Bangladesh energy start-up SOLshare wins Ashden Awards for climate change innovation

  • News Desk, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-07-03 23:59:05 BdST

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SOLshare, a renewable energy-based peer-to-peer trading platform in Bangladesh, has won Ashden Awards for creating a new approach to bring affordable solar electricity to everyone.

Ashden announced a total of 11 winners from the UK and developing countries in a video celebration featuring films of the organisations on Thursday.

SOLshare, set up in 2014, helps rural Bangladeshi owners of home solar power systems trade their surplus electricity with their neighbours.

Ashden chose it in Energy Access category from over 200 applicants for their work creating resilience, green growth, and fairer societies.

The start-up aims to stem the waste of more than a billion dollars in energy each year when home battery storage systems connected to solar panels reach capacity and excess solar power generated goes unused, its officials said.

“Less energy is wasted, and more people are connected,” the Ashden Jury said of SOLshare in a statement. The British charity works to scale up climate-smart energy solutions.

Dubbed as the AirBnB of the energy off-grid space, SOLshare interconnects solar home systems, monetising excess solar energy in real time with mobile money and empowering rural communities to earn a direct income from the sun by turning passive consumers into active “prosumers”.

“We believe that our smart peer to peer grids can be the future for energy utilities globally,” the company said in a statement.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s leaders in solar home systems for off-grid communities, with more than 5 million of the systems now in place.

“We have created a device that can share the surplus energy and help people earn money for it,” said Salma Islam, a project manager at SOLshare, based in Dhaka.

Using an electronic unit installed alongside their solar system, owners can transfer excess energy into a local power “microgrid” created with other SOLshare users, allowing those who need more power to buy it and cutting waste.

“If someone puts the device on automode it will automatically start selling energy once its (battery is) full,” Islam said.

Homes that can’t afford to buy solar panels also can buy electric power through the system.

 

SOLshare is only the fourth Bangladeshi company to receive this award ever. Grameen Shakti was the last Bangladeshi organisation to win the award 12 years ago. It is now a strategic partner of SOLshare.

SOLshare is providing an income to so many local entrepreneurs and proving that decentralised networks can be the future, Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb said, describing the Bangladeshi firm as a “true pioneer”.

SOLshare has started providing an energy subsidy across all its SOL grids to ensure villagers have the means to spend on basic necessities such as food and hygiene, as well as it is in the process of providing healthcare packages across all its smart micro grids across the country to ensure basic medical provisions are available.

The company is now eyeing productive energy use appliances for ready-made garment workers in remote communities who have lost jobs in Dhaka and had to go back to their villages for a livelihood, with efforts to develop platforms for stable electricity and internet access in remote villages to facilitate access to online classes.

“One important insight we had at SOLshare is that access to electricity is critical for a remote village, but it is the flexibility and profitability of energy usage that provides the key ingredient for innovation and sustainable development in a wider sense” SOLshare’s Co-Founder and CEO Sebastian Groh said.

Bangladesh’s government, which aims to boost its use of renewable energy to 10% of electrical power demand by next year, said it saw SOLshare’s device as a useful part of the push.

“We welcome this,” said Mohammad Alauddin, chairman of Bangladesh’s Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority, lauding the company’s grassroots focus.

He said the country is exploring a range of ways to improve access to solar energy, from adding more rooftop panels to installing some solar panels on floats on water bodies.

Bangladesh, however, also plans to build new coal-based power plants over the next two decades, which are likely to dramatically boost its dependence on highly polluting coal, according to environment groups.

The country’s main source of energy is natural gas but reserves are dwindling, according to its government.

CHEAP SOLAR

SOLshare officials said they have set up 27 “microgrids” in communities that have installed their devices across Bangladesh. A majority of their roughly 3,000 customers - most of them farmers - earn less than $5 a day, they said.

Previously, many users who couldn’t afford a basic solar home system relied on polluting and expensive fuels like kerosene or on diesel generators, the company said.

SOLshare has helped cut use of such fuels, while expanding access to electricity for those who lack it, according to Ashden.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of Bangladeshis to return to their villages from cities, causing a spike in electricity use in some of SOLshare’s microgrids, company representatives said.

To help ease the burden on hard-hit families, the company decided to temporarily remove the small surcharge normally levied on sellers of power, Islam said.

With some charitable funding the company also has supplied medical packages to rural communities and plans to deliver sewing machines to garment workers who lost their city jobs, she said.

The company is also in talks with the United Nation’s refugee agency to create similar microgrids in the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, home to more than 800,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar.

SOLshare officials said they hope to scale up their business to allow at least 100,000 Bangladeshis to share solar power over the next five years.

The aim is to help people “live by using what is already there” and to harness “existing and underutilised resources”, said Groh.

One of those who has benefitted from the technology is Bimal Krishna Das, 40. He said his pharmacy business in Barishal had taken a hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

By selling electricity, he said, he was able to raise extra funds he desperately needed.

“It’s such a relief to have some extra money in your pocket during this crisis,” he said.

 

[With inputs from Reuters]