This is a story of how a technology start-up in one of the poorest regions of the world, Bangladesh, is quietly going about changing the lives of millions of people, by providing them access to energy for the first time. In Bangladesh, a country of 154.7 million people, over 50% of the population has no access to electricity. (Source: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS). In 2013, when most of the developed world cannot do without highly complex technology in every part of their lives, a large proportion of people in this hot, humid, tropical country, plagued by some of the worst natural disasters the world has seen, don’t even have modern essentials like a fan, or a refrigerator.
This is the story of Solaric, a company that decided it could empower Bangladeshis, by removing the fundamental limitations of solar-powered home systems and make expensive servers and remote communication systems irrelevant. According to Didar Islam, MD Solaric, the major problem they had to overcome, was that existing invertors were designed to connect to the 224AC grid to be able to power basic appliances. “We realized that a paradigm shift was required on the supply side, to meet our rural users needs,” said Islam.
To look at the magnitude of what they were trying to achieve, do keep in mind that over 70% of Bangladesh’s 150-million plus people live in rural areas. (Source: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/bangladesh/rural-population-percent-of-total-population-wb-data.html). And while Solaric’s first major goal was to bring energy self-sufficiency to Bangladesh’s rural millions, they also had to keep one major point in mind: To be financially viable on a commercial scale, they needed energy-efficient technology that was innovative, an out-of-the-box solution.
So that’s exactly what they did – funded by SEAF, they experimented and innovated to create a solar-powered system that wasn’t dependent on the existing grid and was cost-effective. For this, they took a low-tech approach: They minimized capital expenditure by designing the system on a high-voltage DC platform, to address the issue of scalability at every level, from generation of power to the load in. And they also decentralized billing and collection operations – often an expensive part that gets offloaded onto consumers, something they couldn’t do in this case.
While there is still a long way to go to reach everyone; a journey has begun and begun very well. Thirty-five thousand households in 5,000 villages have received access to clean, renewable energy for the first time. For the rural housewife, it has removed kerosene dependency, with over 130,000 kerosene lamps being replaced around these villages. For the female student in a traditionally conservative country, it has meant educational emancipation, and opened up channels of communication: Young women have been able use laptops to study, and virtually go to places where they couldn’t earlier.
And for thousands of small-time rural farmers, it meant moving from noisy, polluting diesel generators to better quality, more efficient technology based on a renewable energy source. And while solar-powered systems aren’t necessarily cheaper than other systems (the emphasis being on access to energy for people who don’t have access), for these small farmers, it actually did bring down energy costs from $25 to about $10 a month.
When you keep in mind that Bangladesh’s annual GDP per capita in 2012 was an estimated $752 – making it one of the poorest countries in the world, a $15 a month saving on power, is a lot for that farmer. (Source: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD). Just to give you a perspective on that $752 per year, the United States is at $51,749, Egypt is at $3256; South Sudan is at $943; and Uganda is one of the mere handful of countries poorer than Bangladesh, at $547.
All in all, in the process of making energy accessible, Solaric has generated about 1,600 KW of power and been instrumental in reducing C02 emissions by an estimated 21,000 tons/year. That’s quite a start.
Website — http://www.solar-ic.com/
A SEAF Investment — http://seaf.com/