Clean Power

Published on October 25th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


The Solar Energy Revolution Everyone’s Ignoring… Is In Bangladesh

October 25th, 2014 by  

We put a lot of cyber ink into the German, Australian, US, Chinese, Indian, Chilean, and Japanese solar energy revolutions. However, I think the Bangladeshi solar revolution is one we don’t write about enough. One of the biggest reasons for that is probably that it doesn’t compare to the others on a total capacity basis. However, that doesn’t mean the market isn’t huge.

In July, we did write about a $78.4 million World Bank loan offered to the Bangladeshi government to finance 480,000 solar home systems. Assuming 5.6 people per household (that’s apparently the average), that’s solar power for 2.688 million people. However, this isn’t the beginning of Bagladesh’s solar revolution at all.

yunus 4

Muhammad Yunus

By the end of 2010, Grameen Shakti had already installed over 500,000 home solar power systems (or 518,210, to be more exact). Using the same people-per-household assumption as above, that’s solar for about 2.9 million people. But that was years ago….

Now, Grameen Shakti (a nonprofit organization based in Bangladesh) has brought solar power systems to about 1.5 million Bangladeshi homes, or about 8.4 million people!


Grameen Shakti solar home system installations by year.

“Mr Barua and Mr Yunus founded microfinance institution Grameen Bank way back in 1983,” Sustainnovate writes. Its innovative efforts to fight poverty won it a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. “But it was Grameen Shakti, founded in 1996, that took the work Grameen Bank was doing to the next level and enabled the deployment of much more solar, biomass, and other clean technologies in Bangladesh.”

Approximately 360,000 households have now paid off the systems Grameen Shakti provided to them. And the total number of people who have benefited from Grameen Shakti’s social enterprise is estimated to be over 15 million.

Aside from providing the systems to households, Grameen Shakti “also provides training and capacity development and has created 45 ‘Grameen Technology Centers.'” Grameen Shakti writes:

GS has set up 45 Grameen Technology Centers (GTC) under a pilot program to scale up its solar program, specially production of [solar home system (SHS)] accessories by manufacturing these locally. GTCs are also contributing to women empowerment by developing Solar Technicians. GS will help these technicians sign annual contracts with its clients for after sales maintenance and become entrepreneurs in the future.

More than 60 thousand people each year are installing SHSs all over Bangladesh for business or household purposes…. GS envisages a future where there would be a huge demand for SHS accessories as well as maintenance services to keep the installed SHSs in working order. GTCs are also running a very successful Renewable Energy Exposure Program for rural school children and more than 5000 school children have participated in the program.


Sadly, Grameen Shakti somehow wasn’t even on my radar until I found out that it was a recent Zayed Future Energy Prize finalist. And it probably still wouldn’t be if it weren’t for that? Honestly, how does an organization providing solar to about 10 million fly under the radar? My hunch is that there are a few reasons: 1) these are very small systems, so they don’t as quickly add up to “a lot” even though they are providing electricity to many more people than solar is in the US; 2) the small systems might not even be counted in many global assessments of solar power capacity and generation; 3) Bangladesh is an infrequently discussed country in global news, whether it’s cleantech news, massive flooding news, tragic global warming news, or otherwise. But without a doubt, a solar revolution is afoot in Bangladesh, and it’s a big deal.


Dipal Chandra Barua

Aside from solar, Grameen Shakti “has also delivered 28,762 biogas plants to Bangladeshi communities and 814,562 clean cooking stoves to Bangladeshi homes. It has 1,268 branches covering every district in Bangladesh,” and “Mr Barua, the first winner of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, is also the Chairman & CEO of the Bright Green Energy Foundation,” which does almost the same work, with its own impressive track record!

And, of course, there are other organizations and companies bringing solar to Bangladeshi households and businesses.

Granted, Bangladesh has a population of about 156 million, nearly half of the United States. Still, bringing solar to tens of millions of people is a big deal. Even if we just say 20 million people in Bangladesh have received home solar systems, that’s about 13% of the population. And monthly solar installations are approaching 100,000. That’s insane, in a good way.

So, here’s a big nod of appreciation to the companies, organizations, and people bringing solar to millions of Bangladeshi! As I’ve stated before many times (for example, in an interview on CNBC back in 2010), just as cell phones leapfrogged landlines in the developing world, distributed solar power (and other renewables, to a lesser extent) are leapfrogging centralized, expensive grids based around fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, but this transition still needs to have leaders.

After learning much more about the Bangladeshi solar revolution, I wonder how much small-scale solar growth is occurring under the radar in other developing countries. There are dozens and dozens of solar organizations and companies serving developing countries. How well is their progress really being tracked? How fast is this decentralized solar revolution actually growing?

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Anar

    are there similar models working in BD apart from Grameen? thanks!

    • Bob_Wallace

      I don’t know.

      I would be great if someone would set up a site/page that tracked all the micro-solar projects around the globe.

  • John Smith

    How many watts can these solar arrays provide per household?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Found this –

      “”Over the past decade, since the Bangladesh government launched a rural electrification programme supported by the World Bank and other international aid bodies, the number of off-grid installations in the country has rocketed. In 2002, installations rates stood at 7000; today that figure has exploded to nearly 2 million and counting, with average installation rates now topping 80,000 a month.

