Lighting up the darkest island

Rasel Ahmed reveals about the solar mini grid that has illuminated the households of people living in Monpura island

darkest-islandMonpura is one of the remotest and darkest islands of the country under the sub district of Bhola. The island, which is home to more than 50,000 people, is very popular among the local travellers for its panoramic natural beauty.
Life is difficult in Monpura as the island is very vulnerable to natural disasters but inhabitants are hardworking. Life used to stop here after dusk as there was no electricity in Monpura even a few years back. The nearest grid connection is 57 kilometres away and there is very little chance of grid connection in the area due to technical challenges of installing grid connection.
People used to depends mostly on biomass (wood, straw, animal manure, forest debris etc) and liquid fuels like kerosene and diesel to meet their lighting demand. Liquid fuel such as kerosene and diesel are expensive and burning such fuels emit carbon and other health hazards to the atmosphere.
Collection of these biomass fuel was difficult and various disease including respiratory problem was common among the people of Monpura due to the smoke produced through biomass burning.
Although a number of households have been using Solar Home Systems (SHSs) to light their homes, many of them cannot afford it as it is expensive. Moreover through SHS, only light can be used for three to four hours at night but modern electronics like colour TV, fans, refrigerators etc. could not be used (such electronic items can be powered with larger SHS panels).
People of the area never had the hope of electricity until the installation of 177 kWp Solar Mini Grid Project (SMGP) by Solar Electro Bangladesh Ltd (SEBL). The objective of SMGP is to provide grid quality electricity to households and small commercial users and thereby encourage commercial activities in the project areas.
The SMGP is now supplying uninterrupted grid quality electricity to more than 500 households and 161 small business enterprises including a rice mill, an ice factory, two saw mills and two workshops.
After the installation of the SMGP, the lifestyle of the people has changed significantly. Shoppers who used to close their shops at night are now using not only colour television but also refrigerators in their shop. ‘My shop is now open till 11:00pm at night and people gather to watch drama or news on my colour television in the shop,’ says shopkeeper Faysal. He adds that sales of the shop has also increased.
Similarly, fisheries owners who used to sell fishes in the local haat could not keep their fishes for longer periods of time. They had to send their fishes to Barisal or Bhola to keep them under ice. Now due to power, the ice factory is providing the ice for fisheries.
The SMGP was financed by Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state-owned financial institution. The company is helping the sponsor to implement SMGP by providing financial and technical assistance. So far IDCOL has financed 18 SMGP on as many islands against a target of 50 SMGP by 2018.
The total project cost for installation of SMGP was BDT 68.40 million, of which an amount of BDT 34.20 million (50 per cent of the project cost) was provided as grant, BDT 20.52 million (30 per cent of the project cost) was provided as credit with an interest rate of 6 per cent and an amount of 13.68 million (20 per cent of the project cost) was invested as equity by the Sponsor company SEBL.
The average size of each SMGP is 100-250 kilowatt with a serving capacity to 500-1200 households including commercial consumer. ‘So far IDCOL has financed 18 SMGP of which seven is installed, 11 are under the installation process and 20 more projects are in the pipeline,’ said Enamul Karim Pavel, Head of Renewable Energy of IDCOL.
Although the SMGP tariff is higher compared to tariff set by government in the grid connected areas, but with the use of energy-efficient items, the cost has been reduced to an affordable level.

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