Bangladesh boasts largest solar power programme, offering clean energy to 20m

FE ONLINE REPORT | Thursday, 8 April 2021

Bangladesh’s off-grid solar power programme has enabled 20 million people to access electricity, according to the World Bank.

The global agency says this programme, the world’s largest one, offers experiences and lessons for other countries for expanding access to clean and affordable electricity.

A WB book titled "Living in the Light- The Bangladesh Solar Home System Story", launched on Thursday, documents how off-grid solar electrification has been mainstreamed to a large segment of the population living in rural areas.

Starting in 2003 as a 50,000 household pilot, the programme at its peak, has provided electricity to approximately 16 per cent of the rural population, it has pointed out.

“Bangladesh is known for its innovative development approaches. In remote and hard to reach areas, the government successfully introduced affordable off-grid renewable energy solutions through a public-private partnership,” said WB Country Director Mercy Tembon, adding that clean electricity meant better health and living conditions for families and more study time for children.

“Our partnership with the government for this programme spans nearly two decades, and now our support has expanded to include other renewable energy options."

A WB news release mentioned that successive financing through the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED) Project, the WB supported the Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) to implement the programme.

IDCOL combined its expertise in infrastructure financing with Bangladesh’s pioneering work in micro-financing and private sector solar electrification initiatives to build a scalable off-grid electrification business model.

“Our government is committed to driving up renewable energy and has a host of incentives such as tax breaks on offer to drive net-metered solar rooftop installation,” said State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral ResourcesNasrul Hamid told the launching ceremony.

He added, “Solar home systems (SHS) program has been critically important in achieving the ‘electricity for all’ vision. Under the leadership of  Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, electrification of grid area has already been completed and the whole country will be electrified within the ‘Mujib-year’.”

Between 2003 and 2018, the project reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 9.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, says the WB. The programmeis said to have helped reduce indoor air pollution by avoiding the consumption of 4.4 billion liters of kerosene.

“The RERED I and II projects promoted a sustainable market-driven approach where clean energy solutions were provided by local entrepreneurs with financing from IDCOL. 58 non-government organizations supplied and installed the solar home systems made affordable with micro-loans,” said the WB’s Senior Energy Specialist and a co-author of the reportAmit Jain said.

“The SHS Programme demonstrated that millions of dollars mobilised at the international level can flow efficiently to the remotest corners of the country to offer loans in amounts as low as one hundred dollars, which enables a rural household to purchase a solar home system.”

Building on the success of the programme, the World Bank extended support to scale up other clean renewable energy options including solar irrigation, solar mini-grids, roof-top solar, and solar farms, the release said.

The World Bank financing in two consecutive RERED projects stands at $726 million.

The book analyses the SHS programme’s organisational effectiveness, how partners were mobilised, how quality was enforced, how risks were mitigated, and how financial resources were raised and deployed as Bangladesh scaled up renewable energy use.

The book shares experiences and lessons that would be useful for other countries as they scale up solar off-grid electrification programmes.