Green energy is an optimal solution for greater sustainability. Produced from natural resources like sun, wind and water; green energy generates least harmful side effects, without polluting the Earth's atmosphere and surface. Realising the people’s familiarity with solar power and its potential for reducing poverty, solar power is at the heart of the green energy mix in Bangladesh. Solar home systems (SHSs) are the best suited option for the country’s socio-economic condition to exploit solar power—a popular form of green energy.
Solar home systems (SHSs) are elaborately articulated, considering SHSs are one of the best measures of boosting green energy. SHSs are stand-alone photovoltaic systems that offer a cost-effective mode of supplying power for lighting and using electrical appliances. In rural areas, the grid SHSs can be used to meet the household energy demand fulfilling basic electricity needs. Anecdotal evidence indicates, SHSs have ushered the potentiality of illuminating remote off-grid households.Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) started the SHS programme in January 2003 to fulfill basic electricity requirements of the off-grid rural people in Bangladesh as well as supplement the Government’s vision of ensuring access to electricity for all citizens of Bangladesh by 2021. Up to January 2019, about 4.13 million SHSs have been installed under the programme in remote areas where electrification through grid expansion is challenging and costly.
The SHSs programme has ensured supply of solar electricity to 18 million people, that is, 12 per cent of the country’s total population who previously used kerosene lamps for lighting purposes. IDCOL has a target to finance six million SHS by 2021 with an estimated generation capacity of 220 MW of electricity.
At present, 56 Partner Organizations (POs) are implementing the SHS programme. IDCOL provides grant and soft loans as well as necessary technical assistance to the POs. POs select customers, extend loans, install the systems and provide after sales service. IDCOL’s total investment under the program is BDT 52,240 million (USD 696 million) out of which loan is of USD 600 million and grant of USD 96 million.
The SHS programme has so far saved consumption of 1.14 million tons of kerosene worth USD 411 million, approximately. In addition, in the next 15 years already installed 4.1 million SHS will save consumption of another 3.6 million tons of kerosene worth USD 1,300 million. Moreover, around 75,000 people are directly or indirectly involved with these programmes. The SHS programme has been acclaimed as the largest off-grid renewable energy program in the world.
Germany, China, Japan, America and Italy are the leading countries using solar home systems in the world. Germany has met over 50 per cent of the nation’s daily energy needs from solar power. Germany’s long-term shift to cleaner energy has made its economy the world’s largest so markedly to rely on renewable energy.
China’s drastic increase in solar power stems from the nation’s desperate need for electricity and its severe air pollution crisis. Japan made a serious commitment to solar energy as part of a plan to double its renewable energy by 2030. The United States has continued to improve its standing as a leader in solar power by expanding its output by 30 per cent in 2021.There is multiple use of SHSs as an alternative power source in rural off-grid areas, e.g., operating solar lighting system, ceiling fan and table fan, home TV, desktop computer, laptop, water heater, mobile charging, charging of charger lights, etc.
Lighting depending on the capacity of the SHS panels, households would have 2-5 lighting points. The more lighting points a household has, the lower the use of kerosene for lighting, which is mainly used in rural areas. While other possible uses of kerosene include cooking, this is a costly alternative to biomass cooking fuel and hence is rarely seen in rural households.
Given that there are about 1.9 million SHS households in rural Bangladesh, the decrease in kerosene consumption amounts to over 40 million liters of kerosene saved annually due to SHS adoption. SHS and appliance use even though the POs offer SHS of different Wp (Watt peak) levels, most households choose 20, 40, 50, or 65 Wps. The most popular choice appears to be the 50 Wp size.
As expected, there is a positive correlation between the size of the system and the number of lights that it supports; while only one light bulb is used in a 20 Wp size, as many as 5 light bulbs are used in a 75 to 90 Wp size unit of SHS. Energy consumption and SHS capacity suggests energy consumption from the SHS panel increases with Wp size. This means consumption of energy form SHS must have alternative uses besides lighting. For example, with a higher capacity SHS unit, households often purchase a TV, a source of entertainment and information for enhancing the productivity of inputs used in household production.
The time use pattern of household members may change toward productivity enhancing activities to boost their income. On the other hand, knowledge about health and education through TV programs can improve outcomes in these domains as well as give advantages to household members, especially women in SHS households. These changes are expected to contribute towards improved welfare for rural households in Bangladesh.
SHSs have the economic benefit of rural off-grid areas in Bangladesh. After SHS installation, maintenance costs are projected to be minimal over 25 years. SHS householders who used solar-powered LED lights avoided buying kerosene every month for kerosene lamps. Usually, if the kerosene price increased, it resulted in reduced consumption to avoid an increase in monthly kerosene expenditure. An SHS also saves its users time, money and energy for purchasing and transporting kerosene from markets. Moreover, due to efficient lighting, householders are able to pursue commercial activities like sewing and handicrafts.
Sewing machines are recently bought by women with the help of loan from NGO, as a result it will allow them to earn extra money by sewing in the evening hours using solar light. Owners of tea stalls and local shops reported longer evening business hours and increased profits since the installation of an SHS. This profit money could be further invested for business expansion. Grocery shop owners are not using kerosene lamps for their extended business working activities.
In Bangladesh, solar panels are still a new concept. SHS users face problems due to their lack of technical knowledge. Due to poor maintenance, they do not get sufficient output from their connections. Moreover, different new companies are upcoming to sustain and make profit in this competitive market, they often operate on such policies that reduce the acceptance of SHS to users. For this reason, the constraints of SHS are categorised basically in the following two parts which are as follows:
(1) Tilt Angle: Tilt angle of PV panel is the most important issue for efficient power production. It is observed that the proper tilt angle is not maintained in maximum houses due to their lack of knowledge on SHS and as a result they are not able to get efficient output from PV panels.
(2) Shading and Hotspot problem: Shading is one of major constraints of SHS that results in hotspot problems,
(3) Panel Cleaning: Solar panel efficiency decreases day by day due to unconsciousness about panel cleaning, and
(4) People cannot get efficient output from PV panels due to carelessness about taking necessary training on PV panels.
Service Providers-related Constraints:
(1) High interest rate: SHS is sold at high interest installments. During the survey we have seen that majority of the users take the connection in installments including upper-middle class people,
(2) Poor number of counseling: A SHS Service Provider Company has plenty of workers who do servicing but they do not provide sufficient training to users about the maintenance of SHS,
(3) Immature and unregistered organisations, e.g., new companies arising every day.
To gain popularity in the competitive market, companies offer SHS connection at a relatively low price. As an outcome, they provide low quality equipment which is more prone to problems. Moreover, their service is of low quality and they do not maintain any programme to train users about the proper maintenance of SHS.
SHSs are becoming more popular day by day in Bangladesh, particularly in remote off-grid areas. The installation of SHSs provides a convenient and sustainable way of power by supplying high quality, reliable, clean and environmentally friendly energy services. SHS can provide better facilities in education, recreation and communication in rural areas. It promotes small commercial activities as well as improves the living standard of rural communities.
To conclude, providing numerous direct and indirect socio-economic-environmental benefits, green energy has a substantial impact on the people’s lives and livelihood. The Government must implement proactive policy and fiscal support in harnessing the power of green energy including solar power (i.e., SHSs), wind energy and hydropower to revitalise the economy.
The writers are Professor and PhD Fellow, respectively in the Department of Agricultural Extension & Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka.