In Bangladesh 53% of the population are still not connected to the national grid and receive no electricity. The majority of those not connected are rural families and poor families who can't afford the connection and currently use kerosene or candles for lighting. Clearly one answer for the problem lies in solar energy. However when Banzaid began looking at this issue in 2011, existing solar power systems available in Bangladesh were all too expensive for poorer people to afford.
Starting in 2011 and going through to 2014, Banzaid partnered with Dimensions Ltd in an innovative project to set up the production and sale of an affordable solar units for use in rural Bangladesh. Dimensions is a local engineering company established by Kiwi entrepreneurs. They had specialised in backup and alternative power generation systems. They had been experimenting with solar power for small households, and developed a product that was both cheap enough to be widely affordable and would also provide income through the establishment of assembly and sale centres in selected village areas.
The product developed by Dimensions is based on a 12 volt system using LED light strips with the capacity to provide lighting and mobile phone charging for a village household. The target sales price for the unit was only Taka 7,500 (NZ$150). Phase two of the project was the establishment of small business units to handle local assembly and sale of the units, including training of local entrepreneurs in the necessary manufacturing and business skills.
In the time taken to develop the unit, global solar research progressed rapidly. When we began there were no cheap units readily available, but by the time Dimensions had their unit tested and ready for sale there was a similar influx of other units at a similar price. The competition is intense, and a 2017 report indicates that Bangladesh has one of the highest rates for the installation of small household solar systems.
The project received support from the Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) of the New Zealand Aid Programme, and attracted the attention of other groups who see wider potential for solar power units of this size.
Banzaid’s part in this project has finished. Dimensions continues to operate in Bangladesh, and to provide affordable solar systems.