Energy crisis: Prime Minister Hasina’s role
April 13, 2010
When we NRBs think and talk about our dear motherland Bangladesh, now in desperate crisis, we must realise that when the chief resources are constrained, the cities are overpopulated, the government is ingrained in corruption and terrorism is a major threat, tackling energy crisis is a great challenge. We have too many smart persons who always talk big and but do very little. Everyone wants their own end served at the expense of the miseries of others. Despite these, many of us have great heart for Bangladesh and we try to grab any opportunity to make any contribution to our national development efforts.
Bangladesh is in serious energy crisis. Gas power and water supply crisis are playing hell there. We need to have almost a war-time-unity to combat and resolve it.
Bangabandhu daughter Sheikh Hasina in her second term as PM is putting her best efforts to confront the pressing issues with the best intent. We know that she is handicapped with several problems. She has to deal with external challenges and internally hindering activities of party cadres. War criminals and terrorist activists are after her blood. The last government, BNP-led, left her with a diabolical energy sector with chronic problems of mismanagement and corruption.
Nation and the world have witnessed how boldly and calmly she confronted the inevitable civil war situation triggered from Peelkhna carnage. She is relentlessly struggling to lead the country which is on the verge of collapse and taking it to a position of some sort of balance.
She is confronting energy crisis boldly like a true national leader. This writer was on a short trip to Bangladesh during the first week of April. Over this period, I had opportunity to meet Directors of Petrobangla, Secretary EMRD, Senior executives of TGTDCL and GTCL, also talked to Ex-Petrobangla Chairmen and ex State ministers of Energy Mr A. K. M Musharraf Hussian and Prof Rafqul Islam. Energy advisors, State Minister of Energy and Chairman PB were on tour abroad. Opportunity was there to participate in one TV talk show.
Energy situation in Bangladesh is in real mess. During my short stay in Bangladesh, it appeared that the actual deficit of both power and gas must be higher than what is officially admitted. There must be substantial unaccountable power and gases which are major reasons for failures of various contingency measures government have so far tried to mitigate crisis. A panic-stricken situation was observed in the top management of the gas sector. Persons appeared to lack confidence. It was a bit shocking to feel the lack of self-belief among long-time gas-sector colleagues. We confronted similar crisis on some occasions in the past with commitment and courage. But this time I observed the lack of courage. A feeling of insecurity and mistrust shocked the writer. Top management of energy sector must create situation to create comfort among the energy sector professionals.
Irrigation season is at its peak. Bangladesh is also experiencing prolonged draught and the highest level of sustained hot spell and humidity of the decade. PM Hasina like a bold State leader admitted her limitations to confront the crisis and appealed to citizens to observe austerity. She also underlined the requirements to undertake contingency actions for confronting crisis.
The country is on the verge of energy famine yet persons responsible to address the matters are staying abroad .Wonder why Energy Advisor, State Minister Energy and Petrobangla Chairman had to stay away from Bangladesh at the same time when Bangladesh is burning in the fire of hell. What useful purpose the visit to Poland will serve to uproot the cause of energy security? Why Energy advisor or state minister energy can not own the responsibility or share it at this hour of crisis? Why every issue must be thrown into the court of PM?
PM has already dealt with two important matters for which some irresponsible persons must have been taken to task. PM like her illustrious father must not rule the country with heart. She must deal some matters with head as well. PM had to cancel the reintroduction of day light savings which was introduced without home-work last year. She also cancelled purchase efforts of electric poles which some quarter believed was designed to serve the interest of a brother of a well positioned person of ruling party.
PM met Power ministry officials on 8th April and made some very important announcements. Same evening this writer had the opportunity to participate in a TV talk show directed to evaluate the aspects of her announcements.
The major areas which PM stressed upon were :
• Market owners and shopkeepers are not to use electricity from the national power grid after 7:00pm.
• Power distribution agencies to shorten the period of outage to one hour from two, and shed load every alternate hour.
• Prime minister has called upon the market owners and shopkeepers not to use electricity from the national power grid after 7:00pm. If any one wants to keep their shops and businesses open after that time, they have been asked to depend on their own generators.
• PM encouraged energy sector officials to innovate practical ideas to save power at this time of serious national crisis.
• PM advised PB to find ways to encourage LPG use in domestic cooking.
• PM also advised power ministry to devise means to shorten tendering process and expedite implementation of major power plant installation projects.
• PM directed the power officials to motivate the consumers not to waste electricity.
We all must admit that energy crisis is a national crisis and nation must stand together and confront it unitedly. Never in the past had any Head of the State shown the honesty to admit the failures limitations of his or her governments. Never in the past had the leader of the government made such fervent appeal to the nation to observe austerity in power and energy use. PM Hasina deserves special thanks for that. Proud Bangladeshi nation has encountered similar and greater national challenges in the past and if responsible politicians can forge unity of the people to combat the crisis, this crisis can also be mitigated and overcome.
