Solar lamps make big money for Bangladesh

,

The Third Pole, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the first country to get UN climate funds to install home solar energy systems in villages off the electricity grid


Photo by Joydeep Gupta

Photo by Joydeep Gupta

“Now things are totally different for us. The solar lamp has changed our lives,” said Momena Begum, a homemaker in Musapur, a remote village in a Bay of Bengal island called Sandeep, in Chittagong district of Bangladesh.

“We can do some work in the evening. I can stitch a nakshi kantha (a cotton wrapper with a traditional design). Some other women in my neighbourhood weave baskets,” said Momena.

Stitching or weaving would be very hard in the light of a kerosene lamp in this village, far from the electricity grid. But the solar lamp has lit up the evening.

And she does not need the six litres of kerosene she used to buy every month.

Like Momena, some four million homes in Bangladesh have switched to solar lamps in the last few months. In a country where around 40% of its 160 million people are not connected to the grid, the solar lamps are showing the way.

Let there be light, and money

This quiet revolution has led to Bangladesh being the first country to get funding from the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to promote small solar home panel systems.

This August, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) issued two organisations in Bangladesh 395,286 carbon credits under CDM, worth €3.56 million.

“We had carried out a study in 2007 that showed that a family needs around six to eight litres of kerosene every month,” said Nazmul Haque, director (investment) and head advisor of Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), one of the two organisations that got the credits. “As we have already installed around four million solar home panel systems, this programme has been saving around 32,000 litres of kerosene every month.”

On top of that, burning one metric tonne of kerosene emits 2.41 metric tonnes of carbon. Shifting to solar lamps has meant avoiding 488,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

IDCOL, a government undertaking, is now coordinating 47 local organisations that are installing 65,000 solar panels in villages off the grid.

Grameen Shakti, an organisation founded by Nobel Laureate economist Muhammad Yunus, is the other organisation that has received carbon credits. Grameen Shakti – the name translates as rural power – has been the biggest promoter of solar home panel systems in Bangladesh for years.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that was set up by the UNFCCC under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol allows companies in industrialised countries to buy carbon credits from developing nations in order to comply with requirements to reduce emissions.

Bangladesh is one of the lowest contributors among global carbon emitters – with per capita emissions of 0.0013 tonnes per year. It can now earn money by providing clean electricity.

The carbon credit just earned by Bangladesh is the highest among least developed countries. It’s a process in which the World Bank provided technical assistance and then purchased the credits from IDCOL and Grameen Shakti.

Of the carbon credits (officially called CER, or Certified Emission Reduction) issued by UNFCCC, 54% went to IDCOL and 46% to Grameen Shakti, officials in the organisations said. As per an agreement signed with these organisations in 2007, the World Bank will sell these at a rate of €9 per CER.

Haque of IDCOL said the organisations signed an agreement with the World Bank in 2007 regarding purchasing carbon credits from them. The programme was registered under the UNFCCC in 2012. “Though the rate of CER has reduced to less than one euro now, Bangladesh will get the rate of 2007 as the contract was signed then,” he added.

Former Grameen Shakti official Shahidul Islam said that after Bangladesh, Senegal and India were in the queue to get CERs for solar home lighting systems.

Positive policy, uneven implementation

Bangladesh formulated a policy in 2008 to promote renewable energy, especially solar power. This set a target to generate 5% of energy from renewable sources by 2015 and 10% by 2020. The current figure is 2.5%, so the country is still far from achieving its goals.

At present, the country’s installed power generation capacity is 10,341 MW, though peak generation is only 7,359 MW.