Solar to the Rescue for Bangladesh as Glacier Melt Hurts Nepal
Residents of Islampur, a remote village in the northern Bangladeshi district of Naogaon, were stunned one night last summer when the darkness was suddenly illuminated by electric lights coming from a village home. A month’s walk from the nearest sea, Kathmandu — elevation almost a mile — is as vulnerable to climate change as the world’s coastal megacities. Rising temperatures are crimping power and food supplies as rural migrants stream to a city of 1 million that’s among the world’s most crowded. Read More
Bangladesh aims to be world’s ‘first solar nation’
By Pantho Rahaman for Thomson Reuters Foundation (25 January 2015)
Residents of Islampur, a remote village in the northern Bangladeshi district of Naogaon, were stunned one night last summer when the darkness was suddenly illuminated by electric lights coming from a village home.
Why the surprise? The community has no connection to the country’s power grid.
The owner of the house, Rafiqul Islam, is one of around 15 million Bangladeshis whose homes are now powered by solar home systems, or SHS, under a government scheme to provide clean power to communities with no access to grid electricity.
The Bangladeshi government aims to provide electricity to all of the country’s households by 2021. With financial assistance from the World Bank and other development partners, it plans to generate 220 megawatts of electricity for around 6 million households by 2017 through the solar home system programme.
Each solar home system uses a solar panel installed on the roof of an individual home. A 250 watt panel can produce up to 1 kilowatt of power a day.
Following Islam’s example, many villagers in Islampur have installed solar home systems, whether to light their homes or to run irrigation pumps.
“We are more than happy, because we don’t have power cuts in our system. But for those who are connected with the national grid, blackouts are regular,” Islam said.
Children are as pleased as their parents. A few years ago, accessing entertainment such as cartoons meant renting a television and a DVD player along with a battery, which most people could afford to do at most twice a year.
“Now children can have their own fun time every day,” Islam said. His daughter said she also can study until late into the evening thanks to the electric light.
10 PERCENT OF HOMES SOLAR
According to the government-owned Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), which began the solar home system project in 2003, 3.5 million households – about 10 percent of the country’s total – had installed SHS by the end of 2014.
“Every month, 50,000-60,000 Bangladeshi households are connected with a solar home system. In May 2014, more than 80,000 connections were made,” said Mahmood Malik, head of IDCOL. The company runs the scheme with 47 partners, including nongovernmental organisations and businesses.
Dipal C. Barua, a solar home system pioneer in Bangladesh and president of the Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association, said that when the technology was introduced in 1996, it faced a range of barriers, such as the high cost of solar panels and a shortage of expertise for installation.
But 18 years on, both barriers have eased and solar home systems save the country 200,000 tonnes of kerosene annually, worth about $180 million, Barua said.
FIRST SOLAR NATION?
“My dream is to empower 75 million Bangladeshis through renewable energy by 2020 and make Bangladesh the first comprehensive solar nation of the world,” he said.
The government is providing low-interest loans to private companies to import and install solar panels for SHS, while businesses offer households or end-users low down-payments and the option to repay the cost of a solar home system over a period of one to three years. A 100 watt panel costs around 50,000 Bangladeshi taka ($640).
In addition to the SHS scheme, the government has constructed a 100 kilowatt solar power plant in Sandwip Island, in the Bay of Bengal, which began operating in 2010. There are plans to create 50 more so-called mini solar grids around the country by 2017, with the combined capacity to run more than 1,500 irrigation pumps.
The government is encouraging domestic and foreign investment in the plants by offering grants and low-interest loans to investors.
“We are very much in the process of creating a green Bangladesh,” said IDCOL’s Malik.
Far From Rising Seas, Climate Change Plagues Kathmandu: Cities
By Natalie Obiko Pearson for Bloomberg (14 January 2015):
A month’s walk from the nearest sea, Kathmandu — elevation almost a mile — is as vulnerable to climate change as the world’s coastal megacities.
The capital of the poorest Asian country after Afghanistan already is feeling the effect: Rising temperatures are crimping power and food supplies as rural migrants stream to a city of 1 million that’s among the world’s most crowded.
“Kathmandu is the country’s production and consumption center,” said Mahfuzuddin Ahmed, an adviser in the Manila-based Asian Development Bank’s regional and sustainable development department. “Any climate-related hazards that spill into the national economy will be amplified there.”
