• Off-grid solar home systems are improving living standards for people in rural areas of Bangladesh.
  • Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest domestic solar energy programmes.
  • Solar power is changing the lives of 20 million people in rural areas, who can now work, study and go out after dark.

In Bangladesh, more than a quarter of the rural population still do not have access to electricity. For millions of people, daily activities like cooking, working and studying are difficult, or even impossible, after sundown.

But off-grid solar power is rapidly changing all this.

Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest domestic solar energy programmes. The World Bank and other development organizations, along with the private sector, are working with the government to bring affordable, solar-powered electricity to places where the traditional grid doesn’t reach.

Small-scale solar home systems now provide electricity to more than 4 million households and about 20 million people in rural areas, roughly one-eighth of the country's population.

The programme has also introduced 1,000 solar irrigation pumps and 13 solar mini-grids.

solar power bangladesh household family electricity energy sustainability sun emission fossil fuel
Solar panels are changing lives, providing an affordable solution to lack of access to electricity.
Image: REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

The transformative power of solar

The arrival of a solar mini-grid on Monpura, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, has transformed the lives of residents.

Lhota Khatun runs a sewing business from her home on the island. Having access to reliable electricity has helped her to work at night while her children are asleep.

With people able to continue their lives after dark, Monpura is thriving. “Markets are abuzz, households can power TVs, fans and even refrigerators, and streets are lit up at night,” according to a World Bank article.

solar power bangladesh household family electricity energy sustainability sun emission fossil fuel
Off-grid solar systems light up more than 4 million Bangladeshi households.
Image: World Bank Group

Like Monpura, other rural communities are also experiencing the benefits of electricity generated by solar panels.

Solar irrigation pumps enable farmers to improve crop yields. Shops and restaurants can stay open after dark. Families no longer have to rely on polluting firewood and kerosene. Girls can improve their literacy by studying at night. And not least, avoiding fossil fuels reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

A low-lying country, Bangladesh is already suffering the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and flooding.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Rocketing demand for electricity

Currently, Bangladesh’s economy is booming. It has an average growth rate of 8%, and demand for electricity is rising fast.

The country wants to decarbonize and is opening major new solar parks in addition to expanding the use of solar home systems. Wind power plants are also in the works.

But renewables are part of a broader energy mix, which includes natural gas and coal. To meet its soaring energy needs, Bangladesh plans to expand its coal-fired capacity.

Last year, UN Secretary General António Guterres said countries in Asia are among the most vulnerable to global warming and the region must step up efforts to end dependence on fossil fuels.