to meet their needs through cross-border transmission system. Power Grid Company of Bangladesh Ltd. and India has already planned for the cross boarder transmission system.
Definitely India is looking toward the situation that might happen after 10-15 years regarding the energy security as well as environmental issues. Therefore, Bangladesh will have to be very careful about the terms and conditions of the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). From our point of view, any agreement should be done keeping our own priority on top. If the operation and control of the proposed plants remain in Indian hand and power is exported to India then Bangladesh will be only benefited by getting some wheeling charges for using the grid system while a large amount of emission will occur from Bangladeshi soil. This will weaken our position vis-a-vis the climate change issues.
In the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit, Bangladesh had shown that she will be the worst victim of climate change though she is not responsible for causing it. According to the UNDP Human Development Report of 2007, Bangladesh accounted for only 0.1 percent of the total global GHG emission in 2004, with a per capita emission of 0.3t CO2, which is only 1.5 percent of that of the United States. In the Copenhagen Summit Bangladesh delegation demanded allocation from any climate change adaptation fund in proportion to the percentage of its population exposed to the climate change.
Now if the large amount of greenhouse gas emission comes from our coal based power plants, we will loose our position against climate change and further demand for such funds. Now the question is how can we get rid of this present power-insecure condition. No doubt, we have to increase our generation. Best solution will be the nuclear power plant which might be installed in joint venture investment with India or other partner countries. Again Bangladesh can go for the joint investment in hydro power plant in Nepal, Bhutan or Myanmar with regional grid system.
If we are committed to develop coal-fired power plants then the technology must be cleaner. One of the technologies to get cleaner energy from coal than conventional coal-fired power plant is called 'gasification'. It represents a thermal treatment in a reactor called 'gasifier' for converting the coal into a mixture of gases (producer gas or syngas) that can be used in engines or boilers. This gasification technology is treated as a green technology. Finally, we have to go for the Embedded Generation (EG) system based on the renewable energy sources capable of running on islanding mode to reduce the pressure and dependency on national grid. Hope our government will be careful about these issues form technical, economical and, more importantly, environmental points of view before signing any long-term contract with other countries.

Md. Adil Chawdhury is a Commonwealth scholar on New & Renewable Energy and Energy Policy E-mail: .

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