Solar Power Lights Up Rural Bangladesh

The phrase “rural electrification” can conjure images of massive projects like the Grand Coulee and Three Gorges dams, but distributed, less environmentally impactful power generation is putting a new twist on the concept. We see this scenario unfolding in Bangladesh, where 630,000 homes are now targeted for solar power systems with $172 million in new financing from the World Bank.

As big as the scheme is, it will go just a small distance toward closing the electrification gap in Bangladesh, where only one-third of rural households have access to electricity, the World Bank said. But the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project (RERED) is making progress: Since 2009, 300,000 home solar systems have been installed, and some of the new funding just announced will also go toward other options such as mini-grids, the World Bank said.

Bangladesh rural electrification, solar power, World Bank

image via the World Bank

“The solar home systems have already improved the quality of life of millions of people in Bangladesh and provided opportunities for new village enterprises,” said Ellen Goldstein, country director, World Bank Bangladesh. “Such systems are the most suitable for remote and dispersed communities which the grid connection cannot reach.”

The home solar system component of the RERED project is administered through the Infrastructure Development Company, a government-owned financial institution in Bangladesh, while the installations themselves are carried out mostly by nongovernmental organizations. The World Bank said that in an earlier round of funding it provided $130 million in financing toward the effort.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.