Bangladesh got independence in 1971 but with totally shattered economy and infrastructure. Prior to that the infrastructure, especially electrical infrastructure, was mostly Dhaka based and that too very limited. District towns had fragile and very limited network. Such discrimination of wealth, economy and electricity between the two wings of the then country was unthinkable specially when the whole economy of the then Pakistan was mostly based on golden fiber that is “Jute” of Bangladesh. Other products like paper and tea were found to be less costly in the then West Pakistan (present Pakistan) though produced in the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). What a discrimination! This massive unhealthy favouritism and discrimination had led to the war of liberation and birth of Bangladesh by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of the country’s independence. It was one of the shortest liberation wars in history. During the liberation war whatever electrical network we had was mostly damaged by the occupation force.
In this total shattered situation, Bangabandhu pledged for electricity especially for rural areas besides urban areas in the Constitution of Bangladesh under Fundamental Principles of State Policy, Article 16 as under.
“The State shall adopt effective measures to bring about a radical transformation in the rural areas through promotion of an agriculture revolution, the provision of rural electrification, the development of cottage and other industries, so as progressively to remove the disparity in the standards of living between the urban and the rural areas”.
Bangabandhu had the vision for sustainable Bangladesh long 45 years ago which was unknown to many world leaders of that time. That’s why he realized that electricity was a must. He emphasized in one of his historic speeches at the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh on 11 July 1975: “Nothing goes without electricity. 15% people living in urban areas have electricity, but 85% living in rural areas don’t have. Supply electricity in country side and control flood. Then, we need not to import food in next few years.”
This dream of the Father of Nation was materialized by his great daughter Prime Minister of Bangladesh for fourth time Sheikh Hasina. Considering the importance and urgency for energy and power development, which is also required for development of other sectors, she kept this important ministry under her command. Again energy is an integral part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG7).
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
The SDG7 ensures that by 2030 all will have access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services with substantial share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and conservation. International cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technologies including renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies will increase. Promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technologies and expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries.
Due to importance of rural electrification, a separate organization Rural Electrification Board (REB) was formed and was entrusted with electrification of rural areas and its management through consumer owned cooperatives or Polli Bidyut Samity (PBS). REB is now called Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB). There are 80 PBSs under the management the BREB.
Providing electricity to rural masses was an impossible task specially when electrification was unstable and load shedding everywhere. Even capital Dhaka was having load shedding as high as 10 to 12 hours during peak summer with irrigation season. Up to 2008, Bangladesh was energy hungry country with no reliable primary fuel mainly natural gas which was rapidly depleting. Its per capita electricity consumption was one of the lowest in the world with around 35% of its population availing electricity. Situation was so alarming that Common people had to wait for years together just for a connection with minimum load. Those having electricity were getting electricity for 12 to 14 hours during early summer, when electricity based irrigation demand was also high. This country could not think of 24/7 electricity.
Line Construction or Electrification Criteria
Due to fund limitations, certain criteria were made for electrification in rural areas, mainly revenue criteria to set priority for line construction. This means citizens in remote places or in less density areas will be denied of their basic constitutional rights. Such categories of citizens were to pay cost of line construction to get electricity, but why? Wasn’t it contrary to the basic constitutional rights as given by the constitution?
Earlier the revenue criteria for line construction in rural areas were as follows:
A km of line required revenue of Tk 45,000/ per year to be just qualified for consideration. For revenue calculation, a rural residential consumer was Tk 1,000/, commercial installation Tk 1,800/, Mosque/Temple/School/etc. Tk 1,000/, and a single phase rice/saw/flour mill Tk 14,000/ etc. This means, a kilometer of line required at least 45 domestic consumers, schools, mosques etc. to be just qualified for line construction. As a result, many ‘poor rural residents’ areas were excluded from the electrification master plan or ADP because of less revenue. Again annual budget allocation was far less to meet minimum requirement of the country.
There was a time when rural electrification was independent of any external pressure. But then a new criterion was set up in early 2000 for political commitments. Every fiscal year, 40 km of new lines was specially allocated for each member of parliament of the ruling party. But it failed due to shortage of electricity generation and inadequate transmission infrastructure. Electric poles were installed but no wires and even if completed, no electricity.
Rural Electrification Program Reputation
More than a million applications for electricity were pending all over the country mainly due to shortage of electric meter and service drop, distribution transformers or over loaded lines or sub stations. The common people lost confidence on rural electrification program. This led to drain out of experts from BREB/PBS to other utilities due to frustration in work, political pressure etc. Inadequate electricity supply led to drop in irrigation and agriculture products. Due to erratic electricity supply, our main export item garments & textile had a blow. Food deficiency increased while business, banking, ticketing, medical treatment, and education hampered and even connectivity with national and international network through internet went down.
