In 2002, only 7,000 Bangladeshi households were using solar panels. Today, more than 1.4 million low-income rural households in Bangladesh have electricity—delivered by solar PV panels, most of which are imported from China.
“It’s the fastest expansion of solar energy anywhere in the world,” said Formanul Islam of Bangladesh’s Infrastructure Development Company, which is working with the World Bank to install solar home systems across the
About half of Bangladesh’s 150 million people still don’t have access to reliable electricity, but with the low prices for solar PV panels, among other factors, installations under the Bank-supported project have doubled in the past two years to 40,000 a month.
“It is changing the face of the remote, rural areas of Bangladesh,” said Zubair Sadeque, Energy Finance Specialist in the World Bank’s Dhaka office.
Zubair is the task team leader of the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development project in Bangladesh, for which the World Bank approved a $130 million zero-interest International Development Association (IDA) loan in 2009 and another $172 million loan in 2011. An earlier IDA credit had launched the project in 2002. What has changed is the pace of installations. “It has simply skyrocketed in the last couple of years,” he said.
The combination of competitively-priced solar PV panels and a well-designed financing scheme is now delivering life-changing—and zero-carbon—electricity to bottom-of-the-pyramid families on a scale that was inconceivable only a few years ago.
This drop in price of solar PV panels, combined with high prices for fossil fuels, slow pace of grid connections, along with the scale of cell-phone penetration among the poor, which is driving demand, has created vast new potential for off-grid solar—not just in Bangladesh, but in many other low-income countries. || Vijay Iyer, Director, Sustainable Energy Department, The World Bank
“It is a remarkable alignment of positive factors,” said Vijay Iyer, Director of the Bank’s Sustainable Energy department, who was instrumental in launching the project almost a decade ago. “This drop in price of solar PV panels, combined with high prices for fossil fuels, slow pace of grid connections, along with the scale of cell-phone penetration among the poor, which is driving demand, has created vast new potential for off-grid solar—not just in Bangladesh, but in many other low-income countries.”
Off-grid solar power, while not considered an option among high-intensity electricity consuming rich-country households, does meet the immediate needs of low-income households and small businesses in developing countries. A 40-to-120-watt solar panel is enough for a couple of lights and to charge a cellphone, which can transform lives in rural areas of Bangladesh.
As leaders prepare for the June 20-22 Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, clean energy solutions like this one that deliver electricity to the world’s poor while also opening market opportunities should attract interest not only among donors, but private investors as well. The Bangladesh solar experience may provide a model to help achieve the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, namely universal access to electricity, double the share of renewable energy in the global mix, and double the rate of improvement of energy efficiency.
The project is implemented by a partnership between the Bangladesh Infrastructure Development Company (IDCOL) and about 40 non-governmental organizations, including private sector companies and microcredit agencies. More