Focus on alternatives | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 08, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 08, 2011

Focus on alternatives

Fuel cells, solar, wind can help attain energy security

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Energy experts yesterday vouched for alternative energy solutions in Bangladesh such as fuel cell, solar and wind power.
Four non-resident Bangladeshi energy experts yesterday talked about these green solutions at the The Daily Star Leadership Colloquium.
The Daily Star organised the event at its office to bring together major stakeholders from government, industry, academia, and resident and NRBs experts to discuss new ideas for the energy sector and practical innovative solutions to the country's energy crisis.
Environmentally friendly but still costly fuel cell power plants are becoming a choice for on-site power in the USA, Japan and South Korea, amid increasing demand for energy and growing public awareness for conservation.
The experts said a fuel cell operates like a battery but unlike a battery the cell does not exhaust or require recharging. It will produce energy in the form of electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.
Hospitals, hotels, universities and manufacturing facilities may run on fuel cell energy, they said.
Bangladesh should put in place a policy to use fuel cell energy as small-scale use is not financially viable, said Mohammad Farooque, vice-president of Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy.
A scheme known as feed-in tariff, which pays a premium price for renewable energy generators for producing green electricity, can be a way forward, he said.
The fuel cell products can be brought into Bangladesh through a partner here, Farooque said.
A fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, generating electricity, water and heat.
The proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is one type. This fuel cell operate at relatively low temperatures and have high power density. Their output can vary quickly to meet shifts in power demand. This cell is suited for vehicles, which need a quick start up.
PEMFCs are the primary candidates for light-duty vehicles, buildings, and potentially for much smaller applications such as replacements for rechargeable batteries.
In his presentation, Farooque said the Japanese government is pursuing an aggressive programme to introduce residential fuel cells.
South Korea introduced a regenerative fuel cell (RFC) programme in 2010. RFCs are attractive as a closed-loop form of power generation. Water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen by a solar-powered electrolyser. The hydrogen and oxygen are fed into the fuel cell which generates electricity, heat and water.
Unlike wind and solar technologies, which generally have an overall availability of 35 percent, fuel cell products have an availability of about 95 percent.
Direct fuel cell products are the cleanest power with the highest efficiency, said Farooque, an expert in higher-efficiency power generation and utilisation. He put the efficiency rate at 50 percent.
Demand for energy will grow, threatening to exceed supply in future, Farooque said. He said fuel conservation is a must.
He said the cost of fuel cell power plants are declining while the grid power cost is increasing.
Industrial, agricultural plants and waste-water treatment facilities generate renewable biogas as part of their manufacturing process. Fuel cell power plants can harness the methane in this by-product and use the gas to power the system instead of natural gas, making it a renewable energy source.
Farooque said it is possible to generate 35 megawatts of power from wastes from different sources in Dhaka.
Based in Danbury, Connecticut, FuelCell Energy makes ultra-clean stationary fuel cell power plants that generate electricity with up to twice the efficiency of conventional fossil fuel plants, and with virtually no air pollution.
The installation of wind mills and biomass plants for electricity generation would not be viable for the country as those can contribute very little to the national grid, said experts at the colloquium yesterday.
An expert argued that installation of the wind power plants in the country would not be feasible because Bangladesh mostly has flat terrains where flow of wind is not enough to produce adequate power for the energy hungry nation.
"In offshore areas, the installation of wind power plants is possible in a limited scale because wind is available there. But here the government's policies and support are essential," said Saifur Rahman, director of the Advanced Research Institute, Virginia Tech, USA.
Saifur, a Bangladesh-born energy expert, said strong enough wind in Bangladesh is not available, as a result adequate power cannot be produced with this system to contribute in the national grid. The system might work in the offshore areas in smaller scale.
In his keynote presentation, Saifur Rahman said the total power generation from wind power plants was 1,80,000MW in 2010 which was only 10,000MW in 1997.
"So we should understand that the power generation from wind as an alternative energy has been getting popularity worldwide. Bangladesh can also try for setting up wind power plant at the offshore areas in small scale," he said.
The USA produced more than 35,000MW of electricity from wind power plants and both China and Germany produced more than 25,000MW power from wind power last year, he added.
Power generation from biomass would not be feasible in Bangladesh as this system would not be able to contribute much to the national grid, he said.
Moreover, biomass power plants by design are small and it can produce only for a small community, Saifur said.
He said there would be a fuel crisis for biomass power plants in Bangladesh because the raw materials for power production are used for other purposes. In Bangladesh cow dung, one of the major resources for biomass power plants, is used as fertiliser. Similarly, the rice husk is used as cooking fuel in the rural areas.
"So, this kind of alternative power system is also not feasible for the country. It has very little capacity to contribute to the national grid," he said.
Saifur Rahman said historically, renewable energy sources have been in small scale, distributed to and close to people's habitat thus filling the need for on-site source of electricity.
He said while this market continues to grow in most developing and some industrialised countries, there is now a new market for large-scale non-hydro renewable energy sources in Asia, Europe and North America.
“In Bangladesh, the renewable energy sources account for a very small amount of global energy consumption. The country has set up thousands of solar power systems across the country but they are small scale and we have not moved beyond that.”
Saifur, however, said although solar power systems might not turn out the most effective solution for the whole country but it could be a good option for local solutions, which do not have access to the grid network.
“Solar cannot give you the grid solution but it can supply power to a significant extent,” he said.
Sixty-percent of the country's 165 million people do not have access to electricity.
Saifur said there could be product development beyond the use at village rooftops. Multi-family solar home-based electricity supply, solar water pumping, microgrid-multi-kW free standing grids, and photovoltaic power generation national grid are what Bangladesh Power Development Board is trying to do.
The expert said renewable energy sources could fill the need for both stand-alone remote area electricity needs, and large-scale central station power plants.
Small-scale renewable sources of electricity including solar, wind, biogas and small-scale hydro offer opportunities to provide electricity to the disadvantaged thus allowing them to benefit from lights, televisions, computers, internet, mobile phones, he said.
AFM Anwar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of Connecticut, USA, said Bangladesh has aimed at adding 4,000MW of electricity to the national grid by 2014. If solar power systems have to provide that then it will cost the country about $40 billion, which is not cost effective.
Ahmed Badruzzaman, a fellow of Chevron Energy Technology, said although there is a huge potential, solar power is not going to make any big difference.

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