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In rural Bangladesh, solar power is changing lives

Ogbonna Onyekachi Solomon

Jan. 13, 2020

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.
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 .
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.
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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