Night falls in Dhaka. Commercial streets glow with lights and the neon-lit stores and restaurants are abuzz with shoppers enjoying a break from Ramadan. This is a great visual spectacle punctuated by the incessant honking of colorful rickshaws.
But the reality is different right outside the capital. Sunset brings life to a halt in rural areas as about 60 percent of rural households do not have access to grid electricity. Kerosene lamps and battery-powered torches are widespread yet limited alternatives, their dim light offering limited options for cooking, reading or doing homework.
It is a sweltering hot day when our team sets out to visit a household of 14 in the village of Pachua, a two-hour drive from Dhaka. Around 80% of the villagers have benefited from the solar panel systems to access electricity. The Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project (RERED), supports installation of solar home systems and aims to increase access to clean energy in rural Bangladesh.
We’re accompanied by Nazmul Haque Faisal from IDCOL, a government-owned financing institution, which implements the program. “This is the fastest-growing solar home system in the world,” Faisal says enthusiastically, “and with 40,000-50,000 new installations per month, the project is in high demand.”
We’ve now reached our destination and Monjil Mian welcomes us to his house, which he shares with 13 other members of his family, including his brothers, two of them currently away for extended work stints in Saudi Arabia.
“Does the solar home system work? Do you really get better lights? Or, is it just a big fuss?’ I have been asking solar home systems households in rural Bangladesh these basic questions for the past five years as part of my implementation review missions for the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development program, which has installed over 2.8 million solar home systems since 2002. This has so far contributed to a 9% increase in access to electricity in Bangladesh.
The green energy revolution used to look pretty far off. Today, businesses are starting to factor the cost of climate change into their planning, countries have set targets for increasing the use of renewable energy, and wind farms and solar panels are popping up everywhere. But large-scale renewable energy development is still a challenge – especially in the absence of government incentives. Large-scale renewable power such as solar, wind, and wave power, though technically viable, is often seen by investors as too expensive to develop and too risky.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, is working to overcome those concerns. In Chile – a country with considerable renewable energy potential – these efforts are starting to have an impact. As the video below shows, Chile plans a significant shift in its energy equation – from 37% renewables today to 55% by 2024. Though still a very small percentage of the overall energy mix, non-conventional renewable power such as wind and solar is starting to happen there, without government subsidies.
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Middle class gained on Twitter, with many people taking note of Thomas Friedman’s The Virtual Middle Class Rises. Friedman’s op-ed is about how cheaper computing is enabling people who earn only a few dollars a day to access the “kind of technologies and learning previously associated solely with the middle class.” Such access is driving social change and social protest, he says. It’s a trend also observed by sociologist and author Saskia Sassen in an interview with The Hindu, Why the Middle Class is Revolting, though Sassen’s vision is more pessimistic. Another trend—a sharp, decade-long rise in “middle class” jobs in developing countries—is enlarging the middle class in the developing world and promises ultimately to drive global growth, says the International Labour Organization in a new study. ILO says nearly 1.1 billion workers (42%) earn between $4 and $13 a day, which is middle class wages in the developing world. The number of middle class workers in developing countries is expected to grow by 390 million to reach 51.9% by 2017. The report notes, however, that “progress in poverty reduction has slowed” and the number of “near poor” is growing. Also check out the Guardian’s datablog on the report.
It’s no secret that renewable energy development in developing countries is on the rise. In its most recent report on renewable energy investment, the UN states that investment in renewables in developing countries has grown over ten-fold – from USD 8 billion to USD 89 billion in the past eight years. When taking advantage of solar resources, the clear choice – assisted by large recent reductions in capital cost - has been for solar photovoltaic technologies (Solar PV).
A successful inclusive green growth strategy has to address the question of how we generate and consume energy. Indeed, the energy question is where poverty and climate pressures meet. One in five people worldwide lives without electricity. Two in five use wood, charcoal, dung or coal to cook and heat their homes, usually at risk to their health.