Then our Prime Minister took personal initiative to provide electricity to the rural masses. As a first step, a new Chairman from Army for BREB was appointed, the then Brigadier General Moinuddin, who had his BSc and MSc Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology. He had earlier worked for solving electricity crises of Bangladesh in 2007/2008 during the caretaker government through energy efficiency and conservation and other austerity drives. He joined BREB on 24 October 2011. It was globally proven that rural electrification program had success under leadership of Army Officers like Philippines. The job of Chairman, BREB is not like other job. It is highly challenging with many odds and to be taken with spirit of service to people along with job.
Planning, Coordination & Funding
Bangladesh’s electricity demand and supply planning were not in harmony even though generation was going at its optimum level. There was lack of synchronization with transmission and distribution. As a result, loadshedding was found in some areas and again surplus in some other areas. BREB Chairman took the initiative and both the heads of BREB and PGCB became each other’s board members. This has led to well coordination in distribution and transmission sectors and as a result, it was found easy to plan generation growth. Even BREB started funding the new grid substations at important places where PGCB could not build grid substations due to fund limitation like in Gazipur, Savar etc.
The development partners had a very lengthy procedure for funding. BREB had some fund of its own. It started electrification expansion from its own fund. Experience shows the more is electrification, more is economic activity, the more money rolls and it add to the GDP. An example is the Quick Rental Power Generation projects. After the present government’s coming to power in 2009, it found electricity crises and loadshedding was as high as 10/12 hours in many places. Again any large power plant takes 5 to 7 years or more from planning to produce and deliver electricity. Lack of expertise also added to this problem. The only solution to squeeze time and meet the electricity crises in short time was through introduction of Rental Power Plants which is adopted worldwide to solve electricity shortage within short time. You have to decide whether you go for 5 - 7 years solution or go for combination of Rental Power Plants along with long term planning. This was mainly done through private investors as funding was a major problem and the government was the buyer. As a result, the electricity crises turned to reasonable shortage within 2 years. Irrigation was successful due to availability of electricity and food crises were minimized. The foreign exchange kept reserved for import of food grain was utilized for other important purpose. Our main sector garments and textiles had boom due to better electricity supply. As a result, their cost of production was minimized (earlier due to loadshedding, the garment manufacturers were compelled to go for diesel based standby generation where per kWh cost was around Tk 30/ against the government supplied electricity cost of Tk 7 - 8 per kWh or unit). This led to decrease in actual production cost and export targets were met within time. All these have led Bangladesh to achieve a consistent GDP growth above 6% for last few years. BREB also went for extensive rural electrification with its own and GOB fund for lines, new connections, transformers and reliable electricity materials procurement. Even PBS invested funds to procure new connections materials. This massive electrification changed the scenario and economy of the country. This was also a turning point of gaining confidence from public, economic uplift, minimization of public suffering etc.
At present development partners are pouring billions of dollars as fund to Bangladesh RE program. A comparison of projects of all distribution utilities in Bangladesh is given bellow. Of the total fund US$ 7.94 billion, $ 5.17 billion is for the projects of BREB only.
Consumer Service Simplification & Spot Metering & Alor Feriwala
Connection procedures were simplified, otherwise planning to connect hundreds of thousands of consumers every month is not possible. A new consumer connection concept was developed called “Spot Metering”. Consumer application, inspection, meter security money and meter connection all were done in one day in the field from one place. This led to minimization of consumer sufferings. Then another concept was developed which has become very popular called “Alor Feriwala”. The PBS people goes with all metering items like meter, wires for connection including cashier to new consumer premises and installs the meter and gives connection. Previously people use to go to office for connection but now the utility goes to consumer premises and gives connection.
Developing Partners Confidence
Often the development partners use to impose tough rules for funding in developing countries. BREB was no exception. But due to dynamic leadership and massive consumer and load growth through its own funding, the development partners came with huge funding proposals. Sustainable electrification is expensive venture, but BREB has no funding problem for its expansion, augmentation etc.
Can you imagine, total length of electric lines only under BREB’s 80 PBSs is 423,517 km. Only last fiscal year its line construction was 54,547 km, whereas earlier its annual line construction used to be around 8,000 km. An unimaginable pace of progress was consistently achieved and is still going on. All these were due to extremely efficient supply chain management with proper planning, coordination, monitoring with remedies at every level. Bangladesh rural electrification has proved that it has an efficient, well managed planning done by a highly efficient team under efficient leadership both at national level and organizational level.
