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Asia

Bangladesh finds an answer in solar energy

A blackout in Bangladesh left an entire country in the dark and searching for answers. Experts say the South Asian country desperately needs alternative energy sources, for instance solar power.

Last week, Bangladesh suffered a nationwide blackout for around 12 hours. The country's hospitals, airports, businesses and government offices were forced to use backup generators. The capital Dhaka resembled a ghost town as it plunged into darkness.

Unfortunately, blackouts in the South Asian country aren't a rare occurrence. The country, which relies on a 400 MW (mega watt) power line from India to provide electricity for its people, has experienced many power outages in the past few years.

According to official estimates, the country only produces 3,500 to 4,200 MW of energy a day but requires at least 4,000 to 5,200 MW. This lack of energy has produced frequent power shortages, which have been a cause of concern for the public.

Bangladesh fishmongers light their fish stalls with candles during a power blackout in Dhaka on November 1, 2014 (Photo: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Solar home systems are an alternative method of providing power to a house that has no access to a power grid

A Dhaka resident told the news agency Associated Press, "We had some confidence in the government over the last few years as the power sector was gradually improving. But not anymore."

Carbon emissions and pollution

According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released in 2013, more than half of Bangladesh's population has no access to electricity. Additionally, only less than 10 precent of the country's population has access to modern fuels. Nine out of ten people resort to burning traditional biomass, which puts them at risk of smoke related illnesses.

Furthermore, 85 precent of the country's power generation comes from natural gas – an energy source that increases carbon emissions and pollutes the environment.

In an effort to provide cleaner energy to more people, the Bangladeshi government has called upon the World Bank and other international organizations for loans and assistance.

In a press statement released by the World Bank in July, 2014, it signed a 78.4 million USD deal with Dhaka to help install 480,000 solar home systems. These systems are an alternative method of providing power to a house that has no access to a power grid.

An effective system

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released an annual review report in 2014 which shows that Bangladesh is currently installing 70,000 solar panels a month. The total number of solar systems has jumped from 25,000 to 2.8 million in ten years, according to the report. In addition, the increased number of these panels have created around 114,000 jobs - which is expected to rise even further.

These systems have proven to be quite effective in Bangladesh. Grameen Shakti - a non-profit organization based in Bangladesh – brought solar home systems to rural populations. Dipal Barua, one of the founders of Grameen Shakti, and Muhammad Yunus, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, are responsible for the success of the project.

Barua says that the solar home systems have provided a better source of energy to a a lot of people. "Rural people can keep their businesses open for longer, and children can study at night," he told DW, adding that people could also charge their mobile phones and laptop computers with these power equipments. "Also, many technical jobs have been created in the field of renewable energy."

Dipal Barua

Barua: 'The solar home system has been successful because it is affordable'

Dipal Barua explains that solar panels have been successful because they are affordable. In addition, technical service is provided for purchased items, and there is training support for the users and the skilled workers, he adds.

Barua says that he encourages people to set up roof-top solar panels in urban households. "It would ease the burden of the national power grid and expand power to urban households."

Talking about the future projects, the founder of the Bright Green Energy Foundation says that he wants to "install 7.5 million solar home systems, replace 500,000 irrigation pumps with solar pumps and create 100,000 more green jobs."