      “A typical customer would give a 15% down payment, and then the balance would be made over a period of 24-36 months,” he says. “A typical system would be 50W – for LED lights, a black and white TV connection and mobile phone charger, with four-hour back-up up every day. The cost of everything would be US$300-325, and a household would typically pay US$8-10 for that every month.”Moin says that even being able to power these relatively modest appliances makes a big difference to people’s lives. “It’s unbelievable, and until you see it, it’s very difficult to explain. Let’s say you go to a rural remote home and they’re burning kerosene lights, suddenly overnight (because it only takes four hours to install a typical system) that home has proper lights and connection to TV – it’s transformational. And the quality of life keeps on improving – in terms of late hour education, and even in shops, they’re keeping them open later into the night.”

      • John Smith

        Thanks, more charging a mobile phone, than boiling a kettle

        • Bob_Wallace

          Yes, not large enough to be used for heat production. But since most cooking is done with biofuels (lots of dried dung use in Bangladesh) there’s not the same use of fossil fuels.

          Cleaning up cooking practices would also help health and solar ovens have been tried, but don’t catch on readily. It mostly seems be based on food not tasting the same as when cooked over a fire.

  • GeorgeMokray

    My notes on Green Energy for a Billion Poor, a book about the history of Grameen Shakti, are at

  • Great article Zach! The essence of your article, that growth of micro/mini scale solar (and its impact) is repeatedly neglected by almost everyone is spot on. And this happens across the globe. I thought I’ll share with you guys a news piece which really made me focus on this particular market segment a few years back. Hope you’ll enjoy it –

  • BtotheT

    Good news.

  • tibi stibi

    the fun thing is that these countries have more sun, so same panels give more energy, they have no import barriers on cheap chinese panels which make it cheaper and installation cost (mostly labor) is also much cheaper.

    • Larmion

      On the other hand, countries like Bangladesh do have intense rainfall and the associated cloud cover.

      It’s often assumed that panels are most productive at the equator and decline gradually as you move away from the tropics. In fact, productivity varies widely between locations at the same latitude due to rainfall patterns. Solar PV in tropical Africa, for example, is less productive than PV in the north and south of the continent.

      Also, don’t forget that while labor is cheap in developing countries, logistics is far less so due to a total lack of infrastructure. And customs and red tape are terrible.

      Overall, a PV panel is likely to be somewhat cheaper and more productive in Bangladesh than in Europe or the US, but less than you’d assume at first sight.

      • It’s a hard market to get into for logistics, financing, and cultural reasons (as many in the industry know, people often think “the grid is just about to come”). Which is another reason why I think it’s so impressive what the organizations above have accomplished. Exciting to see.

  • David in Bushwick

    Excellent article, Zach! Positive news from countries we don’t always associate positive news with is a beautiful thing. Several years ago it was thought poorer countries wouldn’t be able to afford renewable energy but they now seem to be perfectly suited for leading the world.

    • Yep, the best options for electricity are now wind and solar across the developing world. It’s a beautiful thing.

  • Offgridman

    There are very big social benefits to these solar systems. In small towns and villages the people not only use the solar power for lights inside the home but also put outside at the front door, acting as street lights for everyone. The police officer that was being interviewed about the benefits of solar which had also been installed at their station house, said these outside lights were the greatest benefit and assaults on women were down something like 90% in this area. . As he said “criminals love the dark, and the lights keep them away”.
    This is why I have hoped that this type of micro financing and system distribution can be established in Africa, not just the personal benefits but the social benefits will be tremendous. I know that it has started somewhat with the distribution of the handheld solar charging lights, but with so many people without grid access the spread of the home systems can make such a difference.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here’s an interesting tidbit –

      “The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that worldwide lighting is responsible for emissions of approximately 1900 Mt CO2 per year, equivalent to 70% of the emissions from the world’s light passenger vehicles.

      Eighty percent of these emissions from lighting are associated with electricity generation, but the IEA estimates that about 20% come from the 1% of global lighting that is produced by the direct combustion of paraffin and oil lamps used by the 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity.”

      And here are some links I’ve collected re: micro-solar in Africa.

      Micro-solar is happening there in Central and South America. Bangladesh has created the model and that model is being adopted/adapted around the globe.

      • Offgridman

        Thanks for the info and links Bob

      • Wow, hadn’t seen that either. Thanks!

    • Wow, didn’t realize that.

      The education and healthcare benefits are also huge.

      • Offgridman

        “education and healthcare benefits”
        very much so, by allowing children to study their lessons by the clear light from solar lamps rather than the diffuse light and polluted environment caused from kerosene lamps. Even in the number of live births in clinics that have solar lights, and low power ultrasounds that display through smartphones.
        Solar is going to cause a big change in developed countries that have established grids. But the changes seen in the undeveloped, or under developed countries are going to be even greater in all the different aspects of society, economy, and governance even though the installed Kw’s will be way lower.