Year Wise Consumer Growth
BREB had unprecedented consumer growth which can be a world record. It had 7.2 million consumers in 2007-08 which jumped to 24.753 million by December 2018. In last fiscal year (2017-18) it gave 3.85 million new connections. Similarly in fiscal year 2016-17, it gave 3.5 million and in 2015-16, it gave 3.6 million new connections. Consumer growth during the present government till now is 17.36 million. This is a global record of consumer growth with time.
Upazila Wise 100% Electrification
Upazilas can be compared with 'sub-district', formerly called Thana, is a geographical regionin Bangladesh used for administrative or other purposes. They function as sub-units of districts.Their functionality can be seen to be analogous to that of a county or Borough of Western countries. The Upazilas are the second lowest tier of regional administration in Bangladesh.
A new idea floated “100% Upazila electrification” and it was actually materialized. The very basic concept of electrification as laid down in our Constitution has been practically executed on ground. It was the brain child of the BREB Chairman.
BREB Chairman took pilot project of 100% electrification. He first went for 100% Union electrification (lowest tier of regional administration). Finding its success, he at his own started 100% electrification of Upazillas. Many thought it to be impossible task especially when most of the villages of Bangladesh were without electricity. But with the total government support from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Adviser to the Prime Minister Dr Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury andState Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid, the pace of 100% Upazilla electrification went in full speed.
The 100% electrification of the first 6 Upazilas was formally declared by the Prime Minister on August 16, 2016 and subsequently all 100% electrification of Upazilas declarations were done by the PM.
So far, 305 Upazillas out of 460 and 198 Upazillas are formally declared 100% electrified by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Other 100% electrified Upazillas are in process of formal declaration. Bangladesh has total 83,819 villages under BREB out of which 77,518 villages are fully electrified and remaining are partially electrified. BREB plans to have electricity for all by 2019. Bangladesh pace of 100% electrification is much better than many of South Asian countries. In fact its pace of electrification is a world record.
New Sub stations additions
For sustainable electricity supply with proper voltage sufficient number with capacity of substations (which is very expensive and its construction is time consuming) was required, which is quite difficult engineering planning. But record level new substations capacity were added during present government from 4650 MVA to 10,435 MVA, i.e. 5785 MVA addition and it is increasing to meet load growth demand for next 10 years.
System Loss Reduction
Loss reduction is another parameter especially in developing countries. BREB loss reduction or system loss reduction is one of the best among South Asian countries rural areas and it is going down every year. The lines in rural areas are through trees, green path and consumer connection less compared to urban area. As a result the obvious technical loss is high. But the BREB Chairman through his vision went to reduce the 33kV loss and the 11 kV losses as a result the present Government took over with 18% loss which is now around 10%, lowest system loss among South Asia rural areas.
Increase in Consumer’s Consumption
Another important parameter for improvement in the country’s economy is increase in electricity consumption which is also a parameter of GDP growth. Average growth is around 13% which is a significant achievement. Bangladesh is having GDP growth more than 6% for last 10 years which is highly applauded by the developed countries.
Electric Bill Collection
It may be easy to supply electricity but bill collection specially in rural area is a challenge. Inadequate road communication, less commercial banks and rural collecting centers all should have made it difficult to have smooth bill collection. In contrast average bill payment by rural consumers is above 99% which is a feat when urban consumers are not that good pay master. This is an achievement of the people working in the field starting from General Manager to Line Crew to Meter Readers cum Bill Distributors. They make Teams and regularly visit the defaulter.
Electrical distribution system design, material management, construction sequence, HR arrangement and proper person placement, monitoring, and continuous updating of situation, keeping solid control all were possible due to extra ordinary leadership. Anyone wants to have practical experience on supply chain can have internship in BREB. BREB Chairman Major General Moinuddin (Retd) has proved himself as an expert of highest order in supply chain management at international level.
One Point Service and Public Hearing Day
PBS has an effective “One Point Service” which was subsequently adopted in many organizations with the name “One Stop Service”. Then it introduced public hearing day once in a week though government instruction was to hold it once in a month. This enabled consumers to talk directly with the head of the office regarding their problems. Following BREB/PBS, other organizations have gone for weekly public hearing days.
