by Gordon Feller, Urban Age Institute, January 18, 2008
Bangladesh has made impressive economic and social strides over the last two decades. It has achieved steady economic growth of around 5% annually, with relatively low inflation and a stable fiscal situation. Population growth and infant mortality rates have declined and primary school enrollment rates, particularly of girls, have improved dramatically. The rate of growth of per capita GDP has improved from less than 2% during the 1980s to over 5% during 1995-05.
Despite these substantial gains, a large unfinished agenda remains in terms of attaining the MDGs, which would require an acceleration of the economic growth rate to 6-7% per annum. Accelerating growth would also require substantially higher levels of investments in infrastructure, with a particular emphasis on the rural areas where the vast majority of the Bangladeshi population lives.
While infrastructure in the rural areas has improved, particularly for water supply and roads, Bangladesh has a particularly high demand for expansion of rural electrification services. Factors such as remoteness, inadequate load demand and resource constraints for expanding the power infrastructure are major barriers to electrification in the rural areas. These areas currently use kerosene and diesel for their lighting and electricity requirements.
At present, about 38% of the Bangladeshi population has access to electricity and per capita electricity consumption is about 133 kWh which is one of the lowest in the world. Nearly 75% of the population is rural and only about 30% of the rural households have access to grid electricity. The current rate of expansion in electrification is only about 400,000 new households gaining access every year and at such rate it would take more than 40 years to reach all households. Rural electricity access rates have to increase dramatically to accomplish the Government’s stated goal of providing universal electricity access by 2020. Government has encouraged implementing off-grid renewable energy technologies, such as solar home systems (SHS) and micro-wind power systems in coastal areas, and mini-hydro projects in the mountainous regions as a priority.
Presently, three state-owned utilities under the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources are responsible for electricity development in the country. These are:
i) Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), responsible for generation and transmission of power in the country and distribution in urban areas, except the area under Greater Dhaka,
ii) Dhaka Electric Supply Authority (DESA), responsible for distribution of electricity in the greater Dhaka area including the metropolitan city of Dhaka; and,
iii) Rural Electrification Board (REB), responsible for distribution of electricity in rural areas through a network of more than 60 Palli Bidyut Samitis (PBSs) or rural electricity cooperatives.
Government strategy emphasizes promoting off-grid options in areas that are unsuitable for grid expansion. It has made a good start by eliminating import duty on SHS in April 2000. The strategy emphasizes the pivotal role of well functioning rural systems for the Government’s off grid promotion strategy and endorses the approach to use well-functioning rural community based organizations (CBOs) to leverage grass-roots reach and establish credibility to improve electricity provision significantly.
The objective of this Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project is to contribute to sustainable development through the provision of renewable solar electricity to households not connected to the electricity grid and thereby reduce the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by displacing kerosene and diesel use for lighting and off-grid electricity generation.
The project will contribute to the sustainable development of Bangladesh with a particular emphasis on the rural population, which is generally poorer. In addition to reducing GHG emissions, the project would have significant other social, economic and environmental benefits. Bank’s involvement in supporting this project is therefore considered highly appropriate.
The project envisages installing 929,169 SHSs all across Bangladesh between 2007 and 2015. The SHS will provide facilities for lighting, TV and radio and comprise of: (a) a Solar Module (10 to 120wp); (b) battery ( 47 Ah to 130 Ah); (c) Charge Controller; (d) fluorescent tube lights with special electronic ballasts; (e) mounting structure; (f) installation kit; and (g) cables and connecting devices. The capacity of individual SHS will vary according to consumer choice and demand. The cost of SHS would be recovered through monthly instalments over a period of up to 4 years which will be within the affordable capacity of the targeted consumers. Upon full implementation in year 2015, the project activity will replace 20,075 kilo litres per annum of kerosene usage, equivalent to an emissions reduction of 48,380.75 tonnes CO2 per annum and 16,600,500 KWh/ year of electricity generation using diesel generators.
The project will be implemented by Grameen Shakti (GS) which develops, introduces and popularizes renewable energy technologies for sustainable energy solutions, particularly Solar PV systems, aiming to reduce poverty, improve living standards and protect the environment. Over the last decade GS has installed about 77,000 SHS with combined capacities of 15.8 MW and more than 1,650 SHSs are installed each month. It has also set up 120 offices for service delivery and performance monitoring, and has a research unit for improvement of the overall efficiency of the system and ancillaries. GS is currently serving more than 275,000 beneficiaries through its 120 offices spread over 58 districts of Bangladesh.
About the Author: Gordon Feller is the CEO of Urban Age Institute (www.UrbanAge.org). During the past twenty years he has authored more than 500 magazine articles, journal articles or newspaper articles on the profound changes underway in politics, economics, and ecology – with a special emphasis on sustainable development. Gordon is the editor of Urban Age Magazine, a unique quarterly which serves as a global resource and which was founded in 1990. He can be reached at GordonFeller@UrbanAge.org and he is available for speaking to your organization about the issues raised in this and his other numerous articles published in EcoWorld.