        • A excellent example of ‘technology leapfrogging’, quite similar to how people in developing countries took to mobile phones without ever owning a landline. But solar is going to mean much more!

    • Dragon

      Another important new technology for off-grid lighting is Gravity Light:

      Cheaper than solar plus battery (at least I assume it will be once volume production kicks in next year), it provides about 25 mins of light each time you lift its weight up. I bought one during their Indiegogo campaign for emergency use and it’s pretty cool.

      • Offgridman

        Yes I remember learning about these just after the fundraiser ended.
        Do you know if they are commercially available yet?
        Seems like a great idea for porch lights, where it won’t matter if the kids forget to turn them off.
        Also are there different versions, I was thinking that they lasted for an hour or two, or is there a high and low on the light brightness, that would make them last longer?
        Thanks for the help if you know the answers to these questions.

        • Dragon

          All the answers to those questions are on the FAQ on their web site:
          But basically – commercial in 2015, three brightness settings last 15 to 25 mins.

          • Offgridman

            Thank you for taking the time to help me and provide the link. Saw the information on the gravity light in an article after the fundraiser ended and lost track of it after that. So appreciate the reminder about it as well as the contact info. Will be sure to save the link right after finishing this note.
            Have a great day.

      • Philip W

        Awesome, thanks for that link. Just finished watching their TEDx talk and this technology seems perfect for third world countries and everyone that goes off-grid/without power once in a while.

  • Bob_Wallace

    About 13% if one wishes to be picky… ;o)

    But the big deal is that now solar is now so well established that its likely to spread quickly to most of the remaining population that lives without electricity. There now are millions of people who understand how to install and maintain a simple solar system. There are now supply streams that can provide materials. And small companies should have accumulated enough capital to allow them to start financing new systems.

    • Shit. I initially had a different # in place of 20 million, then realized it was far too small. Updated, but forgot to update the % 😀

  • David Zarembka

    I live in Kenya and my Kenyan brother-in-law bought a 40 watt solar panel about a decade ago and an old car battery and it runs some lights and a black and white TV every night for a few hours. Is this a solar power installation?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Absolutely. It’s five watts larger than my first solar system. ;o)

      The big difference is that now, ten years later, solar is very affordable. People who scrape together some money for kerosene lights can afford solar if allowed to pay over time with their kerosene/candle/flashlight baattery savings.

      The next task is to get better storage to people. Car batteries are simply not a good way to store electricity. We need small, inexpensive lithium-ion battery packs.

      • Jay1000

        This is a really big deal, using electricity instead of kerosene. Indoor air pollution is one of the largest causes of premature death around the world.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Good point. Better air means fewer illnesses, more productivity, and less money spent on medicine.

          For those living at the bottom of the economic ladder the money saved should make a major change in their lives.

        • Robert Pollock

          I wonder if that’s why Louisiana’s birth rate is equivalent to some under-developed countries? Do they burn a lot of natural gas?

          Did you know that 54% of adults in New Mexico don’t have internet access? Anyone here from NM?

        • Alastair Leith

          also less fires, some of those kerosene stoves and fuels are diabolical for short term mortality figures.

      • John Smith

        ‘We need small, inexpensive lithium-ion battery packs.’

        There is the challenge that when solved will make somone a lot of money

        • Wayne Williamson

          the giga factories being built now are a step in the right direction. It still needs to be cheaper, but step by step.

          • Alastair Leith

            these communities don’t need Giga scale sized batteries yet, much smaller packs will do. I’d like to see cleaner batteries technology used. Even Lithium Iron Phosphorus was ignored by Musk in his arrogance but i believe he know has state sponsorship to copy another tax-payer funded operation that is/was making lith-iron-phosphorus.
            some kind of sugar battery or other organic chemistry would be ideal in my view. but in men time many battery technologies are in process of commercialisation.

    • Yes!

    • Mint

      That’s clearly the type of system this article is talking about. The numbers indicate <$200 per system.

      But for people off the grid, the minimal electricity provided by such installations is a godsend. The next step is to connect them to the world with cellphones and minimal data, and then information flow can revolutionize their quality of life.

      • Bob_Wallace

        You would probably be amazed how common cellphones are in homes that aren’t on the grid. People walk for hours or pay someone to take their phones to a place where they can be charged. People carry car batteries from village to village and charge people to charge their phones.

        But you’re really right about how this is going to revolutionize the lives of hundreds of millions. With more electricity and cheap smart phones/tablets people are going to have access to information in amounts we could have never imagined a decade ago.

    • Robert Pollock

      My first install was a 30 watt panel, if you don’t count the 10 watt panel/battery/system that comes with the gate opener. The 30 watt ran the lights near the street, until I fried a charge controller using too small a battery. Now bigger everything including 2 30 watt panels, and the lights run all night. I’d need 60 such systems, to charge my Spark EV, but there are a dozen free stations around here, for that.
      When I lived in Central America, I went through a smaller natural castatrophe (flood) wherein Internationally procured supplies were brought in one day, by two helicopters. At the behest of one of the wealthiest local business people, they landed far enough outside of town, that his trucks beat the people in their vehicles, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and foot, to the goods. You know the rest.

    • Brent Jatko


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