Shrouded in Darkness: Bangladesh Amidst its National Grid Failure
By TAYLOR GREEN
Students from the Dharmarajika Orphanage & Hostel struggling to study by the dim flicker of a single candle.
Bangladesh’s citizens were forced to light candles at vendor markets and amongst themselves and their families in their homes. People also relied on standby generators to power homes due to partial national grid failure. This disruption left up to 130 million citizens without access to any form of electricity. It began at 2 pm on Tuesday, 04 October, and lasted until 9 pm. However, even by 9 pm, only 45% of residents had regained electricity.
State minister for Power, Energy, and Mineral resources, Nasrul Hamid has regarded the incident as a "temporary inconvenience." This account heavily downplays the severity of the matter. The unfortunate event comes on the heels of many previous outages – with a significant one being the major power outage in 2014. Then, power was lost across the nation for up to 12 hours.
Bangladesh heavily relies on energy imports to support its national infrastructure due to inefficiencies in its local power plants. This has made Bangladesh prone to supply shocks. Currently, Bangladesh is predicted to import 1,160 MW of electricity in 2022 (equivalent to 10% of their electricity use). The rising global gas prices have severely exacerbated the situation in Bangladesh, causing a rise in local gas prices by more than 50%, sparking outrage and protest within the country.
It is postulated that Bangladesh will not be able to cope with the sharp increase in prices due to its poor economic standing.
Bangladesh as a nation struggle with a trade deficit of USD 33 billion. This has exacted great economic stress on the country. Economic instability has been further exacerbated by the increase in expenditure in 2022 on imports. This stands at 36%, a 16% increase from the previous year . Expenditure has increased in part due to growing import prices, specifically associated with scarce natural resources. As a result, Bangladesh faces a 7% inflation, the highest it has been in decades.
Bangladeshis have expressed their concern with the growing power cuts throughout 2021 and 2022, amidst the worsening energy crisis. Businesses in certain areas were badly hit. Cashless payments became impossible for the 7 hours on Tuesday, leading to significant business losses. The event also affected factories and essential infrastructures such as train lines and hospitals.
Bangladesh plans to implement loadshedding – a strategy that has become increasingly necessary for the Indian Ocean nations facing energy insecurity. The Bangladeshi government has implemented plans to ration electricity after multiple power outages, with rotating timetables for specific areas that would likely be hit.
Gas shortages in the EU have affected nations with poor economic power to stock up on gas, such as Bangladesh. Firms outside of Russia using LNG look primarily to the gas-thirsty European market, with the operations based in Italy and Qatar, leaving many nations in Asia without the vital resources required with the price hike in gas. Bangladesh has tried to bid for LNG supplies despite firms’ preoccupation with supplying European nations.
Bangladesh’s economic constraints restrict its coping capacity. China and Japan's (amongst other high-income countries' (HICs)) abilities to cope have exceeded Bangladesh’s and many other low-income countries’ (LICs) abilities in South Asia. This is in part due to their developed economies, which can support their respective large populations despite increasing global gas prices.
Due to these power cuts, schools have been forced to shut down in many areas of Bangladesh. At one point, schools were shut for two days in August 2022, as decided by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. The government planned for schools to be closed for a day each week to save as much power as possible.
The country has resumed operations at its diesel-reliant power plants, after shutting them a month ago. Businesses have also been persuaded to shorten workdays to ease the pressure on the fragile electricity grid.
Despite achieving 100% electrification throughout the nation, these high global prices in LNG have caused Bangladesh to backpedal on the milestone. This has also caused increasing issues for the nation with the rising demand for electricity. Where in the past, few would be affected by such an outcome, now all are at risk of power cuts and disruption to business and regular scheduling of daily life. Electricity has been afforded to the whole population, and now it has become harder than ever to keep that running in Bangladesh.
Image: Flickr/ Shawn