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Is renewable deployment suffering from fossil fuel lock-in?

While the peak electricity supply reached 15,604MW in Bangladesh at the beginning of summer, many areas, mostly outside Dhaka, have been facing long hours of load-shedding and disruption of economic activities. The reason behind the current crisis is not the lower installed capacity, but the inability to buy imported energy to run the existing power plants and interrupted services due to technical inefficiency. It is tragic to see that while people are suffering from the crisis, over 40 percent of installed capacity remains idle. It is even more tragic that the new capacity addition of 660MW from the trial operation of Rampal and import of 748MW from Adani’s Godda coal-based power plant could not be of any use to reduce people’s suffering. On top of that, more committed power plants including Matarbari, Banshkhali, Rooppur nuclear power plant, and the second unit of Payra are waiting to be finished.

The question is no longer whether Bangladesh has the installed capacity to meet the electricity demand. Rather, the question is whether Bangladesh will be able to pay for the imported energy to fulfil its demand amid the US dollar crisis coupled with high international prices and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.


The excruciating summer temperature and the deteriorating power crisis in Bangladesh brought back the agenda of solar electricity. In this respect, recent policy developments need attention. The draft renewable energy policy set a target to increase the renewables’ contribution to 40 percent by 2041. So far, the feasibility of the target has been discussed mainly from the technical and economic perspectives. Previous debates mostly focused on grid capacity, intermittent supply, battery use, demand management, etc. Another concern has been the high cost of solar power, until the cost declined globally over the last decade. Now, the new experiences of integrating renewables to the grid are widely known. Significant spillover of knowledge around the world made solar technology accessible to countries like Bangladesh. However, while the fossil fuel lock-in as a barrier to clean energy technology adoption is widely discussed in the West, it is yet to receive much attention in Bangladesh.

Technological lock-in refers to the situation of persistent failure to switch to a new technology as replacing the incumbent technology becomes highly expensive. Although the term has been used by economists, historians and sociologists since the 1980s, scholars have started to use “lock-in” in relation to fossil fuel use and the difficulty to switch to renewable energy. Others use the term carbon lock-in to describe a force that prolongs fossil fuel use despite knowing the risks of fossil fuels and having cost-effective alternatives. As a consequence, low-carbon technology diffuses at such a slow rate that the cost to society and the environment becomes too high.

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