The idea of making money by sharing excess power of solar home systems has got a tremendous response both in Bangladesh and abroad
- Households owning home solar power systems can earn money by sharing surplus electricity with neighbours
- Energy will be transferred from households to a local micro-grid that other Solshare users are part of
- Those needing extra power can buy it
- Solshare won Ashden Award 2020
- The company plans to have at least 100,000 Bangladeshis share solar power over the next five years
Bimal Das, a dispensary owner in a remote area of Patuakhali in Barishal, used to light his house with kerosene-fueled lamps.
But now his house has electricity through Solshare, a start-up that helps rural Bangladeshis owning home solar power systems trade their surplus electricity with their neighbours.
Recently, he earned Tk2,000 by selling electricity to his neighbours from the solar panel installed in his house. The money brought him enormous joy during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that left businesses in tatters and led to a financial crisis worldwide.
Not only Bimal, but households across different remote rural areas in Bangladesh are also making money from their solar home system (SHS) besides enjoying affordable electricity.
Solshare's idea of making money by sharing excess power of the SHS has got a tremendous response both in Bangladesh and abroad as the start-up recently won the Ashden Award 2020, an international award for climate change innovation.
The SHS is not a new thing for electrification in off-grid or remote areas. Bangladesh is one of the world leaders in solar home systems with more than five million units now in place.
Salma Islam, a project manager at Solshare, said: "The uniqueness of our programme is that we have created a device that enables people to share their excess energy, and help them make money."
"In conventional solar home systems, people used to waste around 30 percent of the energy during the peak daylight hour. But our device reduced the waste by helping them share the extra energy," she added.
How energy is shared in Solshare
In a normal solar home system, each system has a panel and a battery to store the energy harnessed from sunlight. The system wastes the energy once the battery is full and there is no use.
On the other hand, in Solshare system, each household has to set up a Solbox is a bidirectional IoT (Internet of Things) smart metre alongside the panel and battery to be connected to a microgrid.
Using this electronic metre, the owner can transfer excess energy to a local microgrid that other Solshare users are part of, allowing those who need more power to buy it, and thus reduce waste.
Solbox has three modes – buy, sell and auto.
Salma said, "If someone puts the device in auto mode, it will automatically start selling energy once the battery is full."
The technology interconnects households and microbusinesses with and without solar home systems, allowing users the freedom to use energy as a producer, prosumer or consumer.
"A household that cannot afford the solar home system can also enjoy electricity through Solbox," Salma said.
Currently, there are 659 Solboxes in 30 operational microgrids, including two in Assam, India.
The system has helped improve livelihoods through greater economic returns, increased resilience and creating alternative income-generating opportunities, Salma added.
Difference between mini-grid and Solshare's P2P grid
Currently, there are around 26 solar mini-grids in different off-grid areas across the country.
Infrastructure Development Company Ltd and other organisations have implemented these projects with the help of the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority, an entity of the Power Division.
These grids also distribute electricity to marginalised people in remote char and island areas.
Salma told The Business Standard that their system is decentralised.
"On the other hand, mini-grids are centralised where electricity comes from a single source and the money is going out of the community. But in our system, a household owns the solar panel and the money stays in the community if they trade their additional energy with their neighbours," she explained.
She further said that Solshare has an area manager and engineer in each micro-grid who are from that particular community.
With Solshare's swarm electrification approach, villagers become solar entrepreneurs and earn money, she added.
Solshare officials said the company is aiming to spread the model across the country on a larger scale.
They said the company hopes to expand their model to allow at least 100,000 Bangladeshis to share solar power over the next five years.
The company is also in talks with a US-based international organisation to set up similar microgrids in the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar.
As part of the plan, it has also engaged with the Bangladesh government regarding an on-grid energy supply, where Solshare will be empowered to bundle individual solar home systems and sell this power to the national grid.