Varied interests in the energy and power sector viz., CDM, carbon rating, Monitoring & Evaluation, Energy Management, Rural Development; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy related matters; Demand Side Management (DSM), Energy Audits, Distributed Power Generation (Biomass, Wind,Solar and Small Hydro), Participatory Management.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

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Is solar power answer to energy crisis?


This piece is in response to a news item which appeared in The Daily Star on August 10 under the headline "1m solar household systems by 2012 to achieve target".

The report said that over 2.30 lakh rural households have been brought under the solar power system in the last five years by Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) as an alternative source of energy. The report quoted the Executive Director of IDCOL, M Ehsanul Haque, as saying that they have set a target to install one million Solar Household Systems' (SHSs) solar panels by 2012 so that the government can achieve its target of providing electricity to all by 2020.

It needs to be recalled here that cyclone Sidr had a devastating effect on the southern region of the country and the government asked the participating organizations of IDCOL like Grameen Shakti, BRAC Foundation and RSP to stop collection of the credit instalments.

As a result, collection efficiency of participating organizations working in that region declined significantly. According to IDCOL, the target of the project will suffer if the country faces natural calamities like floods and cyclones.

The ability of beneficiaries varies from season to season and there are some examples of irregularities in repayment of instalments. The overall recovery rate of micro financing of the project has, however, been described by IDCOL as "satisfactory." IDCOL has its own teams to monitor the performance of its participating organizations of SHSs project. If it receives report of difficulties in running the systems, IDCOl sends its own teams to solve the problems. IDCOL officials claim that they have so far almost no report of SHSs remaining completely out of order.

"SHSs system, containing photo voltaic panel, battery, charge controller, solar lamp and switch, is a convenient mode of supplying power for small electrical loads such as lights, radio, cassette players and black and white TV," the report said.

The report also quoted the ED of IDCOL as giving a long list of benefits of SHSs, totally ignoring the challenges and difficulties IDCOL faces in the implementation process of the project. It also portrayed how the SHSs programme has brought about positive changes in the economy of the rural people following increase in working hours of small traders, weavers, tailors and hair dressers.

IDCOL is implementing the solar electrification programme in Bangladesh's remote areas far from the power grid since 2003 through 15 NGOs and Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) including Grameen Shakti, BRAC Foundation and RSP with financial support of different development partners.

According to IDCOL officials, the company has so far received US $80 million out of the total commitment of US $170 million from different funding agencies including World Bank, KFW (German Development Financing Bank) and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) through the government of Bangladesh (GOB).

Meanwhile, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) have reportedly shown interest to provide fund to IDCOL for infrastructure and renewable energy projects. World Bank and KFW are learnt to have expressed their interest in expanding their support to the GOB for expansion of SHSs.

As there has been increase in the worldwide demands for solar panels, IDCOL has been facing some challenges in importing solar panels from some of its traditional markets of Europe and countries like Singapore and China. The company at times cannot fulfil the market demands due to upward trend in the prices of the solar panels.

Among the SHSs providing NGOs, Grameen Shakti holds the lion share of solar panels, being installed in off grid rural areas.

Quoting Grameen Shakti the report said, so far they have installed 1.70 lakh solar panels with an average per month installation rate of 8,000 panels which is being increased at a fast pace.

The NGOs are providing a wide range of power generating capacity of Solar Photo Voltaic(PV) panels from 30 watts to 120 watts. For example, a 50 watt PV panel can run four LED lights and one black and white television, according to Grameen Shakti sources.

The price for the whole SHS system including PV, battery, wire and other accessories ranges between Taka 21,000 and Taka 70,000 and consumers can purchase a solar home system both in cash and credit.

Recently Grameen Shakti started distributing 10 watt panel at a cost of Taka 8,500 targeting the very poor families so that they can run two to three lights.

To enjoy the credit facility, a customer is required to pay a minimum 10 to 15 percent of the total cost of a system as down payment, and rest of the amount can be paid in instalments within two to five years.

According to IDCOL ED Ehsanul Haque SHSs is the fastest growing mode of obtaining power in the world's renewable energy sector. Different African countries have been showing interest in the renewable energy sector as an answer to rural energy crisis.

Meanwhile, some top government officials from Ethiopia had been to Dhaka once last year and again early this year for familiarization with the IDCOL project model. The purpose of the visits was Ethiopian government's interest to replicate IDCOL SHSs. It remains to be seen how African countries including Ethiopia replicate IDCOL SHSs project.

Let us hope that IDCOL and its participating organizations would regularly monitor and address the problems of SHSs beneficiaries with promptness and seriousness so that the purpose of the project is fully achieved.


--
Gopinath S
Bangalore
9180 2669 8211
+91 99161 29728

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