Bangladesh has the largest off-grid solar power program in the world, which offers experiences and lessons for other countries to expand access to clean and affordable electricity. By harnessing solar power, the program enabled 20 million Bangladeshis to access electricity.
The book, “Living in the Light- The Bangladesh Solar Home System Story”, launched today, documents how off-grid solar electrification was mainstreamed to a large segment of the population living in rural areas. Starting in 2003 as a 50,000 household pilot, the program at its peak, provided electricity to approximately 16 percent of the rural population.
“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. Clean electricity meant better health and living conditions for families and more study time for children,” said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “Our partnership with the government for this program spans nearly two decades, and now our support has expanded to include other renewable energy options.”
Successive financing through the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED) Project, the World Bank supported the Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) to implement the program. 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. As a business model Net Metering System is going to be popular day by day,” said Nasrul Hamid, Honorable State Minister, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, who attended the launching ceremony as the chief guest. 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 to 2018, the project reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 9.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The program 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 Amit Jain, Senior Energy Specialist, World Bank and a co-author of the report. “The SHS Program demonstrated that millions of dollars mobilized 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 program, 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 World Bank financing in two consecutive RERED projects stands at $726 million.
The book analyzes the SHS Program’s organizational effectiveness, how partners were mobilized, how quality was enforced, how risks were mitigated, and how financial resources were raised and deployed as Bangladesh scaled up renewable energy use. It shares experiences and lessons that would be useful for other countries as they scale up solar off-grid electrification programs.