Grameen Shakti for Renewable Energies
Dipal Barua of Bangladesh had won the 2009 Abu Dhabi government’s Zayed Future Energy Prize in recognition of his work of bringing renewable energy technologies to rural people. The prize included US$1.5 million, which Barua has used to start the Bright Green Energy Foundation. He is intent on making his country one of the world first “solar nations”. He wants to train 100 000 women entrepreneurs to set up their own renewable energy businesses by 2015; and Bangladesh can become a role model for the 1.6 billion energy-starved people all over the world .
He has devoted most of his life to finding sustainable, market-based solutions to the social and economic problems of rural people, and came to realize that lack of access to efficient energy sources was one of the major obstacles to their development. “More than 70 percent of my country’s rural population has to depend on primitive energy sources. This limits people’s economic opportunities and damages their health.” He said.
From Grameen Bank to Grameen Shakti
Barua was one of the founding members of the Grameen Bank, the Nobel price-winning micro-finance and community development bank launched in his home village of Jobra in 1976.
In 1996, Barua founded Grameen Shakti (GS), a non-profit organization with a mission to promote, develop and supply renewable energy. As managing director, Barua turned GS into one of the world’s largest and fastest growing renewable energy companies. But attempts to market affordable solar homes initially faced numerous obstacles.
In a country where some 40 percent of the population live on less than US$1.25 a day, the cost of even the most basic solar home system – 15 000 Bangladeshi Taka (US$212) – was beyond the reach of most rural households; even though for the cost of the kerosene people were buying to light their homes, they could buy a solar home system that would last for 20 years or more, with better, cleaner lighting thrown in along with numerous other uses of the electricity generated.
GS received a big boost in 2002 when low-interest loans from the World Bank and the Global Environment Fund enabled the organization to begin scaling up its provision of micro-finance agreements. The most popular option was a down-payment of 15 percent and monthly repayments of the remainder over three years.
By the end of 2009, more than 300 000 solar home systems had been installed, bringing electricity to more than 2 million people.
Women the key to success
The key to GS’ success was the deliberate involvement of women in both the take-up of renewable energy, and the installation and servicing of the energy systems.
“Women are the main victims of the energy crisis. They are the ones who suffer most from indoor air pollution, drudgery, and a lack of time because of the onerous task of wood-gathering and cooking.” Barua said. He believes that women should be transformed from passive victim into active forces of good to bring changes in their lives and the communities in which they live.
At more than 40 technology centres based in rural areas, and managed mostly by female engineers, women undergo an initial 15 day course to learn how to assemble charge controllers and mobile phone chargers, and to install and maintain solar home systems. With further training, they are able to repair the systems. Thousands of women technician have come through the programme, and they have been instrumental in the rapid take-up of the solar power systems. For Barua, the success of the women technicians programme is one of his most satisfying achievements.
The women now earn around US$150 a month. “These young women from this most conservative of societies can leave home and operate independently as technicians – this as unimaginable only a few years ago.”
Grameen Shakti for renewable energies
GS was established as a not-for-profit company in 1996 with a mission to empower the rural people with access to green energy and income. The Chairman from the beginning was Professor Muhammed Yunus, and the Managing Director, Dipal Barua .
Some 60 percent of the Bangladesh population have no access to grid electricity and rely on kerosene for lighting, while 97 percent of the population depend on biomass for cooking.
The work of GS is mainly focussed on solar energy, biogas, organic fertiliser, and improved cooking stove (ICS) . Apart from selling and providing microcredit for installing solar systems, biogas plants and ICSs, GS also organises technical training, maintenance, after sales service and introduces these products at the mass level.
More than 315 000 units of solar energy system have been installed in remote rural areas of Bangladesh by December 2009, with a combined power generation capacity of 63 MW. Some 13 000 solar energy systems are installed per month. People are saving money that they have had to spend on traditional fuels, and at the same time cutting greenhouse emissions.
GS has been operating biogas plants in different areas of Bangladesh since 2005 . Approximately 8 000 biogas plants have been installed by December 2009, and high quality organic fertiliser is being produced from the slurry of biogas plants.
The ICSs are 50 to 60 percent more efficient than the traditional stoves they replace; and over 45 000 have been constructed so far.