Now let us try and analyse a little deeper the reasons for such huge demand supply imbalance in power and gas grid which has triggered the present crisis. There exists a tendency among our management to hide real demand and deficit. Any energy sector independent analyst will agree that power demand at this stage without even including the suppressed demand is beyond 6000MW per day and gas demand must be about 2500MMCFD. Unless we have correct figures of demand no contingency measures can work. When our Power ministry say the power demand is 5500MW and generation is about 4000MW people have reasons to disbelieve as this can not make tax payers suffer for more than 12 hours load shedding in tremendous heat and humidity. When we say our gas demand is about 2300MMCFD and our production is about 2300MMCFD the situation must be handled by playing intelligently with line pack [inventory of gas in about 2500Km high pressure national Gas grid]. The situation must have witnessed major improvement after shutting down 5 out of 7 fertilizer plants. Hence power and energy sector management are now caught in their own trap. The injudicious efforts of hiding real deficit are causing the embarrassment.
Shopping culture must have been changed by now in realisation of energy supply limitation. People in almost all modern cities shop within office hours on week days. Usually on week ends shops remain open till mid nights. There are some 24/7 shops foe essential drugs and medicines. We must try and replicate this particular western culture in our society.
Simultaneous to restricting shopping hours, government must restrict use of grid electricity to night clubs, bars and reastaurents. While citizens suffer, some fun lovers must not be allowed to make merry with ill-earned money. Please ban use of grid power in all posh clubs bars and restaurants after 7PM. PM and ministers must also demonstrate leadership sharing the agonies. There must be restrictions in power use in their offices and residences.
CNG price must be immediately increased to 75% of liquid fuel price to discourage use of inefficient CNG conversion equipment and mushroom growth of CNG refuelling stations. CNG introduction is a noble effort. But our shameteurism has spoiled these efforts. Gas supply to CNG stations must be restricted to off-peak hours only.
We always considered pipeline supply of gas to domestic consumers was a waste of efforts. In past, ministers exploited their positions to burden gas companies to extend gas supply to far-flung villages like Dagonbhuiya, Basurhat, Muradnagar, Debidwar, and other places draining huge money from government exchequers. The Dhaka city distribution network was not even designed to absorb load of so many multi-storeyed buildings and mushroom-growth of industries RMG factories in city suburbs. Gas supply to all posh multi-storied apartments must be disconnected within a ceratin dateline. The owners of posh apartments can afford to have LPG use. Bangladesh must expedite efforts to extract more LPG from natural gas stream.
It is a shame that PM advisor, despite his challenge to set up NGL fractionation plant in Sylhet in 1998, failed to do it even in 2010. He was so committed to do it that we had his vision of relocating it from Ashuganj as originally planned. Condensate rich Beanibazar gas field is on the verge of depletion. The lone PNGL plant and LPG bottling unit at Golapganj Sylhet very often suffers from indifferent operation strategies. Bashundhara, Klenheat, Summit Group are in LPG business. More incentives in the shape of tax relief in LPG Cylinder import, LPG import must be given. LPG is also an important automotive fuel.
Natural Gas Grid is now suffering from management crisis. With great difficulties we set up SCADA facilities for unified control of national gas grid. We were shocked to notice that this has become inoperative. We could control gas grid from Ashuganj or Demra Grid centre. This time during Dhaka visit it came to our attention that that SCADA is no longer in operation. This makes the logic of a separate GTCL questionable. Wonder why GTCL is hibernating? Our gas grid simulation evidences that at least 10% area of gas grid must have accumulated deposition of gas liquid and condensates which are impacting adversely on gas system pressure. Major transmission pipelines are designed to be pigged at required intervals. But pipelines like North –South, Rashid poor –Ashuganj, Ashuganj –Bakhrabad, Brahmaputra Basin were never pigged after commissioning. We have serious doubts whether present GTCL management can do it. The present operation of gas system indicates that some liquid may have entered distribution network as well. Will it require PM Hasina to instruct refurbishment of SCADA in national Gas Grid or order on-stream pigging?
Top management is out to rearrange gas sector top management with its own favoured persons. Already two very committed and experienced officials have been made scape-goats. PM Hasina must look into it before situation goes out of control.
Energy crisis is the single most important challenge to this government. Power scarcity has triggered water crisis. In this severe hot and humid condition, people are having serious predicaments. To have first-hand experience of the depth and range of the crisis this writer ventured to visit Bangladesh from Melbourne where we never experience such energy calamity. We NRBs earnestly hope that PM Hasina will overcome the crisis by her dynamic leadership. But she must cut her smart assistants to sizes and make them perform.