Grameen Shakti
( 2007 , Bangladesh )

... for bringing sustainable light and power to thousands of Bangladeshi villages, promoting health, education and productivity.

...the future belongs to Renewable Energy Technologies. But unless this technology can reach the millions of rural people who suffer most from the energy crisis, it will not reach its full potential...


By 2007, Grameen Shakti had installed more than 110,000 solar home systems in rural Bangladesh. Today, they serve more than a million solar customers and light up 24,000 homes with solar power each month. The company has shown that solar energy applications can be scaled up massively and rapidly to provide an affordable and climate-friendly energy option for the rural poor.

Contact

Grameen Shakti
Managing Director Abser Kamal
Grameen Bank Bhaban
Mirpur-2
Dhaka 1216
BANGLADESH

Fax: +88 02 8013 559,
+88 02 8011 138
http://www.gshakti.org/

Biography

The company

Grameen Shakti (shakti meaning “energy” in Bengali) was created in 1996 as a not-for-profit company under the Grameen Bank. The goal of Grameen Shakti is to promote and supply renewable energy technology at an affordable rate to rural households of Bangladesh. Thus, their work not only focuses on the technical and capacity-building sides of renewable energy promotion. They have also adopted the Grameen Bank’s experience in micro financing to make renewable energy applications affordable for poor rural people.

In 2007, Grameen Shakti employed 1500 field staff, and had trained 1000 engineers and 1000 local technicians in renewable energy technology. These either work for Grameen Shakti or have started their own renewable energy businesses. The Founding Director of Grameen Shakti was Dipal Barua. Barua worked closely with Muhammad Yunus since 1976, and was a co-founder of the Grameen Bank (Yunus and the Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006). After having served as Managing Director of Grameen Shakti and Deputy Managing Director of Grameen Bank for many years, Dipal Barua left Grameen Shakti and set up the Bright Green Energy Foundation in 2010. The new CEO of Grameen Shakti (as of 2011) is Abser Kamal.

Installing renewable energy technologies in rural villages

By 2012, Grameen Shakti had built up a network of 1500 offices spread out across all of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, reaching out to the rural areas where 70% …

Grameen Shakti (shakti meaning “energy” in Bengali) was created in 1996 as a not-for-profit company under the Grameen Bank. The goal of Grameen Shakti is to promote and supply renewable energy technology at an affordable rate to rural households of Bangladesh. Thus, their work not only focuses on the technical and capacity-building sides of renewable energy promotion. They have also adopted the Grameen Bank’s experience in micro financing to make renewable energy applications affordable for poor rural people.

In 2007, Grameen Shakti employed 1500 field staff, and had trained 1000 engineers and 1000 local technicians in renewable energy technology. These either work for Grameen Shakti or have started their own renewable energy businesses. The Founding Director of Grameen Shakti was Dipal Barua. Barua worked closely with Muhammad Yunus since 1976, and was a co-founder of the Grameen Bank (Yunus and the Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006). After having served as Managing Director of Grameen Shakti and Deputy Managing Director of Grameen Bank for many years, Dipal Barua left Grameen Shakti and set up the Bright Green Energy Foundation in 2010. The new CEO of Grameen Shakti (as of 2011) is Abser Kamal.

Installing renewable energy technologies in rural villages

By 2012, Grameen Shakti had built up a network of 1500 offices spread out across all of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, reaching out to the rural areas where 70% of the country’s 135m inhabitants live. In these areas, there is no electricity grid and the population therefore often has no access to electricity. Through the village unit offices, Grameen Shakti promotes renewable energy technologies – especially solar home systems, which typically consist of a small 30-100 W photovoltaic panel connected to a battery for storage. By June 2007 Grameen Shakti had installed more than 110,000 solar home systems, with a capacity of about 5MW peak, covering 30,000 villages. The installation rate is growing exponentially. On November 30, 2012, Grameen Shakti reached the first milestone of 1 million installations, which was in fact planned to be achieved in 2015. In 2007, more than 4000 solar home systems were being installed per month. In addition, 4 wind energy plants and 3 solar thermal projects had been installed, and 9 solar-powered computer training centres had been created. Apart from this, a huge number of improved cooking stoves (560,000) and biogas plants (24,000) have been installed to serve the rural people who need renewable energy support most. The biogas programme is linked to the emerging poultry and livestock industry in Bangladesh with a focus on market slurry as a replacement for chemical fertiliser.

Involving the local community

Grameen Shakti has always sought to involve the local community in the planning, implementation and maintenance of solar home systems and has started a network of technology centres. The technology centres are managed mainly by women engineers, who train women as solar technicians. The women are equipped with tools to service and repair the systems in their areas, and to manufacture solar home system accessories. Seven technology centres are already in operation (as by 2007) and there are plans to expand to 30 technology centres and to train 2000 women technicians.

