May 15, 2007 / 8:06 AM / 12 years ago

Solar power lights up lives in rural Bangladesh

GAZIPUR, Bangladesh (Reuters Life!) - Grocer Abdur Rashid used to shut his shop in rural Bangladesh at dusk, missing the peak shopping hour because he did not have electricity.

A woman stands in the doorway of her mud house next to a solar system panel near Patulia village in the Gazipur district north of capital Dhaka in this May 5, 2007 photo. Energy-starved rural Bangladeshis are getting some relief as solar power systems increasingly light up remote areas. Only 30 per cent of Bangladesh's over 140 million people have access to electricity, meaning the overwhelming majority still depend on kerosene and wood for their daily energy needs. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

But ever since he bought a solar system from a local aid organization, he’s been able to stay open until late evening, almost doubling his daily sales.

“My life has indeed changed,” said Rashid, who lives in Patulia village, in Gazipur district north of the capital Dhaka.

“Rural customers mostly prefer to shop in the evening after completing their work. But I could not keep the shop open in the evening as there was no light.”

Energy-starved rural Bangladeshis are getting some relief as solar power systems increasingly light up remote areas.

Only 30 per cent of Bangladesh’s over 140 million people have access to electricity, meaning the overwhelming majority still depend on kerosene and wood for their daily energy needs.

But now villagers are buying more solar panels, mostly on credit, from private organizations that promote renewable energy.

A total of 37 families and shopkeepers now use solar system in Patulia, where televisions and mobile phones are now common.

“I bought a mobile phone years ago but could not use it because it was impossible to recharge the phone set here,” said villager Sanwar Hossain.

“I needed to go 10 km to a market which had electricity. But it was something I could not do everyday,” he told Reuters.

Sanwar installed a 50-watt solar system on the roof of his house, with which he can use four lightbulbs, watch television and recharge his mobile phone. “My children can study now in the evening without any problem,” he said.

The price of a solar system ranges from 25,000 taka ($360) to 65,000 taka ($940) depending on capacity but the villagers, most of them poor, usually pay in installments.

“It helps the villagers own their solar system within three to four years, which they can use up to 20 years,” said Fazley Rabbi, a manager of aid group Grameen Shakti.

Grameen Shakti, a non-profit organization linked to the Nobel prize winning microcredit Grameen Bank, is the pioneer in providing solar power systems in Bangladesh.

It has installed a total of 93,000 systems up to April in the country’s 64 districts and 11 islands since taking on the project 10 years ago.

Last month Grameen Shakti sold 4,167 systems, officials said.

“Now we are installing 4,500 solar power systems per month. We hope it will increase to 10,000 a month,” said Rabbi.

Besides Grameen Shakti, 15 other firms are involved in distribution of solar power in the country.

Additional reporting by Masud Karim

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