Bangladesh, at cross-hairs of the world’s twin mega challenges, growing energy demand and fossil fuel-driven climate change, faces a conundrum as she seeks access to modern energy systems to augment her extraordinary economic growth of the past decade. Advances in the rural/household sector, encompassing the majority of the population and typically reliant on traditional fuels, are based on a unique combination of off-grid solar home systems for lighting and improved cook stoves for cleaner cooking, and heating, with significant domestic technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial contents. For the urban/industrial/commercial sector, currently based primarily on the country’s dwindling gas reserve, energy planners have adopted the classical centralized generation and distribution system common in the West, with two seemingly contradictory approaches, reliance on imported coal and liquefied natural gas proffered for a rapid economic expansion, and utility-scale, ‘clean’ electricity generation with a smattering of nuclear plants and solar farms in order to meet the country’s commitment to the Paris climate treaty. Both approaches rely on external technology, expertise, and concepts.
The paper gives a historic perspective on the country’s often painful and environmentally damaging efforts to augment her meagre access to modern energy resources mainly for the urban/industrial/commercial energy sector, provides an overview of energy growth plans for this sector, and describes the remarkable progress in the hitherto neglected rural/household sector. The paper then notes, how the lessons from the historical perspective and the experience in the rural/household energy sector taken together, can inform development of a unique homegrown approach for the urban/industrial/commercial energy sector to fit the country’s economic aspirations, terrain and, societal needs, instead of the current approach being pursued.