Innovative financing and marketing
Much of GS’s success is put down to its innovative financing: a small down payment of 15 or 25 percent, and a payback period over 3 or 2 years . There is free maintenance during the repayment period and low-cost warranty after that. The people involved in providing these services are community-based social engineers and entrepreneurs who understand rural people, and are committed to creating jobs for local youth and women. Motivational programmes include scholarship for school children of solar system owners. The financing also includes consumer (and environment) friendly practices such as buy-back systems and removal of dead batteries.
GS is  “blending market forces with adaptive technology”. It enables households to share a solar home system to reduce cost and increase income. Mobile phone centres are operated with solar powered mobile phones. Solar powered computers have been installed in remote offices in Sandip and Bagerhat; and solar powered computer training centres are opened in Tangail. Solar home systems have been installed in schools.
Massive training programmes throughout the country
GS’s mass training programmes are absolutely essential for its success. GS has trained 3 000 local women technical to maintain, repair and assemble the solar system. It focuses on training poor disadvantages rural women as solar technicians so that they can find decent jobs right in their villages. They can also set up small businesses at their homes to assemble solar accessories. In its 45 Grameen Technology Centres, green jobs are created for women to support GS’s services. In these centres, solar accessories are assembled, repaired and installed. The centres provide maintenance for solar home systems and ICSs. GS plans to increase its technology centres to 100 by 2011.
GS is training families on the use and marketing of bio-slurry. Training manuals are being developed on solar PV technology, and bio-slurry organic fertilizers. In addition, more than 11 600 school children from rural areas have learned about renewable energy technologies and more than 53 900 rural women have learned to take care of the system installed in their homes .
Rich financial rewards from renewable energies
Renewable energy generated by the GS systems save approx. Taka306 crore of foreign currency (~US$43.3 million) every year. Reducing 232 000 tonnes of carbon emissions, whose carbon trading value is approx. Taka16.28 crore per year (~US$2.3 million) . With the expansion of ever-increasing programmes, GS carbon trading values will double at the end of 2010, and this increasing trend will be sustained in the years to come.
Mainstreaming renewable energies
GS has installed solar energy systems for BTS Grameen Phone. It has successfully installed four solar systems for towers, each 6.5 KW capacity at different locations as pilot projects. There are more than 22 000 mobile phone towers in Bangladesh, and there is a good possibility for GS to power those towers with solar energy systems.
GS has installed a solar power system at a ‘high end’ restaurant, NANDO’s in Gulshan, Khaka. A solar irrigation pump is being installed in Naogoan with financial assistance of the Bangladesh government’s Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL). Another irrigation pump may be installed with financial assistance of Denmark in the near future.
A programme has been taken to familiarize and launch solar thermal water heater, which will decrease demand for electricity and gas in domestic buildings, and eventually save energy demand from national grids.
In August 2009, the Central Bank of Bangladesh has undertaken to guarantee small scale loans provided by commercial banks for solar and biogas projects, and industrial effluent treatment facilities . The Central Bank will charge a five per cent interest rate to commercial banks, which will charge interest rates of up to 9 percent to their clients. The refinancing scheme will give preference to loans for effluent treatment plants, which were recently ruled as mandatory for industrial sites by the country’s High Court. Tanneries and factories without such a system in place by June 2010 will face closure.
A renewable future for GS and Bangladesh
GS operates its huge programme nationally with the support of 12 divisional offices, 110 regional offices, 726 branch offices and 45 technology centres staffed by approximately 5 000 .
In 2010, 200 ICSs and 50 biogas dedicated new branches will be launched to promote activities; 14 ICS and 17 biogas branches has already been launched by January 2010.
GS plans to install and operate an additional 220 000 units of solar home systems, 16 000 biogas plants and 276 000 units of ICS by the end of 2010. For that, it hired 2 500 additional technical work force.
GS is going from strength to strength to secure a renewable future for Bangladesh.
GS has won numerous awards including the “European Solar Prize 2003” Germany, “Best Organisation Award 2005” UK, “Ashden Award 2006” UK, “European Solar Prize
2006”, the “Right Livelihood Award 2007”, and “Ashden Outstanding Achievement Award 2008” UK.