DHAKA, Bangladesh (AlertNet) – Power-hungry Bangladesh has doubled the number of homes with solar-generated electricity systems to 800,000 over the last year.
Demand for the systems is growing as the country curbs new connections to its overburdened power grid and as costs for the solar panels come down, according to a range of non-profit groups now providing them across the country.
“You can call it a green revolution since our combined efforts are helping light remote villages and reduce carbon emissions,” said Abser Kamal, chief executive officer of Grameen Shakti, an organization that promotes the use of renewable energy in Bangladesh, in part by installing solar home systems and providing market-rate small loans to help people purchase them.
The company hopes to install an additional half million of the systems this year, largely in rural areas, he said in a telephone interview with AlertNet.
The systems use solar cells to convert sunlight to electricity. A typical $300 home unit allows the user to power light bulbs, a television and a fan.
Over half the households in Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, lack a connection to the national power grid, according to government statistics. The country’s power plants can generate about 4,200 megawatts of electricity but demand is more than 5,500 megawatts a day, meaning many would-be users regularly lack power.
The government has committed to producing at least 5 percent of the country’s power through renewable sources by 2015, and 10 percent by 2020. As part of that effort, Solarium Power Limited (SPL), a private firm, has been given permission to install an 18-megawatt solar power plant expected to cost 2 billion taka ($27 million). The plant is expected to cut Bangladesh’s carbon emissions by 100,545 tonnes a year.
But home-based solar panels are also playing a role. Groups like Grameen Shakti that are helping install the systems hope to bring them to a total of 35 million users in Bangladesh by 2015. Last year, Grameen Shakti installed 200,600 of the household solar units.
“The demand for (the) system is rising enormously,” said Ruhul Quddus, the head of Rural Services Foundation, a Bangladeshi development charity that is also installing the solar units. “Each month we are connecting 35,000 new households. It has huge potential in the remote villages which have no possibility to be connected to the national power grid for 50 years at its current rate of expansion.”
The home solar units also are providing a new source of income for some Bangladeshi families, particularly in rural areas, he said.
“With a small (solar home) connection one can power four lamps and one black and white television set. Some people use one or two lines and lend the rest (of the power) to others to earn money,” Quddus said.
A typical home solar system costs 20,000 taka ($300), with users paying 15 percent of the cost as a down payment and the rest over 36 months at an interest rate of 6 percent.
The government-owned Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) is supporting the program by providing credit at 5 to 8 percent interest to the charities installing the systems.
Monir Hossain, chief of SolarEn, a foundation launched last year to expand the solar home systems to urban areas, said poor people are now particularly interested in solar energy because the monthly installment payment for a home system are cheaper than the cost of a month’s worth of kerosene and candles.
“The monthly kerosene bill for four lamps stands at 1,600 taka ($23) whereas the installment for a (solar unit) is only 750 taka ($11). This is cutting their costs by almost half and also reducing carbon emissions, saving the environment,” he said.
Solar power use is surging in urban areas in part because the government has stopped providing new connections to the national power grid as a result of continuing power shortages. Recently, solar power systems were installed in the prime minister’s office, the Central Bank building and the new offices of Grameenphone, a telecom giant.
Solar power is also being used increasingly for heating, irrigation, mobile phone base stations and small three-wheel vehicles. Realtors are becoming interested on solar energy since they have no other choice after being refused national grid connections for their newly built projects.
Jamshed Ahmed, a resident in Noakhali district who purchased one of the solar home systems, told Bangladesh’s national news agency that the connection has improved his life.
“My seven-member family and our neighbors can now enjoy TV programmes at home regularly. Now we can become aware of the country's current affairs,” he said.
Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at email@example.com