The benefits of solar home systems

Solar home systems are replacing kerosene lamps, avoiding the fumes and fire-risk of such lamps. Each solar home system saves about 375 kg CO2 per year. Owners of a solar home system also save about Tk 400 to Tk 500 (USD 6.00 to 7.50) per month on kerosene, which in many cases covers their loan repayment. Kerosene costs have risen by 60% in the past year, and are continuing to increase due to rising world oil prices and higher transport costs. They will increase further when the government reduces its subsidy of kerosene. Therefore the economic benefit of owning a solar home system will also continue to increase.

Solar home systems also bring significant social benefits. Many clinics use them to provide lighting during check-ups or operations. Schools also use them for lighting, and children also have a better environment for studying at home in the evening. The availability of power for mobile phone chargers has made it possible for more people to use mobile phones and to maintain contact with family members throughout Bangladesh and abroad. Women gain particular benefits from owning a solar home system. They feel more secure after dusk and can be more mobile. Since they usually spend more time in the home, they benefit most from the elimination of kerosene smoke. Many women have used the increased working time provided by the solar home system to start small-scale businesses such as poultry and handicrafts.

Solar home systems have significant income-generating potential. Many businesses can remain open for longer, including tailoring shops, restaurants and grocery shops. Solar home systems have also led to increased production in areas such as fishing, rice processing, poultry farming and handicraft. New jobs have been created for solar technicians, electronic repairers and in running community TV stations. New business opportunities are also made possible, such as renting mobile phone time. Grameen Shakti set up the micro-utility model to help shopkeepers get access to photovoltaic lights and extend their business hours. There were more than 10,000 micro-utility lights operating in rural market places in 2007.

The financing

Grameen Shakti has developed four different credit schemes to make the solar home systems affordable. Customers pay different proportions of down-payment and monthly instalment according to their circumstances, supported by low-interest loans that Grameen Shakti receives from the Dutch Stichting Gilles Foundation and from the World Bank through the Bangladesh Ministry of Finance’s Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL). Grameen Shakti has also received grants from USAID to cover their overhead costs, which has made it possible for them to deliver less expensive services. The company is widely recognised to comprise a strong business model based on vertical integration of solar home system technology and micro-finance. Grameen Shakti got its initial funds from the Grameen Trust and Grameen Fund. But the current (2007) massive scale-up is part of a World Bank and Global Environment Facility (GEF)-supported government programme, which was launched in 2003.

A role model for rural electrification

Grameen Shakti received the European Solar Award in 2003 and the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in the UK in 2006. Hermann Scheer, President of Eurosolar and a 1999 Recipient of the Right Livelihood Award has commented: “Grameen Shakti has pioneered ways to create awareness for solar energy, brought significant changes to the quality of life of rural people, and is achieving its overall goal to alleviate poverty in Bangladesh. In the future, the promotion of renewable energy in developing countries will depend on the development of rural renewable energy service companies (RESCOs). Grameen Shakti has created a sustainable business model, which could lead the way to start up other RESCOs and to promote rural electrification in developing countries.”

 
 

Interview with Dipal Barua

Questions asked in 2007

Q: In 2006 Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize, now Grameen Shakti wins a prize being dubbed the “Alternative Nobel Prize”. What do you think of this and what is the big difference between Grameen Bank and Grameen Shakti?

A: As an organization belonging to Grameen Family we were delighted when Grameen Bank won the Nobel Prize in 2006. This also inspired us to strive harder with our goal of reaching the rural people with renewable energy technologies. However, Noble Peace Prize was given to Professor Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank in recognition of their contribution for developing and implementing the innovative concept of micro-credit for poverty alleviation. This had no direct impact on recognizing the activities or contribution of Grameen Shakti as a separate organization. On the other hand, Right Livelihood Award recognizes Grameen Shakti as of one best model for promoting renewable technologies to the rural people of all classes. This is a tremendous achievement for us.

Q: Why do you work with solar home systems and not with other technologies? 

A: Though Promotion and Installation of Solar Home Systems is our biggest program, we are also working with biogas plants and Improved Cook Stoves. Around 2000 biogas plants and more than 3000 Improved Cook Stoves have been constructed, as of September 2007. We have also initiated a Tree Plantation Program. We started with Solar Home Systems because at that time this was the most important and suitable technology for us to adapt and install at the rural level. In the rural areas, people are deprived of electricity. We thought SHS can play a very effective role in bringing green electricity for better lighting for their children’s education, women can work and cook under improved light. They can watch television and listen to radio and increase their work hours and women can take part in home-based income generating activities after dusk.