The mountainous Himalayan nation may have crossed a tipping point of irreversible damage. Its glaciers have lost about a third of their ice reserves since 1977. Just like giant icebergs in the ocean, those glaciers play a critical role in the high-altitude jet streams that can delay monsoons, prolong droughts or spawn storms.
“It’s affecting daily life,” says Ram Sharan Mahat, Nepal’s finance minister. He calculates the economy will grow half a percentage point slower this fiscal year because of an erratic monsoon that hit crops, the mainstay of the economy. “I’m sure that’s largely attributable to climate change.”
Ahmed led a June study projecting Nepal could lose 10 percent of its annual gross domestic product by 2100 because of climate change. That makes it the second-most vulnerable in the region after the Maldives.
There’s something a mountain city like Kathmandu — some 600 miles (966 kilometers) from the Indian Ocean — shares with an atoll threatened with extinction from rising seas: a spectacular incapacity to do much about it.
An acrid brown smog shrouds the metropolis, obscuring the snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the distance that beckon trekkers worldwide. Diesel vehicles that would have been phased out in Europe years ago choke its narrow lanes, making cloth face masks indispensable.
Residents shop for vegetables and spices by candlelight amid blackouts lasting most of the day in the winter, when hydropower plants sputter as snow-fed rivers dry up. Garbage has turned the city’s sacred Bagmati River into a sewer, too filthy for fish to survive, though Hindu worshipers still bathe in its waters.
Economists and environmental experts warn that climate change will hurt those who have the least because they don’t have the resources or capacity to minimize the threats.
Nepal lacks the network and skills to forecast the weather three days in advance, much less the complex changes in rainfall, snow and temperatures linked to ice melting in the world’s least-studied glaciers. Like most of South Asia, water isn’t stored when the rivers are full, making the population vulnerable to the vagaries of glacial melt and the monsoon — the annual wet season bringing 80 percent of its precipitation.
Its remittances-dependent economy is smaller than each of the 50 U.S. states. Its 28 million people have the lowest spending power of any Asian country apart from Afghanistan of about $2 a day, World Bank statistics show.
Runoff from glaciers storing the world’s largest body of ice outside the polar regions sustains Kathmandu and more than a billion people beyond. It’s the source of rivers that flow as far west as Iran and east to the South China Sea, including the Ganges, which feeds the world’s most populous basin.
“Glacial melt is the most obvious and potentially game-changing impact of climate change,” said Johannes Zutt, the World Bank’s country director for Nepal and Bangladesh. “If it reduces over time because there’s less ice to melt, that can have an incredibly destabilizing impact in a region where, during the dry period, it can get very dry.”
Climate change is a “threat multiplier” that escalates the risk of conflicts, the U.S. Defense Department said in a March report. That’s a worry for Nepal, which suffered a decade-long Maoist uprising that ended in 2006. By 2050, Himalayan glaciers are projected to recede so much that declining water could threaten the ability to feed 70 million people, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
Meanwhile, the runoff is pooling into more than 2,000 lakes scattered across the Nepalese Himalayas. Many didn’t exist just a few decades ago. At least 21 may be at risk of overflowing or bursting, potentially unleashing a wall of mud and water that can travel as fast as a speeding car for more than 200 kilometers.
Such floods, known as glacial-lake outbursts, could have devastating repercussions because $13 billion of planned hydropower projects, farmlands and popular tourist-trekking routes lie in paths at risk, according to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu.
Climate-change hazards in Nepal are similar to the risks of saltwater intrusion destroying farmlands and cities in coastal economies, Ahmed said. “One is a flood coming from the mountain, the other from the sea.”
Blackouts in Kathmandu worsened in August when the deadliest landslide in a decade blocked the Sun Koshi river, about 80 kilometers northeast of the capital. Water pooling behind the wall of debris submerged one hydropower plant, while other facilities along the river were damaged. In total, it knocked out 10 percent of the nation’s power capacity.
At an open-air market on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Ram Sharan Upreti, 38, sells onions and potatoes grown in Palanchok about 60 kilometers from the city.
“Rains don’t come like they used to,” he says, gesturing with gnarled hands and blackened nails toward the sky. Three years ago, they never came and he lost everything he’d invested that year. His three children are studying so they can get city jobs either in Kathmandu or abroad, he said. “I don’t want this life for my children,” he said. “It’s too uncertain.”