Thursday, April 8, 2010

Facing Rural Energy Realities in Bangladesh

Adult Literacy Class, Bangladesh by Shehzad Noorani
People often forget that once Bangladesh was close to being the poorest country on the planet. Things certainly have changed in recent years. Bangladesh has always had policies for open trade that have helped the country become an exporter of manufactured goods, much of which has resulted from allowing investments by multinational firms.  Generally economic growth has been very positive in recent years.

The country also has a very ambitious and successful grid rural electrification program that was modeled after the USA rural electric cooperatives which is considered a “best practice.” Even for those rural households distant from the electricity grid, since 2002 there has been a very successful rural energy fund that is administered by a government bank. This fund along with prominent non-governmental organizations such as Grameen Shakti (part of Grameen Bank) and BRAC have been very active in promoting solar household systems for basic electric lighting and communications services for those out of reach from the grid electricity system. In recent years they also have been expanding to other rural energy technologies such as biogas and improved cookstoves.

Much more below....

Unfortunately many of these positive features are offset by recognition that much more effort is needed to address energy poverty in rural Bangladesh. Even with the model rural electrification program most rural people in the country still have little access to quality energy services.  After all, biomass energy such as wood, straw and dung comprise well over 95% of total rural energy use for the country and there are few programs or policies to deal with such energy issues.  In other words, there is a lack of balance in the face of Bangladesh’s rural energy realities.

Bangladesh Rural Energy Use:  Figure from Report
As one of the coauthors of this new rural energy report, I will describe these rural energy realities. The basis of the report is a national rural energy survey completed in 2005. This survey indicates that over two-thirds of the rural population still does not have access to electricity. Fuelwood is so scarce that it is a quite commonly purchased in rural areas, a practice that unfortunately is becoming increasing common in other developing countries around the world. In fact, a rather large percentage of the rural population does not even use wood, and incredibly as high as 15% of total rural energy use is in the form of leaves and grass. There is basically no access to LPG in rural areas despite heavy subsidies for piped gas in urban locations. Electricity is scarce even during normal times in the country, and this means that the well-run rural distribution cooperatives called PBSs are the first to have power rationed to them throwing their customers into the dark on a regular basis. A forthcoming paper indicates that about one-half of the rural population can be considered to be energy poor. There will be more on this in a later blog.

The report has chapters that should make any rural energy, household energy or “energy for the poor” enthusiast pay attention. They cover topics such as:

  • Patterns of existing rural energy use based on a national survey;
  • Expenditures on energy by income group based on the same survey ;
  • Welfare gains from switching to quality energy services such as electricity;
  • Productive uses of energy from a separate energy survey of home and local businesses;
  • A description of the institutions providing energy to rural areas, and
  • A set of policy recommendations presumably for “restoring balance.”
One of the recommendations is that there needs to be a serious effort to address the biomass energy problem in the country because so many people in rural areas are at the very bottom of the energy ladder and are using extremely low quality fuels.  Feel free to browse the contents below.

What are the main findings and recommendations for moving the energy agenda forward in rural Bangladesh? Basically they are very positive, and for this you have to “read the book.” There are two ways to do this. One is to use the fancy new e-book that you can read online page by page, but you cannot download it unless you pay for it. This is for the younger generation. Another way is to download a previous very similar version of the report from ESMAP that is free! This version can be both downloaded and printed. This is for the older generation. You know who you are!

Rural Energy Realities E-Book.

Rural Energy Realities Free Book!


Unknown said...

Why is it unfortunate that in Bangladesh and other developing countries more and more people are buying fuelwood? Surely, this is creating rural employment, generating income and encouraging people to plant and manage trees. The tone of the blog is that cooking with biomass is bad.

Douglas F. Barnes..... said...

The whole point of this post is that there needs to be more balance in energy policies and more attention to biomass energy issues in Bangladesh. No doubt cooking with leaves, grass, dung and even wood in low combustion traditional stoves needs to be improved, and more modern forms of cooking with biomas are in order.