Approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide still live without electricity and 400 million people lack access to essential health services. In Bangladesh, for example, sustained economic growth over the past decade has rapidly increased the demand for energy. Despite significant efforts by the Government of Bangladesh, the country faces widening deficits in the provision of electricity, particularly in rural areas where less than 50 per cent of the rural population had access in 2012. The lack of reliable energy supply significantly hinders the functioning of rural micro-enterprises as well as social and health facilities.
Towards a Solution
In 2013, following discussions among experts from Bangladesh and India, the Solar Micro- Utility Enterprises for Promoting Rural Energy and Productive Uses project was initiated to tackle this challenge. The aim is to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity in rural areas of Bangladesh through solar technologies, thereby operationalizing rural health centres and improving health services. The project aims to address SDG 9, by developing reliable, sustainable and resilient energy infrastructure to support human well-being; SDG 3, by improving access to essential health-care services for poor rural populations; and SDG 7. Neighbouring India’s expertise and extensive field experience with decentralized renewable energy systems in rural communities is well adapted to the Bangladeshi context.
Within the project, five 5 kW Solar Micro-Utility Enterprises (SMUEs) were set up in Barhar and Vikertech Community Clinics in Gazipur District, Arunghati Community Clinic in Jamalpur District, and Urfa and Charmodua Namapara Community Clinics in Sherpur District. Remaining electricity was sold to local communities for provision of other basic services and the revenue generated was used to support the operation and maintenance of the SMUEs. For example, micro-grid and payment arrangement were set up at Charmodua Namapara Community Clinic.
The project was innovative in that it uses decentralized solar energy systems to operationalize rural health centre and community property, which had previously been left idle due to lack of access to energy. In addition, local in-kind resources were mobilized to integrate small-scale enterprises located around the health centres. The project has thus had positive impacts on the rural populations, particularly the most vulnerable. Specifically, it improved access to reproductive health care services, benefiting both mothers and children, and to health care services for those with mobility difficulties. By offering quicker and more affordable care to small business owners, the project supported productive activities in rural areas. In addition, the increased power availability also benefited schools and households in the communities.
In order to ensure its sustainability, particular efforts were made to ensure that local communities and governments had ownership and exercised leadership. The project bolsters local community-based institutional arrangements and all managerial and administrative duties related to its implementation were performed by Bangladeshis, where possible. The long-term sustainability of the project was also ensured by the effective technical and managerial training component and community engagement.
The project has enormous potential for replication and up-scaling. Recognizing its positive impacts, the Government of Bangladesh aims to replicate the project in other rural health centres, for which its Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) has developed a prototype for information dissemination. Given its technical feasibility and environmental sustainability, the project’s potential for replication extends beyond Bangladesh and requests have been received from neighbouring countries such as Bhutan and Nepal.
In countries similar to Bangladesh, where initiatives such as rural health centres or even small-scale enterprises have been established but are not functioning due to unreliable energy supply, the approach adopted in the rehabilitation of the rural health project in Bangladesh can be applied. Above all, the systems should be able to provide reliable energy to operationalize the existing system that was previously non-functional. The opportunity should exist to integrate with other small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so that the overall system is financially attractive for investors and economically feasible for the Government in terms of considering further replication. Specifically, if some kind of infrastructure – even if not functioning – is in place and community awareness and some level of management or coordination are available, then successful replication and scaling-up of this kind of project are highly likely. Organizing a few successful demonstrations in easily accessible sites and holding workshops for important stakeholders and decision- makers from the authorities could ensure mass scaling- up of such systems.
While the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) played a key role in facilitating and coordinating the project, Bangladesh was responsible for providing the necessary infrastructure and human resources, with expertise offered by India in formulating and implementing the project. India is experienced and has already applied research-based approaches to electrification of rural areas by solar PV to benefit many sectors, including health. Hence, in this project, Indian expertise was shared through The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the UNIDO South-South India office to study and plan this project in Bangladesh. Also, some Indian manufacturers later provided certain accessories and components to complete the systems. In the implementation phase, Bangladeshi contractors also worked with suppliers from India and the United States. The government ministries of Bangladesh continue to monitor the project to ensure effective operation and management.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 3.8, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.a, 7.b, 9.1, 9.4, 9.a
Countries/territories involved: Bangladesh, India
Supported by: UNIDO Centre for South-South Industrial Cooperation (UCSSIC), India
Implementing entities: UNIDO and Local Government Engineering Department, the Government of Bangladesh (LGED)
Project period: 2013-2016
URL of the practice: goo.gl/HDmuKC
Name: Mr. Rana Pratap Singh, Industrial Development Officer, Department of Energy, UNIDO