Friday, April 11, 2014

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 [1].
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 [2].
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) [3]. 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 [3]. 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.