Solar power changes 20m lives

Arun Karmakar | Update:

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Solar power has lit up the lives of deprived people in remote rural regions of the country. So far around 3.5 million houses have come under the solar home system. Nearly 150mw of electricity is being generated. It has brought about significant changes to 20 million lives.

Every month solar panels are being set up in about 65 thousand houses. The donor community and international agencies recognise this as the fastest and most successful solar power programme in the world. The latest target is to cover 6million houses by 2017.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday inaugurated a programme to celebrate the successful installment of 3million solar home systems. But since then the total has gone up to 3.5million, according to the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL).

This government-run company has displayed this success in installing panels of the solar home system. A total of 47 NGOs of the country are running the solar home system project under IDCOL's supervision and funding.

The solar home system installment officially began in 2003. The target then was to install solar power in 50 thousand houses in five years. But this target was achieved in a matter of three years due the enthusiasm of the rural people in using solar power.

This scope was created by Grameen Shakti, an affiliate of Grameen Bank. Grameen Shakti began the solar home system programme in 1996. By the time IDCOL began this work in 2003, Grameen Shakti had already installed solar power connections in about 20 thousand houses.

Among the 47 partner organisations working through IDCOL at present, Grameen Shakti has installed the highest number of solar panels in homes, that is over 30%. This programme is being implemented in remote areas of country, islands and other places where the national grid does not provide power.

Solar power has brought about radical changes to the lives of people living in remote areas. Children are studying with solar power lighting, people are watching television and the markets can remain open till late night. Around 100 tubewells around the country run on solar power.

Small solar power grids are being set up in 50 areas, including on the island Sandwip. Nine solar panel manufacturing factories have been set up in the country.

Power connections: IDCOL's partners install the solar power panels according to the demands and requirements of the clients. The clients pay a 10% to 15% cash down payment. The remaining amount is paid in installments over a period of three years. After three years, the client owns the power system.

A client buying a 30watt peak system (present cost 15,500 taka) will have to make a down payment of 1500 to 2000 taka.  Then the solar home system will be installed, consisting of a solar panel, two LED three-watt lights, a battery, a charge controller, a frame and necessary wire. The panel has a 20-year guarantee and the battery a five year guarantee. There is a three-year service warranty too.

A 30-watt system can run two lights and a LCD or LED black and white television. Fans can also be run by this solar power system. This will be DC electricity. Normally approval isn't given to run fans with panels of less that 75watts because fans consume more electricity. One fan takes up the same amount of power as four three-watt lights.

Grameen Shakti's GTC: Once the service guarantee expires, the clients will be able to avail service from Grameen Shakti's Grameen Technical Centre (GTC).

Grameen Shakti consultant MA Gofran tells Prothom Alo that they have 34 GTCs around the country, with 23 thousand trained technicians, 80% of whom are women. They manufacture mobile chargers, charge controllers and other small things at these centres and sell them to the customers. They also provide the required service to the clients for a small fee. They have also trained about 77 thousand clients, most of whom are women.

Costs: The IDCOL managing director says that in remote areas a family on average uses at least four litres of kerosene a months, costing 280 taka. Now with a 1500 taka down payment for a 20-watt system, they will have to pay about the same amount per months. However in three years they won't have to pay anything at all. And the panel has a 20 year guarantee.

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