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2010-09-17

Solar Power in Bangladesh Used to Empower People in Poor, Rural Areas

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In Bonn, Germany this week are representatives of the Bangladeshi organization Grameen Shakti, which makes loans and offers technical assistance to allow poor, rural people to install solar power in their homes, often granting access to electricity for the first time in their family’s history. They have helped install more than 110,000 systems, often with a woman hired to maintain the system, creating jobs, empowering women, and raising the standard of living. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: When First Lady Michelle Obama started an organic garden at the White House, she sparked a national discussion on food and obesity, health and sustainability. But the green action on the White House lawn hasn’t made it to the White House roof, unfortunately.

Last week, the Obama White House rejected a proposal to reinstall the solar panels that President Jimmy Carter placed on the White House roof in the '70s. The panels were taken down by President Reagan and have been used since then at Unity College in Maine.

But here in Bonn, Germany, the answer couldn't be clearer: use stimulus money and policy to jumpstart a green jobs sector to help create, for example, solar panel manufacturing, installation and servicing. As reported in the Financial Times, German photovoltaic cell installations last year amounted to more than one half of those in the world.

Here in Bonn, Germany, this week are representatives of the Bangladeshi organization Grameen Shakti, which makes loans and offers technical assistance to allow poor, rural people to install solar power in their homes in Bangladesh, often granting access to electricity for the first time in their family’s history. They have helped install more than 110,000 systems, often with a woman hired to maintain the system, creating jobs, empowering women, and raising the standard of living.

We turn now to Dipal Barua, who we spoke to here at the Right Livelihood Award gathering. He’s the founder of the Bright Green Energy Foundation.

DIPAL BARUA: My name is Dipal Barua from Bangladesh. I am the founder and chairman of Bright Green Energy Foundation. Before that, I’m organizing Grameen Shakti, build Grameen Shakti, and deputy managing director and co-founder of the Grameen Bank. Basically, we are bringing solar energy in Bangladesh. You know, Bangladesh, around 150 million people living in Bangladesh. Sixty percent people have no electricity. And only 40 percent people are enjoying electricity from the grid line. In that calculation, around 85 million people have no electricity. So we decided to introduce a solar energy in Bangladesh in 1996. Under my leadership, we built a solar home system program, financing, installation and maintenance. So far, in Bangladesh altogether, we installed 500,000 systems, and almost five million people are getting benefit out of this. But I have a target for 7.5 million system, ten people in one system, so 75 million people will be benefiting from the solar energy within a couple of years.

AMY GOODMAN: How do they use the solar panels, the photovoltaic cells?

DIPAL BARUA: Yeah. Solar is very suitable for us. They’re used for many lighting, education, lighting for house or work, and extension of working hours, business hours. And most of them are running a television, black and white, and a mobile phone. The three main: one for lighting, mobile phone charging, and the television. These are very attractive, so many people are basically for television and mobile phone charging, apart from the light.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this fit in with your past working at the Grameen Bank? How do you see it as related? Remember, your audience who’s listening to or watching or reading this right now, they may not have even heard of the Grameen Bank.

DIPAL BARUA: Yeah, actually, the Grameen Shakti I built from 1996, but Grameen Bank started from own village in '76. I was born and brought up in the village. So, actually, Grameen Shakti is not related to Grameen Bank. We created a solar home system product, ten varieties — ten-watt, twenty-watt, thirty-watt, forty-watt, fifty-watt, sixty-five, seventy-five, eighty-five, a hundred, 110, like this, twenty. But we arranged also financing. We give the system on credit. Only they pay a ten to 15 percent down payment; remaining, they pay monthly installment, saving money from kerosene.

AMY GOODMAN: Dipal Barua, your Bright Green Energy Foundation, why is that so important for Bangladesh? Can you talk about the issue of global warming?

DIPAL BARUA: I think that Bangladesh is very important, you know? Globally, all scientists agreed that, in Poznan, in Copenhagen, any and all places, all international conferences on the climate change, global warming, Bangladesh is the number one victim of global warming, though we are not creating cause for global warming. But we are victims of global warming. If one meter or two meter water rise, two-third of the country, one-third of the country or 50 percent of the country, there's a forecast, will be underwater.

AMY GOODMAN: From a flood.

DIPAL BARUA: From the water, from the sea level rise. Yeah, flood, cyclone, mini tsunami. So Bangladesh is one of the victims of global warming. But if we can create a solar nation, we’re replacing a million tons of kerosene, so and we’re replacing million tons of carbon emission reduction. So, we are a victim of global warming, but we can create an example, a carbon-neutral economy, and we’ve created green jobs in the rural area. That would be a poverty alleviation, and also it can create a green jobs. At the same time, we are producing green energy from the solar, from the biogas plant. From the [inaudible], we save energy also. Firewood we’re saving. And we save the mothers’ life. I believe for renewable energy, solar energy.

And we have plenty of sunshine. Three sixty-five days, 340 days we have sunshine, average 4.5, five hours, six hours, seven hours, sunshine is available. So this is plenty of sunshine. We have plenty of human beings. We train them. They’re becoming human resources. And we are creating green jobs. At the same time, we have solar energy for lighting, for television, mobile phone charging, any business, extension of business hours.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you have a message for President Obama. In the United States, Jimmy Carter, more than thirty years ago, put solar panels on the White House. When President Ronald Reagan came into office, he took those solar panels down. Now those same solar panels were brought back to the White House by an environmentalist named Bill McKibben and students at Unity College in Maine, and they asked President Obama to reput them on the White House. The White House has said no. What is your response to that?

DIPAL BARUA: If — I’m working with solar energy for the last fourteen years. I believe if President Obama put solar paneling on the White House, this is a moral boost, a psychological boost and a green energy boost. In Bangladesh, our prime minister put solar energy in her office, and also Bangladesh Central Bank, they put solar energy in their central bank office in Bangladesh. I think it would be not only for lighting, not only for energy, but it is a demonstration that you prefer renewable energy, you prefer green energy, this in a symbolic attitude, symbolic attempt. I think he should put solar panel in the White House. This is a message for the environmentalists. This is a message for the green job. This is a message for the green energy in the whole world.

AMY GOODMAN: Dipal Barua is the founder of the Bright Green Energy Foundation and a Right Livelihood laureate here in Bonn, as we gather, the eighty or so winners of the Right Livelihood Award. A news conference was just held today with the mayor of Bonn.

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