It's been many years since private solar systems made inroads into coastal villages. Char Biswas in Patuakhali's Galachipa upazila, an isolated shoal that is home to 30,000 people has taken progress one step further. Since mid-August 2017, a solar power plant has been supplying a localised public grid.
“My children are really happy that we got electricity,” says housewife Aysha Begum, who pays around Tk 250 per month for the service.
“Power supplied to our homes was really unthinkable,” remarks the headmaster of the local Janata High School, Abu Bakor. “We live on a remote shoal!”
“People in the community are really pleased to have electricity,” agrees the local council's chairman, Mofajjel Hossain Babul Munshi.
Yet all share one complaint: the electricity is expensive for local household budgets.
Drawing energy from solar panels set up in a field and underpinned by industrial batteries, the 100-kilowatt power plant currently serves at least 60 homes and businesses via its three-kilometre power line network.
For Char Biswas it's really just the start, with an estimated 320 electricity connections required community-wide.
The project is the work of the local concern Green Housing and Energy Limited, with financial assistance from the government-established Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL).
“We chose to establish a solar plant here because there is no reasonable prospect of this area being attached to the national grid,” says the local managing director of IDCOL, Abul Hossain. “We supply power for four hours per day, from 6 to 10 pm.”
He quotes the electricity price as Tk 30 per power unit, with a non-refundable deposit of Tk 3,000 required to get connected.
“We hope to bring new development opportunities to shoal areas which are often neglected in this regard,” says Mushtaq Ahmed, Green Housing's managing director.
“Indeed we are in the process of constructing another plant of similar size on a neighbouring shoal, Char Kazol,” he adds. As for the price, he states that it is not determined by Green Housing but by the government.