Bangladesh will be a ‘Solar Nation’
Dr Dipal Barua, chairman of Bright Green Energy Foundation, talks to Farhan Ahmed
What is the Bright Green Foundation doing in Bangladesh?
Our major work is providing non-grid areas of Bangladesh with solar home systems. I designed the solar home system myself – coming up with the concept, designing it, developing marketing strategy and figuring out how to apply it in villages. We began to look for the cheapest system possible, beginning with 17 watts going up to 50 watts. Now we have upto130 Watt systems because there are people from a different variety of economic conditions that are buying it. Contrary to people’s scepticism when we started this project, we are selling 30,000-35,000 systems per month.
How successful have the solar home systems been and what have been some of the drawbacks?
When I would talk about selling one million systems back then, people would laugh – back then there weren’t even 10,000 systems in Bangladesh. Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (IDCOL), which began supporting our program since 2003, did not think we would reach one million. As of September this year, we have gone beyond one million. What I want to achieve is a situation where at the cost of kerosene, you can buy a solar home system. If we can make this formula work then villagers will not suffer paying for it, and in the end own their own solar home system.
The biggest problem now is the cost of the system. Monthly kerosene costs range between Tk 50 – Tk 250 per household in the village. At this moment the monthly instalments (specifically for the larger solar systems) amounts to Tk 500- Tk700. When we started we would give a six month window to pay – 50 per cent down payment and 50 per cent in instalments. But that way it becomes very expensive for a villager to buy the system. We increased the time period to three years. If we could extend it to five years then the price would match the cost of kerosene.
What kind of cooperation do you seek from the Bangladesh government?
From the Bangladesh government side, when this regime came to power in 2009 they had withdrawn some taxes that were previously imposed on us. That had allowed solar home systems to flourish, to grow to provide around 50MW of electricity in Bangladesh. But recently AIT has imposed a new tax from last month. This has affected the price of the unit
What do you mean by the term ‘Solar Nation’?
One of the visions of Bright Green Foundation is to install 7.5 million solar home systems in Bangladesh. Let’s say we have a 150 million people. Let’s say that roughly 50 per cent don’t have electricity – that is 75 million people. With one system a family of 4-5 can reap the benefits. But also, when a system is installed, somebody next door can take a light on it paying a fee to the owner. So, in my calculations, I assume 10 people can benefit from one system. That way, 7.5 million systems can provide energy for 75 million people. When 75 million can benefit from solar energy, we will be able to call ourselves a ‘Solar Nation’.
How far has solar technology progressed today?
I think in terms of price, solar energy is close to competing with electricity. But it is true that a lot of improvement is needed by research and innovation. The grid system for example needs to be made more efficient with less system loss. Electrical appliances like refrigerators for example, can be made more efficient as well. Bangladesh needs to conduct its own research in this field, or we face the risk of lagging behind.