ISO Certification Achievements
In order to enhance the standard of service to international level and make RE program more efficient, BREB went for ISO certification. It engaged very efficient experts for ISO certification and BREB Chairman himself actively involved in it despite all his other commitments. BREB is the first organization among all the utilities to get ISO 9001:2008 certifications though many others applied earlier.
It then went for its PBS certification which was another new challenge. So far 44 PBS have got ISO certification and rest will get certification by middle of 2019. BREB has also got ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001:2004, ISO 18001:2007 certification and now is in process of getting updated.
How to Make PBS Financially Viable?
Going for 100% electrification and or area coverage rural electrification and financial viability of electric cooperatives are two issues in opposite directions. Again the main source of PBS is sale of electricity. Its tariff is beyond control of BREB/PBS. Tariff should be reasonable and sustainable otherwise whole electrical system may be jeopardized. A burning example is South Africa. The regulators were reluctant in raising the tariff which resulted in huge losses of the utility (ESKOM). The utility could not recover from losses and is still in unsafe situation, whereas South Africa has demand of 35,000+MW and is only country in Africa with nuclear powered electricity generation plants.
A deviation from revenue criteria for greater national interest resulted in huge operating losses, whereas PBSs were supposed to run on “no-loss-no-profit” basis. The state should have compensated for the losses in terms of lower bulk tariff or subsidy. Its system losses are very much reasonable and further lower losses means more uneconomic investment relative to the savings due to loss reduction. Bangladesh rural electrification system losses are less than its neighbouring and other South Asian countries. Many South Asian countries have followed Bangladesh. Like in Pakistan, Karachi and Hyderabed in order to reduce losses they followed BREB and got all the electric meters outside of the houses. In Bangladesh, the urban utilities followed and got their meters outside.
PBS should go for alternate revenue earning. Today in economic zones many income generation scopes are coming. It can go for transformers, electric items production, setting up commercial institutions, IT based business etc.
Bangladesh Economic Zones under REB/PBS
Economic viability was a real concern for sustainability of RE programme, specially when rural people’s economy level was much below the urban standard. Industrial growth was mainly centered around urban areas and near capital city Dhaka. The Prime Minister planned to set up heavy industrial zones namely economic zones all over Bangladesh both under the government and private sector. This will lead to massive economic growth and gradual transformation of Bangladesh to developed country. So far 100 (one hundred) economic zones are being set up under Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA). Other electric utilities were eying to give electric connection to these heavy industrial cities. But BREB through its vision took a bold step and started line construction for initial infrastructure development through its own funding. As a result, all these economic zones will have electricity from BREB/PBS. This will lead to economic viability of all PBS including sick PBS. So far the work by rural electrification in economic zones have earned name all over. This instantaneous prompt action was a major decision for financial viability of the PBS.
Comparison of Evening Demand of Different Utilities
Once, other utilities had maximum share of electrical consumption and demand. But now it is different. Both REB electricity purchase and evening demand is high which indicates our common people economy is increasing. Again rural electrification controls overall distribution sector.
Sustainability of 100% Rural Electrification
Rural Electrification is a national programme. This sector is the main development area which is visible to all; its fruit are enjoyed by all. Bangladesh another significant achievement is food security, which is also dependent on smooth electricity supply for irrigation. With the government support and BREB vision, it has taken over all the economic zones and PBS will no longer be sick any more. But the challenge to supply uninterrupted 24/7 electricity will be the task for each PBS.
Rural electrification programme under BREB started from 1978. The overall development in Bangladesh rural electrification is given in two periods, from beginning to 30 years that is “1978 to 2008” and 10 years from “2009 to 2018”. RE programme massive thrust, an impossible series of tasks made possible with no deviation was mainly possible due to honesty, dynamism, vision and determination with service to mankind. It’s a global example to be followed.
The success of rural electrification and overall sustainable electrification of the country reveals that leadership at national level and organizational level are both essential. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s vision was successfully executed under dynamic leadership of BREB chairman Major General Moinuddin (Retd). It also proves that continuation of a government under patriotic, visionary and extra ordinary leadership is essential for development of any country.
BREB was awarded as the best organization in 2016 in National Electricity Week 2016 and was given special award in recognition of fastest electrification expansion by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 2018.
The BREB Chairman Brigadier General Moinuddin was then promoted to Major General and is still leading Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board as Chairman even after his retirement from Bangladesh Army fulfilling the target of sustainable 100% electrification of rural area of Bangladesh.
Engr. Fahad Haider;
Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency expert in Australia and also works as Researcher in EMI Consultants, Dhaka