In rural Bangladesh, especially the coastal southwest, it is common to see tiny solar panels embedded even in humble thatch-roofed huts. This is mostly the work of Infrastructure Development Company Limited (Idcol), a government-backed Bangladeshi energy and infrastructure group that claims more than 90 percent of the country’s booming home solar market.
Since 2003, Idcol has installed solar panels in 3.95 million off-grid homes, reaching 18 million people. In terms of individual units served (rather than total wattage), Bangladesh has become one of the world’s largest markets for home solar systems.
By comparison, Selco, a leading solar company in neighboring India, has installed about 350,000 home systems since 1995 in a country of 1.2 billion people. In the United States, even after exponential growth in solar in recent years, there were just 784,000 home and business solar installationsin 2015.
Since electricity — even in small doses — powers lamps, cellphones, fans, water pumps, health clinics and equipment for businesses, it is critical in improving the lives of the poor.
Mahmood Malik, chief executive of Idcol in Dhaka, calls its arrival for the rural poor “a silent revolution you can’t feel sitting in the city.”