Published: Friday, March 22, 2013

Solar power lights up rural areas

Solar power lights up rural areas

The demand for solar energy has recently shot up significantly across the country, due to the serious dearth of electricity.
“Easy availability of technology and the facility to pay in small installments are the main factors behind the staggering growth,” said SM Formanul Islam, deputy chief executive officer of Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL).
Around 55,000 families on average are now installing solar home systems (SHSs) each month — to meet their daily electricity requirements.
In February alone, some 63,548 SHSs were installed, up 3.73 percent from January, according to IDCOL’s statistics.
“But we are hoping to hit the 1 lakh mark soon, for which we have increased our partner organisations,” said Islam, adding that the company’s partner organisations from 30 to 46 last month.
The state-run company plans to set up 40 lakh SHSs across Bangladesh by December 2015, but, according to Islam, half of the target has already been achieved — last month.
The combined capacity of the twenty lakh SHSs is about 90 megawatts, sufficient to fully serve 1 crore people.
For the installations, IDCOL invested around Tk 2,821 crore — Tk 2,421 crore in loans and Tk 400 crore in grants.
“Small SHSs are particularly rising in popularity among the customers, especially in the off-grid areas,” said Kazi Mahmudullah, chief operating officer of SolarEn Foundation, one of IDCOL’s partner organisations.
A raising number of households now want to buy the 20 watt-peak system that can lit 2-3 LED bulbs and costs Tk 15,000. IDCOL provides a grant of Tk 2,000 to bring the retail price down to Tk 13,000.
To acquire the SHS, the household then have to pay a down payment of Tk 1,300, with the remaining amount and the service charge paid across three years in monthly installment of Tk 393, said Mahmudullah.
As of February, Sunamganj has around 110,893 SHSs, the highest, followed by Patuakhali and Satkhira, which have 109,717 and 76,083 SHSs respectively, according to data from IDCOL.
Grameen Shakti, a partner organisation, alone installed upwards of 10 lakh SHSs in different parts of the country.
“The gradual reduction of the system’s price is another reason for the gaining popularity,” said Mahmudullah.
The system price has declined around 10 percent over the last three years due to the significant fall of solar panel price, he said.
IDCOL, with financial support from the World Bank, started the programme in 2003 with the aim to take electricity to off-grid rural areas of the country.
Initially, five partner organisations were selected to disseminate 50,000 SHSs in the off-grid areas by 2008.
But the target was achieved in 2005, three years ahead of schedule and $2 million below the estimated cost.
On the back of the encouraging result, the company re-adjusted its plan — deciding to install 10 lakh SHSs by December 2012.
Once again, the target was met ahead of schedule, in June 2011, owing much to the easy credit facilities, subsidies, technical support and quality equipments. “We are confident of hitting the installation target for the remaining 20 lakh SHSs before the deadline,” said Islam.
Japan International Cooperation Agency has already signed an agreement to lend $120 million for renewable energy, of which $95 million will be used for installing SHSs — like this project of IDCOL.
At present, about half of Bangladesh’s population do not have access to electricity from the national grid and have to rely on costly kerosene lamps for the basic lighting.
The electricity provided from the systems has not only enabled children to spend more time studying, but it has made way for many new village enterprises.

suman.saha@thedailystar.net