Solar power lights up rural homes

http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=204347

Green Tech
Solar power lights up rural homes

Solar panels are installed on the roof of the Bangladesh Bank building in Dhaka. Photo: STAR

Suman Saha

The Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) has revised its target to set up solar home systems (SHS) across Bangladesh. It had planned to install 10 lakh SHSs by December 2012 but it has already met its target by June this year.

The non-banking financial institution has now set a new target to install a total of 25 lakh SHSs by 2014 in areas where electricity is not available, says SM Monirul Islam, general manager (accounts and administration) of IDCOL.

SHSs have helped save 80,000 tonnes of kerosene worth around Tk 580 crore and Tk 2,821 crore in electricity connection costs. So far the initiative has created 15,000 direct and 30,000 indirect jobs.

Once completed, the combined capacity of the SHSs will be 140 megawatts, lighting 1.25 crore beneficiary homes, accounting for 8.3 percent of the country’s 15 crore population, says Islam.

The company invested around Tk 1,440 crore — Tk 1,200 crore in loans and Tk 240 crore in grants — for the installations until June.

IDCOL also plans to invest another Tk 2,867 crore in soft loans and Tk 338 crore in grants for the same purpose.

“With the current pace of operations, we expect to reach the target by mid-2012,” says Islam.

The average 50 percent growth of SHS installations came on the back of availability of financial and technical support and quality equipments, says Islam. Easy credit facilities and subsidies helped IDCOL achieve the goal ahead of time.

Most of the solar home systems installed under financing from IDCOL have a capacity of 50 watt-peaks.

The original cost of the 50 watt-peak system is Tk 30,800, of which IDCOL grants Tk 2,800. A household has to pay a down payment of Tk 4,200. An IDCOL loan of Tk 19,040 is distributed through partner non-governmental organisations that actually install the systems. These partners ultimately give loans worth Tk 4,760 to customers for the 50 watt-peak systems.

“We installed systems of different capacities, but the 50 watt-peak system is the popular one among rural customers,” says Islam. Most of the SHSs were installed on off-grid areas. Each 50 watt-peak system can run 4 CFL (compact florescent lamps) of 6 watts each, a 17 to 20 inch black and white television and a mobile charger.

Rural households in Bangladesh are frequently not on the state electrical grid and so have embraced solar power, helped by NGOs providing panels that can be paid for in small monthly instalments.

The government has set a target to generate 500 megawatts (MW) of green energy — almost ten times the current amount — by 2015, in an attempt to narrow the gap between current demand and supply of grid electricity.

Only half of Bangladesh’s population has access to electricity from the national grid. Fossil fuel accounts for most of power generation worth 5,000 MW daily, with renewable sources — mostly solar power — contributing just 55 MW.

People on non-grid areas who have no access to main electricity rely heavily on costly kerosene lamps for lighting. This makes SHSs more attractive to them.

According to IDCOL statistics, it installed 60,142 SHSs in Sunamganj — the highest coverage by the company in a district. Patuakhali and Satkhira come in second and third, with each installing 58,836 and 39,483 SHSs till June.

Of the partner organisations that implemented the IDCOL solar projects, Grameen Shakti alone installed over 6 lakh out of 10 lakh SHSs. Rural Service Foundation has set up over 1.5 lakh SHSs in different parts of the country.

Twenty-nine organisations have partnered with IDCOL to install the solar systems.

Officials say the systems are attractive as maintenance costs for the solar panels are low. Besides, the companies also give 20 to 25 years of warranty.

suman.saha@thedailystar.net

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