Switch on to turn off: Your role in energy access.

Put your hand up if you’ve experienced a black out in Bangladesh? What’s that, everyone has? It is no surprise to anyone living in Bangladesh that power shortages are a part of life. As the temperature rises, power outages will begin to occur more frequently. Air conditioning units start running, fridges have to work a little harder, fans are on almost 24 hours a day, and water for agricultural irrigation kicks into gear. As much as black outs are frustrating for those with electricity connections, life without energy access is much more challenging. Current energy demand (8,500 MW) far outstrips existing production (peak 7500 MW), with this gap showing no clear sign of decreasing, as the country grows and more people connect to the grid.

Outside of the inconvenience, why is this important? It is important for a number of reasons. Access to energy across Bangladesh is limited. With an unstable national supply and over 10.2 million households living in rural areas with no access at all, energy inequality represents a significant issue. Energy plays an important role in human development. UNDP believes that access to energy can open windows for everyone to enjoy the fruits of development and their fundamental human rights. Access to energy, like lighting in the home, can improve educational outcomes for children. An efficient stove can improve health conditions for women. Sustainable energy access for the poor not only empowers them to enjoy their human rights, but contributes to national development and national and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reliable energy supply is also an important precondition for international direct investment. Businesses needing to rely on the use of expensive diesel generators, face higher costs of operating and greater exposure to global market volatilities. Energy is the key for development at both the micro community and macro economic scale.

So what can be done? There are two answers. The first is to provide more power. The second is to reduce our demand. How do we do that, you ask? Well UNDP is working in both of these areas through two projects. On the supply side (providing more power) the Sustainable Renewable Energy Generation (SREPGen) project is working with the Government’s Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) to provide access to low cost solar lanterns to millions of rural poor currently without energy supply. The project will also explore the broader renewable energy potential of Bangladesh and equip SREDA with the right balance of policy, regulatory and incentive tools, to attract greater private investment in renewable energy.

Equally as important UNDP has been running a project called Barrier Removal to the Cost-Effective Development and Implementation of Energy Efficiency Standards and Labelling (BRESL), which works on reducing demand. BRESL has been working closely with local manufacturers of household electrical appliances to help them improve the energy efficiency of their products. Simply put, the products provide individuals with the same outcome, but use less energy. For example your energy efficient light bulb will provide the same amount of light, but it will use up to 80% less energy.  There are a set of standards for six appliances (light bulbs, air conditioners, fridges, fans, electric motors, electronic ballasts) that guide manufacturers in producing more efficient products. If a company meets these standards they earn the right to put a star label on their product. The star labels help consumers like you and me at the shop looking to buy a new product. With a rating of up to 5 stars (higher being more efficient) it becomes much easier to know which product best meets our needs.

I hope I have not lost you yet! Energy efficiency can seem complex, but if all current users switched to energy efficient appliances, we could save a lot of electricity (1200 MW)! This is equivalent to two of the new coal fired power stations that the Government is proposing to build.  This saving will also have a significant impact on the gap between demand and supply, without producing additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Why does this matter to you and what can you do about it? Energy efficient products can save you money! You don’t have to go out right away and throw your old fridge and air conditioning unit in the dump. An easy starting point is to look at changing your light bulbs to energy star alternatives. These use up to80% less energy and will last you many times longer than the standard bulbs.  When the larger items do need to be replaced, look for the energy star products for your next purchase.  Energy Star free standing fans are currently produced and available in Bangladesh. Without spending any money you can also be a part of the solution for energy access. Energy conservation is a free exercise that just requires you to reduce excess electricity use. This can be as simple as switching off the light when you leave the room, shutting down your computer at the end of the day, unplugging appliances like televisions that are on standby or raising the air conditioner by a couple of degrees (26oC is optimal).  Here are some simple ideas that you can use yourself at home.

The BRESL project is a practical example of how UNDP is supporting Government to improve the regulatory environments which stimulates private sector green growth, and is directly tackling the demand side of energy management.  As this project draws to a close this June (2015), UNDP will focus its efforts on working with the Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA), to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency at a national scale.

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