Solar energy programs for rural electrification: Experiences and lessons from South Asia
South Asia accounts for 37% of the world's population without access to electricity. Such a situation continues to exist despite several initiatives and policies to support rural electrification efforts by the respective country governments including use of renewable energy technologies. While conventional grid extension has been the predominant mode of electrification in the region, the countries have also extensively used solar photovoltaic (PV) technology for energy access. However, there have been implementation challenges including technical, financial, institutional, and governance barriers. This paper, based on extensive literature review and survey of selected programs, shares the experience and lessons of solar PV programs for rural electrification in South Asia - both at the regional and country levels - and also presents a comparative analysis to exploit the cross learning potential. The paper suggests that output focused approaches, financial innovations, bundling of projects for concentrating energy loads, adopting standard processes and metrics, developing necessary infrastructure, and building local technical capacity are a key to enhancing the effectiveness of the solar PV programs.