At the end of 2005, we started our biogas program and in 2007 we started our Improved Cook Stoves Program.

Q: Do your villagers know how important projects like this are to prevent climate change? Or are they only interested in having electricity and power supply and do not actually care about where this come from? 

A: Yes, villagers are aware about the positive impact of the renewable energy technologies, they are using. Grameen Shakti (GS) has been proactive in developing awareness about renewable energy technologies, which includes information on health, economic and environmental benefits of using renewable energy technologies. Demonstrations are organized and leaflets distributed among villagers by GS Engineers at the field level. Villagers are also provided one day training on the use and impact of renewable energy technologies, when they install Solar Home Systems or construct biogas plants or Improved Cook Stoves. Grameen Shakti has also taken up a program to teach rural school children about renewable energy technology and its impact on the environment. More than 5000 rural school children have received exposure under this program.

Q: Women as technicians – this is a much more progressive idea than many western companies would think of. Where does this idea come from?  

A: Grameen Shakti like Grameen Bank has always been proactive in involving women in its programs. In this regard, Grameen Shakti has employed women engineers both at the head office and the field level, whenever possible. We found that in many cases women were better than men in fabricating solar accessories, installing, repairing Solar Home Systems and other related activities including developing awareness about renewable energy technologies and forging linkages with local communities.

Grameen Shakti has also always taken initiatives to promote renewable energy technologies among rural women by organizing demonstrations for them and training them on how to use and take care of the systems installed at their households.

Women are the main victims of energy crisis. They are the ones who suffer most from indoor air pollution, drudgery and other negative impacts of the energy crisis most rural communities face around the world. We at Grameen Shakti believe that women should be transformed from passive victims into active forces of good to bring changes in their lives and the communities in which live. That is why the concept of Grameen Technology Centers (GTCs) came about – the concept of transferring technology and knowledge to rural communities through their women. These GTCs would train rural women to be technicians who would promote, install and repair Solar Home Systems and other renewable energy technologies on behalf of Grameen Shakti. In this way, rural women would develop their self- confidence and at the same time get income generating opportunities to show their communities a way to solve the energy and environmental crisis they are facing.

Q: Is Grameen Shakti a Bangladesh only program? 

A: Currently Grameen Shakti is a Bangladesh only program. However we are looking forward to replicating our experience in other parts of the world. We have been already contacted by several organizations in Asia and Africa for this purpose. Many of them have visited GS and are planning to send additional staff for training and exposure.

Q: What are / were your major obstacles?

A: At the initial stage our main problems were lack of rural network, little awareness of renewable energy technologies, lack of trained personnel and financial resources.  Grameen Shakti has faced all these challenges successfully to develop one of the largest and fastest growing renewable energy technologies programs in the world.

Grameen Shakti plans to install one million Solar Home Systems by 2015. In order to achieve this goal we need to scale up and decentralize our activities at the local level especially fabrication, repair and maintenance of Solar Home Systems so that we can reach our clients with our services at minimum cost and least time. Our local GTCs have already started assembling SHS accessories with the help of locally trained women technicians. These women technicians have also started marketing, installing repairing and maintaining Solar Home Systems on their own. We hope to accelerate this and link up these women technicians with micro-credit to develop RET (Renewable Energy Technology) entrepreneurs at the rural level. These RET entrepreneurs will help us to expand and penetrate new markets for Solar Home Systems including other renewable energy technologies at minimum costs and also contribute to women empowerment. For example, many of these women technicians are not only promoting Solar Home Systems, they are also promoting and constructing Improved Cook Stoves successfully to their communities.

GS is also taking steps to diversify its products such as promoting LEDs, CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp) for energy-efficient lighting and small Solar Home Systems to reach low-income households. GS is also taking initiative to construct portable biogas plants and bottle biogas in cylinder. In famine hit areas of Bangladesh, GS has taken the innovative step of providing livestock to low income households for constructing biogas plants and given them the option to pay back through livestock or slurry. GS biogas plants have become popular among livestock and poultry owners who are using biogas for cooking, lighting and in many cases to generate electricity.

GS is also hopeful that micro-credit organizations and financial institutions will come forward to provide credit to its clients thus leading to further scaling up of its program.

Another major obstacle faced by GS is the rising price of solar panels and batteries.  GS is seeking joint ventures to assemble solar panels and batteries to solve this problem. Though Bangladesh Government subsidizes grid electrification, RET Organizations like Grameen Shakti does not enjoy any tax break. There is also huge tariff on import of raw materials needed for manufacturing solar accessories.

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