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Gas crisis to end by 2018: minister

The government is seriously working to get rid of the current gas shortage and connect all houses to electricity grid by 2018, said the state minister for power and energy yesterday.

“There will be no gas shortage in the next two years,” said Nasrul Hamid while speaking at a discussion on Bangladesh's energy sector at an international conference at Radisson hotel in Dhaka.

Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) organised the daylong conference -- New Economic Thinking: Bangladesh 2030 and Beyond.

The solution to the gas crisis will be based on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) and improving domestic production, the minister said.

Long-term goals involve importing gas from neighbouring countries, hydrocarbon exploration in the Bay of Bengal and being connected with the international gas pipeline, he said.

Hamid also said he has taken up the challenge to bring all houses under electricity coverage by December 2018 – three years before the government's current plan. 

The country has been facing a gas shortage for a long time as production has failed to keep pace with the rising demand.

On the other hand, the power situation has improved significantly in the last six years thanks to the government's emphasis on electricity generation since coming to power in 2009.

Still, about 40 percent people are not under electricity coverage while power disruption is common in summers and is acute in areas outside the major cities. 

Anders Hasselager, senior project manager of Gate 21, said Bangladesh needs to increase gas production and import gas in order to ensure energy security in the long-term.

He also said Bangladesh's energy mix should be diversified with a move towards renewable energy, including solar energy.

Hasselager suggested Bangladesh make use of new economic instruments to attract investment, primarily in renewable energy sources.

Badrul Imam, a professor of geology at Dhaka University, said although Bangladesh is a sunlight abundant country the share of renewable energy in the total power generation is only 3 percent. This is way behind sun-poor Denmark.

But the solar home systems have helped raise living standards of rural families which do not have access to grid electricity, said the geologist.

Prof Imam said the shortage of primary energy is a major concern for Bangladesh, and the country will be 90 percent dependent on imports for energy.  He blamed little exploration of gas in the last 10 years for the current situation as gas reserves are depleting very fast.

He said since the maritime disputes were settled in 2012 Myanmar has discovered gas reserves in their part of the sea. “We have the same potential to hit gas reserves. But we have not exploited the potential.”

Imam said LNG could be a good source for meeting the energy need in the short-term.

M Tamim, head of the department of petroleum and mineral resources engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said renewable energy can only supplement the conventional sources of energy.

“Our energy solutions have to be supported by conventional energy as producing electricity from renewable energy sources is expensive and technologically challenging.”

Daniel Ciganovic, business development director of ME SOLshare Ltd (Bangladesh), urged the government to provide people a chance to become a part of the energy revolution and give them the opportunity to make money from the sales of electricity.

Nasrul Hamid said Bangladesh could not carry out adequate gas explorations in the sea because foreign companies backed out in the face of falling energy prices.

“We have taken the exploration issue very seriously. We are going to conduct a survey very soon and then we will award the blocks. The deep sea gas exploration will begin next year.”

The minister, however, said it takes eight to 10 years to develop an offshore block. So, Hamid said, the government will import LNG to meet the growing energy demand even if it is expensive because industries would not care about prices if they get uninterrupted power supply.   The state minister said the government has given him $1 billion to invest in hydropower resources in Nepal and Bhutan.

Wendy Jo Werner, country manager of the International Finance Corporation, who moderated the panel discussion, said energy is the cornerstone for Bangladesh to achieve its development goals.

In another session on infrastructure, Rémy Prud'homme, emeritus professor of the University of Paris XII, said infrastructure maintenance is the key. “For politicians and engineers, maintenance is not as glamorous and rewarding as construction, and is all too often neglected.”

“Yet it is well-established that maintenance expenditures have in most cases a much higher rate of return than construction. So, maintenance must receive great attention and funding.”

Jamilur Reza Choudhury, vice-chancellor of the University of Asia Pacific, said available of quality infrastructure is crucial to economic development. He, however, said the culture of maintenance does not exist in Bangladesh. “We build new infrastructure well but we do not maintain them properly.”

The noted engineer said the return on investment from the Padma multipurpose bridge would be more than 20 percent, which is up to 18 percent for Bangabandhu Bridge.

Taku Yamabe, senior representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said job creation through labour-intensive manufacturing industries and linking with global value chain should get priority.

Wei Xiaojun, chief representative of China Railway International Group in Bangladesh, said the railways sector offers huge opportunities to introduce high-speed train facilities in key economic corridors.

Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, chief executive officer of Robi Axiata, said optical fibre should be made available for the mobile phone operators, instead of keeping them in the hand of a few companies, to fast-track digitisation.

He also called for consistency in policy and regulations. 

Md Abul Kalam Azad, principal coordinator on Sustainable Development Goals Affairs at the Prime Minister's Office, moderated the session, while Jean-Claude Seropian, director of Suez Group Bangladesh, Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser of the Access to Information project at the PMO, and MAN Siddique, secretary of the road transport and highway division, also spoke.

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