Universal Access to Modern Energy: Engaging BRAC to ‘EnDev’ Activities

According to a UNDP publication, 1.4 billion people across the globe lack access to electricity (85% of whom live in rural areas). Looking at the global context, the energy access challenge is particularly acute in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. And Bangladesh is no different while fighting the fight.  If we look at the statistics of Bangladesh, only 49% of its 160 million people are connected to the electricity grid and, in the rural areas, where more than 70% of the population lives, only 25% have electricity. Even if we don’t get an actual and concrete data about the scenario, still we have a clear picture of the energy crisis that people need to suffer through every day.

A very obvious question arises: What exactly do we mean by modern energy? And what do we mean by access to energy? Is access to energy a luxury or should it be considered as the most essential sector to think about in order to reduce poverty? Well, the statistics above surely explain the need. ‘Energy for all’ is a comparatively new concept but it is emerging and holds great potential.  ESMAP (World Bank), UNIDO, GiZ are the programs and organizations who are leading to define energy access with global minimum standards. Practical Action, a ‘tech for development’ organization, has already set the 2030 goal of ‘energy for all’ and is working in collaboration with UNDP. The foucs should now be firmly on our country’s engagement in this sector keeping in mind the suffering of the vast population of the country due to unmet needs and lack of access.

Electricity grid line connection is one major example of failure that needs to be highlighted. Within the reach of the national grid, Bangladesh is still reeling under 600 – 1200 MW of ‘load-shedding’. A situation which deteriorates during irrigation seasons, when the demand-supply gap widens to 1500 MW Where as the usage of electricity is considered to be a must in today’s technology-based life. Even if we think of people who are residing in the rural areas of Bangladesh and have a little know how of the pace of the modern world, have basic needs for electricity. It becomes worse in the evening time when people depend on lights and definitely inaccessibility to light, drastically reduces the efficiency of people to work. Right now, inefficient, kerosene based lamps are the most common sources of light. The price of kerosene has increased from 42 takas (end of 2010) to 61 takas (last quarter of  2012). Further price hikes are expected to come in place during 2012. So, what is happening is people are working lesser and lesser which means they are able to earn less, and the commodity prices are skyrocketing resulting in throwing them into more entrenched poverty more and more, day by day.

All power sector experts acknowledge that the maximum power gap occurs primarily during the evening. A way to manage the evening load is the introduction of energy efficient lights/lighting systems. One eco-friendly solution is the solar home system and other solar products. A lot of NGOs within the past few years have been working with solar products in order to distribute them to the people in need and this has increased the usage of solar products by mass people. BRAC has its own social enterprise ‘BRAC Solar’ which provides solar home systems. On the other hand, BRAC Agriculture and Food Security program has collaborated with an international company ‘d.light’ which provides solar products like solar lanterns world wide. Currently the distribution is in its designing phase, and once it starts it has the potential to meet the needs of the vast population of Bangladesh.

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