DHAKA, Bangladesh (AlertNet): As costs fall and incomes rise, power-hungry Bangladesh is seeing a surge in the adaptation home solar energy systems.
Last year, close to 40,000 units a month were installed on average across the country; this year installations have surged to 55,000 a month, according to Ruhul Quddus, head of the Rural Services Foundation, a Bangladeshi charity. His charity is installing 11,000 solar power systems a month, up from 8,000 a month last year, he said.
Altogether, 30 percent more homes are using solar power in Bangladesh than a year ago – a change driven by a rise in purchasing capacity and falling prices.
“Rural people now want to improve their quality of life,” including by trading kerosene lamps for solar and using the latest electrical appliances, said Abser Kamal, chief executive office of Grameen Shakti, a pioneering organisation in renewable energy in Bangladesh.
Per capita income has been rising in Bangladesh in recent years as the country’s growth rate has improved. During the last fiscal year, per capita hit income hit $848 a year, up from $676 three years ago, according to government figures. The country’s growth rate during the last fiscal year was 6.32 percent, and this year the government is targeting growth of 7.2 percent.
Installing solar power in their homes helps families with a variety of tasks, Kamal said.
A RANGE OF BENEFITS
“By using a solar home system they now can work long hours, can keep shops open a longer time, their children’s can study for a longer period, and they also can watch television and recharge their cell phone handsets,” he said.
Kamal’s organisation is responsible for installing about 60 percent of the new solar units being sold in Bangladesh, or about 25,000 a month. By October, the organization hopes to have installed a million units across the country.
Raihan Alam, a rickshaw puller in Nischintapur village in Bangladesh’s southeastern Chandpur district, in April bought a solar home system (SHS) to light his house, paying 20,000 taka (about $250). The money came from earnings from land he inherited from his father and from savings.
“Our village has grid electricity but the government stopped providing new household connections for a long time. So I had no option but to buy a SHS to light my house,” said Alam, the father of two children who attend school.
Before buying the solar system, “my daughters were less interested in studying long into the night by the blunt light of a kerosene lamp and they went to sleep early. Now they are happy to continue studying longer than usual with the sharp light of SHS,” he said.
He said he now also hoped to buy a television set for entertainment in his house.
Alam’s brother Amirul Islam is also saving to buy a solar energy system for his house as his family members are also eager to get better-quality lighting.
Since 2003 the World Bank has provided more than $300 million to support the solar home system program of the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state-run organization that promotes renewable energy under the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED) project.
GRID FALLING SHORT
With only 5,500 megawatts of grid electricity generation, heavily populated Bangladesh can meet scarcely half of its power demand via the grid. Almost half the area of the country still remains in the dark at night where grid electricity cannot reach or is not economically viable.
But that is changing as around 5 percent of the country’s 32 million households now have solar home systems, experts said.
At present, renewable energy sources contribute only 55 megawatts of energy to the country’s energy production. But the government aims to increase that to 500 megawatts by 2015 as part of its social commitment to provide electricity to all by 2020.
World Bank funding has helped make the solar energy systems more attractive to families by cutting the cost of the systems by about $28 and supporting payment in installments for up to three years.
Rural households can now buy the systems from non-governmental organizations for a 10 to 15 percent down payment, with the remaining payments made in monthly installments over two or three years. The average price of a 50 watt-peak solar home system is about Tk 25,000 ($312).
“With a 50 watt-peak capacity of SHS, one can light four lamps, one television set, and charge cell phone handsets,” said Ruhul Quddus of Rural Services Foundation, one of the installers of systems.
Helping families adopt solar energy also means they no longer use kerosene oil and candles in their homes, which can save money, Quddus said.
STEPPING UP INSTALLATION
The Infrastructure Development Company Ltd. has a target to finance installation of one million solar home systems by the end of 2012. It has partnered with 29 organisations to install the systems.
Today, more than 1.3 million solar home systems have been installed in rural areas of Bangladesh.
Zubair K M Sadeque, energy finance specialist for the World Bank in Dhaka, told the AlertNet that the bank is preparing a new project to improve access to clean energy in rural areas and promote energy efficiency.
The proposed project would extend support for another 550,000 solar home systems, and support other renewable energy options for providing electricity in rural areas, including solar mini-grids, biomass gasification and the use of biogas.
The program would also aim to replace 1,500 diesel irrigation pumps with solar pumps, and put in place a million improved cookstoves and 20,000 biogas plants to produce energy for cooking, as well as support replacement of incandescent lights with more energy efficient ones.
“An average 50 watt-peak SHS saves about 6 liters of kerosene consumption per month per household. When the total number of installed SHS is considered, this represents a significant fuel savings. The SHS program is being registered with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) so that Bangladesh can claim carbon credits for this fuel savings,” said Sadeque.
Syful Islam is a journalist with The Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: email@example.com