Bangladesh: Lighting the Way to a Greener World of Work

Solar home systems can be an alternative source of energy in developing countries like Bangladesh, where half of the population, or about 85 million people, lack access to grid-based electricity. Solar panels bring clean energy and green jobs to rural areas, an issue that is high on the Rio+20 agenda. Allan Dow reports.

Reportage | 22 juin 2012
BOGRA, Bangladesh – Wrapped in a brown sari, Sanjida Akhter climbs a ladder and steps carefully onto the corrugated steel roof of a rural home near the town of Bogra, 200 kilometres northwest of the capital Dhaka.

Ms. Akhter is one of a growing number of trained solar home technicians installing energy-saving solar panels onto the rooftops of homes that have no access to the national electricity grid or simply can’t afford the connection fee.

While the national grid reaches many areas of Bangladesh, most of the country’s 142 million inhabitants live in rural areas and are not connected. Most rely on kerosene fuelled lamps for lighting and petrol or diesel-fired generators for other power needs.

Solar power is increasingly seen as a convenient, affordable and environmentally friendly alternative for many in Bangladesh.

“The solar panel on this house transfers energy from the sunlight into a rechargeable battery,” explains Ms. Akhter. “Through this system we can have lights, charge a mobile phone, watch TV and run other things – all from solar energy. The villagers here are seeing great benefits from it.”

Ms. Akhter has been installing solar panels on rural homes for three years. She received her initial training through a programme supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Grameen Shakti, a partner organization of the Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (IDCOL) – a public agency in Bangladesh that promotes renewable energy.

Under the ILO Green Jobs in Asia project, supported by the Australian Government–ILO Partnership Agreement (2010-2015), more solar home technicians are graduating in Bangladesh each month following a series of six week training programmes operated by the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) through its Technical Training Centres across the country.

The ILO has prepared a guidebook for Rio+20 to assess and promote the green jobs potential in developing countries.

Bringing clean energy and green jobs to rural areas

The move toward greater use of solar energy is being encouraged by the Bangladesh government and is officially endorsed in its current sixth five-year development plan.

By rolling out solar home systems, new jobs are created for the installation and maintenance of solar energy products. They also bring a clean and alternative form of energy to rural areas. This win-win situation is further advanced because greater access to energy opens up new opportunities for business and economic growth in rural areas.

The ILO Green Jobs Programme places a specific emphasis on promoting the role of women who still face barriers entering into the labour market. The training results in technicians who not only install the solar panels but also assemble various component parts and maintain the systems.

There is great optimism among those already working in this new green jobs sector. Those who have been through the ILO-supported training in Bangladesh see nothing but a bright future on the solar home’s horizon.

I wish to see solar home panels everywhere in this country in the next five years."
Farhana Akhter Ranu
“I wish to see solar home panels everywhere in this country in the next five years,” said Farhana Akhter Ranu, a 25 year old graduate of the training.

According to a recent ILO report on green jobs, the widespread deployment of solar products in developing countries still faces a range of obstacles, including up-front costs that require financial solutions such as micro-credit programmes, and distribution networks that can gain the trust of would-be customers.

In many developing countries, solar programmes are still currently quite small, but can be scaled up with appropriate financing and other policy support.

Allan Dow works for the Regional Partnerships Unit in the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok.