Davos Agenda

Life for millions in Bangladesh is being transformed thanks to this simple solution

A Rohingya refugee charges his phone with a solar panel as he waits to be taken to a refugee camp after crossing the Naf river at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palang Khali, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RC1143167130

Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest domestic solar energy programmes, which has changed the lives of 20 million people. Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Rosamond Hutt
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Davos AgendaEnergy TransitionClimate ChangeFuture of the EnvironmentElectricitySustainable Development
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