Small Is Big: Bangladesh Installs One Million Solar Home Systems

by Justin Guay

A few months back, Nancy Wimmer told us about Bangladesh’s solar success. In one of the poorest countries on earth, a renewable energy company, Grameen Shakti, is busy installing nearly 1,000 solar home systems each day. It turns out all that small-scale solar has achieved something quite big.

In November, Grameen Shakti hit one million Solar Home Systems installed. The company’s milestone reinforces a lesson that is increasingly clear: Whether it’s Germany, the U.S., or even China, distributed solar installations are driving the solar revolution.

The Bangladesh story is particularly exciting because Grameen has shattered the energy axioms on which the international policy community has relied for decades: that small-scale renewable energy is too expensive and not worth the effort. Wrong and wrong.

What Bangladesh does prove is that Carl Pope is right: deploying solar makes the most sense for off-grid areas where the economics are compelling and the need is great.

That’s what makes the next phase of the solar revolution even more exciting. Today we are talking about 1 million solar home systems in Bihar. But tomorrow we could easily be talking about tens of millions in either Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, Indian states that have off-grid populations larger than most European nations.

How would either of these states be able to replicate such an awe-inspiring feat? Because they have the exact same ingredients for success: a robust rural banking sector (Micro Finance through Grameen Shakti for Bangladesh, State Banks for India); a demonstrated need (large numbers of un-electrified people); and policy support (World Bank finance for Bangladesh and Chief Ministers whose political futures are increasingly reliant on clean energy access in India).

In fact the next phase is already here; A distributed clean energy revolution is brewing in Bihar and the next distributed solar hotbed is developing in Uttar Pradesh. While billions are squandered on a failed grid extension approach that is destroying the climate and displacing local communities, the political leaders of these states, responsible for hundreds of millions of un-electrified people, are getting very serious about off-grid, decentralized clean energy solutions.

So here’s our policy lesson in a nutshell: Bangladesh is the world’s demonstration case for an off-grid clean energy access plan that delivers. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are the next phase that will take this approach to scale. Maybe then the message that small solar is big will finally sink in.

Justin Guay leads Sierra Club’s International program. This piece was originally published at the Sierra Club and was reprinted with permission.

10 Responses to Small Is Big: Bangladesh Installs One Million Solar Home Systems

  1. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Small is still beautiful, ME

  2. Rebecca says:

    I’d like to get started here! How do we? Besides fighting the local infrastructure, can we begin turning neighborhoods into solar powered communities.

  3. Ozonator says:

    It burns me up that people and less countries have greater access to solar than me. My lifestyle was eclipsed a decade ago based on PBS shows of rural China. My basic phone service cost is rising faster than corporate energy charges – together costing ~20% of my disability. During a hurricane, I have neither.

  4. Walt says:


  5. Mike Roddy says:

    I saw these systems in Sri Lanka, too, and they have been a big success there. Solar pencils out because families in that part of the world don’t use much electricity. In that situation, power companies spend more on transmission and distribution than on electricity production, so they are not competitive.

    Solar could easily catch on here in the US, too. We need more modular systems, including connection hardware, and better trained crews. These will come in time, but it would be better to jump start it.

  6. rollin says:

    What a wonderful story, we should all see this as a great example for other countries to follow. I’ll bet they are paying under $1 a watt too.
    Get rid of all those NIMBY government regs here that make it take up to year to get solar installed. Allow small installations to go up cheaply and quickly. Our fees here probably cost nearly as much as their whole system. Drop any taxes on home installations and put up subsidies to encourage installation smaller than full roof.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Solar electricity ought to be mandatory, subsidised and rolled out everywhere. The only losers are vested capitalist interests who would rather see humanity fricasseed than accept a lower return on capital. Let’s consign them, not our children, to Hell.

  8. Was developing funding for this in 2006 but our plug was pulled by Vampire Squid. So glad it’s up and running today, the potential for transforming poor people’s lives is practically unlimited.

  9. I have returned to India to help in the same vision and mission as in your article. After having spent 40 years in the U.S. in solar, renewable energy, and energy conservation, I would like to help.

  10. Rinkesh says:

    Great to hear that, Vasant. Keep it up.