Anyone with access to electricity in Bangladesh will be familiar with ‘load-shedding’, where power gets temporarily switched off during periods of high demand because the grid can’t cope.
Bangladeshi-born novelist Tahmima Anam describes load-shedding like this:
‘It’s when you’re sitting under the ceiling fan on a particularly hot day, the soles of your feet burning, hoping the evening will bring rain, or at the very least, a slight breeze … and suddenly the world goes quiet, the lights go out, and the fan’s revolutions slow, then stop.
We look at our watches. Load-shedding, we say to one another, hoping that this instance of it will follow the usual pattern, and that the electricity will come on in exactly an hour. Any longer and we worry the food in the fridge will spoil, or that we’ll miss the end of the Bangladesh-India cricket match on television.’
And that’s just the experience of those who have electricity. 40 percent of the population – some 60 million people – can only dream of having a fridge to keep food safe to eat or a TV to watch the cricket on.
If Bangladesh is going to escape the poverty trap, a heroic effort is going to be needed: to improve the reliability of the power supply and to get those remaining 60 million onto the grid.
Off-grid solar has been promoted by the World Bank as an alternative way of getting electricity to rural Bangladesh, but as as Bill Gates has said, this technology can’t power the schools, hospitals and factories that a developing country needs to become richer over time.
For Gates the ideal fuel is one that is ‘widely available […] affordable, reliable and does not produce carbon’ – which is why he has prioritised investment in carbon capture technologies that mitigate the environmental impact of coal or gas power plants.
The world needs to commit to this technology now, so countries like Bangladesh can generate the power they need to prosper.