Small Is Big: Bangladesh Installs One Million Solar Home Systems
by Justin Guay
A few months back, Nancy Wimmer told us about Bangladesh’s solar success. In one of the poorest countries on earth, a renewable energy company, Grameen Shakti, is busy installing nearly 1,000 solar home systems each day. It turns out all that small-scale solar has achieved something quite big.
In November, Grameen Shakti hit one million Solar Home Systems installed. The company’s milestone reinforces a lesson that is increasingly clear: Whether it’s Germany, the U.S., or even China, distributed solar installations are driving the solar revolution.
The Bangladesh story is particularly exciting because Grameen has shattered the energy axioms on which the international policy community has relied for decades: that small-scale renewable energy is too expensive and not worth the effort. Wrong and wrong.
What Bangladesh does prove is that Carl Pope is right: deploying solar makes the most sense for off-grid areas where the economics are compelling and the need is great.
That’s what makes the next phase of the solar revolution even more exciting. Today we are talking about 1 million solar home systems in Bihar. But tomorrow we could easily be talking about tens of millions in either Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, Indian states that have off-grid populations larger than most European nations.
How would either of these states be able to replicate such an awe-inspiring feat? Because they have the exact same ingredients for success: a robust rural banking sector (Micro Finance through Grameen Shakti for Bangladesh, State Banks for India); a demonstrated need (large numbers of un-electrified people); and policy support (World Bank finance for Bangladesh and Chief Ministers whose political futures are increasingly reliant on clean energy access in India).
In fact the next phase is already here; A distributed clean energy revolution is brewing in Bihar and the next distributed solar hotbed is developing in Uttar Pradesh. While billions are squandered on a failed grid extension approach that is destroying the climate and displacing local communities, the political leaders of these states, responsible for hundreds of millions of un-electrified people, are getting very serious about off-grid, decentralized clean energy solutions.
So here’s our policy lesson in a nutshell: Bangladesh is the world’s demonstration case for an off-grid clean energy access plan that delivers. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are the next phase that will take this approach to scale. Maybe then the message that small solar is big will finally sink in.
Justin Guay leads Sierra Club’s International program. This piece was originally published at the Sierra Club and was reprinted with permission.
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