The Smart Villages Initiative continued its engagement in South Asia with a workshop held in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 26 August 2015. The aim of the workshop was to learn from Bangladesh’s experience in providing energy to off-grid rural communities through home-based electricity systems, in particular solar home systems (SHS), and solar/solar-hybrid mini-grids. The workshop also focused on the role of these off-grid solutions to stimulate livelihood generation.
Participants in the workshop were informed about the work of the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a government-owned financial institution under the Ministry of Finance, which continues to play a central role in promoting private sector financing in the infrastructure and renewable energy sector. Funding for the company comes from a number of stakeholders including the Government of Bangladesh and international donors. IDCOL works with partner organisations that are involved in the sale, installation, and maintenance of solar home systems. The company has also supported the installation of solar mini-grids for remote off-grid communities in the country.
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of installation of solar home systems in the world, however, there are a number of challenges to the continued sustainability of these systems in the country, including: developing a competitive low-cost solar home system manufacturing industry locally to reduce dependence on imports, developing and ensuring quality standards for these systems, and creating more sustainable business models. For solar mini-grids, challenges that emerge from the discussion include continued government support for mini-grids in areas where there is no grid expansion planned for the foreseeable future, financial barriers, and affordable tariffs for rural consumers.
Despite the challenges, there are a number of opportunities to further develop the off-grid energy sector. Innovations like solar DC nano-grids can help the development of a truly bottom-up electricity system that is controlled and operated by local communities. The productive use of electricity can be promoted in areas where there are solar mini-grids. This can have a positive impact on local income generation in these areas. There are also opportunities to develop alternate sources of power generation including through biogas systems that use locally available biomass.