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Lighting up lives in rural Bangladesh

Less than a third of rural households in Bangladesh have access to grid electricity. This means that in many rural communities, life comes to a halt once the sun has set.

The government of Bangladesh has a vision to provide universal access to electricity by 2020. However, with the dispersed nature of rural settlements and the many rivers criss-crossing the country, electrification is difficult and expensive to many parts. Under the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project, some hard-to-reach villages are therefore being supplied with Solar Home Systems (SHS) as a practical and cost-effective way of providing electricity to rural communities.

With support from the World Bank and other non-governmental organisations, more than 800,000 solar systems are now being used by homes and businesses in rural areas of Bangladesh. And each month, a further 30,000 SHS are being installed. Householders contribute towards their systems through a microcredit scheme, which allows them to put forward an up-front deposit of 10 per cent and to pay off the remaining cost at a low interest rate over a 3-5 year period. Rural families report on the immediate benefits of having light in the evenings by which to work, study and relax.

One community with the new solar powered systems is Garjon Bunia Bazaar, a small rural marketplace in the Barguna district of south western Bangladesh. Some of the homes and businesses here were visited by one of the World Bank’s employees to see the impact of the solar electricity. She spoke to one woman who runs a small restaurant with her husband. The electricity has allowed the couple to keep their restaurant open in the evenings. And in the family’s home at the back, their children are able to do schoolwork. “My business is booming and my family lives much more comfortably,” says the Bangladeshi restaurant owner and mother, adding that because of the electricity her children “are doing much better at school”. Other trades people also spoke of selling more goods or being able to take on more work, increasing their incomes. And as well as work and study, the solar powered electricity was also enabling people to watch small black and white televisions, bringing them more in touch with the outside world.

Apart from the obvious benefits to rural communities, the solar source of the electricity avoids putting extra strain on the overtaxed Bangladeshi electricity grid, with power cuts already common. The Bangladeshi government hopes to derive 10 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. The scaling up of rural solar power schemes should help towards that goal, as well as earning the country credits through the Clean Development Mechanism on carbon emissions.

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