Solar power capacity reaches 218MW
Bangladesh witnessed a 27 percent year-on-year jump in the number of solar home systems installed last year, thanks to a drop in the production cost aided by technological advancement.
By the end of 2017, the country installed 5.2 million SHSs, which are stand-alone photovoltaic systems that offer a cost-effective mode of supplying power for lighting and appliances to remote off-grid households.
The custom-made SHSs had a total capacity of 218 megawatts, according to the “Renewables 2018-Global Status Report”, which is released annually by Paris-based energy think-tank REN21 in June.
According to the report, 17 million Bangladeshis use SHSs, making it the country with the second highest number of people who avail the system after India, which has 148 million users.
This means about 13 percent of the population in Bangladesh gained access to electricity through off-grid solar home systems.
Kenya tops the chart with 51 percent of its off-grid population being served by distributed renewables for energy access systems.
Of the 5.2 million SHSs, an estimated 4.2 million were distributed through a national programme undertaken by Infrastructure Development Company Limited (Idcol), which works under the Sustainable & Renewable Energy Development Authority of Bangladesh. Idcol started the SHS programme in January 2003 to fulfill basic electricity requirement of off-grid rural people while supplementing the government's vision of ensuring access to electricity for all citizens by 2021.
According to a study of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, renewable energy currently makes up 2.5 percent of the total electricity generation and the sun is the most prominent source.
The number of people without access to electricity is approximately 41 million (25 percent of the population) in Bangladesh, 51 million (26 percent) in Pakistan and 23 million (9 percent) in Indonesia.
Kazi Shofiqul Azam, chairman of Idcol, told The Daily Star that the programme was the largest off-grid renewable energy scheme in the world, focusing on remote areas where electrification through gird expansion was challenging and costly.
The government is keen to expand the use of solar power as it is environment-friendly and the cost of power generation is low, said Azam, also the secretary to the Economic Relations Division.
He credited the expansion of SHS in the last two years to a drastic decrease in production cost. “We will go for solar power where there is scope to utilise it,” said Azam.
Contrary to the REN21 report, one report from Idcol said the SHS programme ensured solar electricity for 18 million people, which was 12 percent of the country's total population who previously used kerosene lamps for lighting.
Idcol targets to finance 6 million SHSs by 2021 with an estimated generation capacity of 220MW of electricity.
The Idcol chairman said 56 partner organisations were implementing the programme with grants, soft loans and necessary technical assistance from the Idcol.
Idcol's total investment under the programme was Tk 52,240 million ($696 million), of which $600 million came as credit and $96 million as grant.
The World Bank and the Global Environment Facility initially provided the financial support.
They were followed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), German government-owned development bank KfW, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the USAID, and the UK's Department for International Development.
The Idcol report also said the programme has so far saved 1.14 million tonnes of kerosene approximately worth $411 million.
In the next 15 years, 4.1 million SHSs will save another 3.6 million tonnes of kerosene, worth $1,300 million.
About 75,000 people are directly or indirectly involved with the programme.
Apart from the population without electricity, about 1.9 billion people living in developing Asia (or 49 percent of the total) lacked access to clean cooking facilities in 2015.
The number of people relying on traditional biomass to meet their household cooking needs was over 780 million (59 percent of the total population) in India, 307 million (33 percent) in China, 133 million (83 percent) in Bangladesh, 95 million (50 percent) in Pakistan, and 67 million (32 percent) in Indonesia.