Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Solar Power -- the Appropriate Technology in Bangladesh

Apologies for the light posting last night -- got home with time for only one post before the Green Business Chat started. We had a great time, so make sure to join us on upcoming Tuesdays. Shea's asked me to guest host for a few more weeks while he gets unpacked, and after a very interesting discussion with Nick Aster last night, I'm ready for more... Let me know if you'd like to come, and I'll get you an invitation.

Other bloggers and I have discussed the idea of renewable power as appropriate technology for new electrification in parts of the developing world. The editors at Bangladesh's The New Nation feel the same way, and published an editorial today celebrating the country's experiments with solar power.
A RECENT newspaper report highlighted how 4,000 solar power units are transforming the life of some 20,000 people in 40 remote villages in the Rangpur district. The users of solar power did not have access to electricity supplied by the Rural Electrification Board (REB). But they are happier than the users of REB electricity because their experience is better with solar power. While REB users do not get power for long periods although they have to pay line and consumption charges, solar power users are not facing any such problem. They are generating adequate electricity on their own to meet their needs without suffering any hassle. The villagers, sole owners of these power units, neither suffer from low-voltage nor get annoyed due to load shedding like the ones who live in cities and villages in other parts of the country.

The example of the Rangpur villages calls for replication elsewhere in the country. Even in Dhaka and other major cities where people are suffering so much from non-availability of electricity, they can certainly help themselves by setting up solar power units in their homes and enterprises and benefit from the same. Popularisation of the solar panels can be the answer to the pressing needs of people everywhere and in all walks of life in the backdrop of the present power crunch when the government operated power plants are in no position to supply enough power matching the demand.

Solar power is very well suited for all of Bangladesh because it does not involve expending so much resources on wires, poles and other equipment. Users need to make only a one-time investment in solar panels that last decades with good maintenance. They do not have to pay bills and are not harassed by regular periods of power shut-off of the type suffered by DESA or REB subscribers. Solar power has proved to be efficient in all assessments made so far. Good and almost continuous sunshine is almost guaranteed round the year in Bangladesh. Solar energy again is very clean and thus very environment friendly.
How much more appropriate can you get? And, how about evidence that distributed generation works well? The editors do note that even that one-time investment will prove a hardship for many Banledeshis, so they also call for loan programs and tax benefits for buyers, as well as a major media push touting the renewable technology. The only problem I can think of offhand might be the supply of solar panels needed for such an ambitious project: as many of us have noted, the popularity of solar power has led to a shortage. I wonder... from both practical and ethical standpoints, does it make more sense to allow nations like Bangladesh a first crack at such technology, or does the need to reduce emissions in the developed world create a more immediate need?

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