By Faisal Mahmud
A solar mini grid established under a public-private joint initiative transformed the lives of a remote river island in Bangladesh
A year ago Paratoli Island in Raipura Upazila of Narshingdi district in Bangladesh was almost entirely in darkness.
People walked to get from one place to another, and life was at a standstill as this nine square kilometres remote river island (called Char in Bangladesh) had no electricity.
Today it’s a different place.
It has three engine rickshaws now (popularly known as easy bikes).
“People can now travel quickly and comfortably. It costs me around Tk 250 to charge batteries of the three vehicles and I make around Tk 500 daily,” owner Nazir Hossain said.
Tea stall owner Siraj Mia, has installed a refrigerator in the past two months. “I now have ice cream in my shop and children can buy it. This was unthinkable a few months ago,” he said.
Paratoli has witnessed this magical transformation because of the introduction of a 141kb (kilobyte) solar grid electricity system by Shouro Bangla Ltd in April 2016.
The solar mini grid in Paratoli Photo: Faisal Mahmud
“Years ago, Paratoli was in dark except few households that used expensive solar panels on the rooftops at a cost of over Tk 40,000. The power from those panels did not last longer than three hours. Now they have uninterrupted supply,” the director of Shouro Bangla Ltd, Sabbir Choudhury said.
How a solar mini grid changes an island (Narrated Audio-Video slideshow)
How the power supply works?
A nine kilometre long transmission line runs throughout Paratoli. The solar grid supplies uninterrupted electricity to 724 households and 124 small-scale industries.
The mini grid had already provided connections to 613 families, lighting up the lives of nearly 5,000 people on the island. The solar panels are spread across 0.9 acres land.
“There is nothing manual as state-of-the art technology has been used,” Sabbir observed.
The sun on solar panels generates DC (Direct Current) electricity which is fed into a solar inverter. It converts it into 220V and 50Hz AC electricity.
During day, electricity is used to power appliances in homes. Simultaneously, it is stored in a series of high-capacity batteries that supply uninterrupted power at night.
Each household or connection has a smart meter and smart card.
“Suppose one customer needs 10 units for a month; he comes to the plant and punches it into the machine and input 10 units against the card. The customer then goes back to the house and punches the card in his house meter. We update in the system against his ID and direct 10 units of electricity against that connection,” said Sabbir.
Each unit of electricity cost Tk 30. “The price is high but if you consider the usage per unit, then the cost isn’t that much because here, one unit lasts three times the time in urban areas as the load is very low,” he said.
People use electricity for lights, fans, charging mobiles and sometimes freezing. Sabbir said the average electricity bill of households was around Tk 700 to 800 per month.
The funding for the project
The solar mini grid project in Paratoli cost $800,000. The World Bank provided half the funding and Shouro Bangla Ltd borrowed the rest through the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state-owned non-bank financial institution under soft loan for solar-powered projects.
CEO and Executive Director of IDCOL Mahmud Malik said that at present there are 18 Solar Mini-Grid Projects, among which 7 are operational. He said that solar mini grid is a better option for the people in off-grid areas as it provides with continuous electricity.
“The government has plans to establish 50 such plants by 2018 and we are working to fulfill its plans.”