Grameen Shakti lights up rural backwaters
Prof Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Shakti team were showered with praises from people of all strata for installing more than one million solar home systems across the country.
Economists, academics, development partners and diplomats also urged the Nobel laureate to move on to greater heights by lighting up the rural Bangladesh and transforming lives.
The acclaim came at an event, which was organised to celebrate the milestone set by Grameen Shakti.
Speaking at the programme at Radisson Hotel in Dhaka, Ellen Goldstein, country director of the World Bank, said this is an impressive achievement.
â€œWhen the programme was initiated, the target was only 500,000 solar home systems in five years. Now the partners are installing 60,000 systems per month.â€
â€œThis is an astonishing achievement and sounds something in the science fiction. This is a perfect example of a well-structured public-private partnership under a well-managed financing system.â€
She said the World Bank spent $400 million globally to promote renewable energy in the first phase of the plan, and plans to spend another $150 million alone this year in the second phase.
The WB will support Bangladesh to move to a higher level like mini-grid and solar irrigation, Goldstein said.
The solar home systems are 100 percent Bangladeshi and operated by the local people, she said.
â€œThese have created opportunity for the rural population to buy electricity at affordable prices. The system has transformational effect on the lives of the children.â€
Hossain Zillur Rahman, a former caretaker government adviser, saluted Prof Yunus and his team for taking solar electricity to millions of people living in rural areas, instead of a few rich.
Ainun Nishat, vice chancellor of BRAC University, said the future would be in renewable energy and solar energy is coming in a big way.
â€œAt the international level, it is said that 'Think globally, Act locally'. We are proud that Grameen Shakti has acted locally to take lights to people,â€ he said.
The solar panels have empowered people, he said. â€œNow young girls and boys in the villages have access to information."
Rezwan Khan, vice chancellor of United International University in Bangladesh, said time has come to go beyond solar home system to solar irrigation and other areas.
Mahmud Malik, chief executive officer of Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL), thanked the development partners and the government for helping the country achieve its solar home system target before the deadline.
Dr Yunus, chairman of Grameen Shakti, said when the target was set five years ago, it seemed an impossible task.
â€œFinally, we have made it.â€
He reminded the audience of the very tough beginning of the project: â€œWe began 16 years back when panel price was high and kerosene price was low,â€ he said.
He congratulated the officials and employees of Grameen Shakti for achieving the milestone. â€œIt was not an easy task for them. They faced harassment, as many had thought the employees might have tried to impose something.â€
â€œThey have created trust about Grameen Shakti,â€ said Yunus, the founder of Nobel winning Grameen Bank.
Yunus also said, although Grameen Shakti has set a target to reach the two-million milestone within next three years, the officials and employees will be able to do so before the deadline.
Grameen Shakti is the largest single off-grid system in the world delivering solar home systems to rural people in Bangladesh since 1996.
About 50 percent population do not have access to grid electricity in Bangladesh.
The company accounts for more than 70 percent of the total solar home systems in the country.
Abser Kamal, acting managing director of Grameen Shakti, said about half of the population of the country come under darkness after sunset. They use kerosene to light their houses, which is neither healthy nor environment-friendly.
Anyone can buy a solar home system by paying a monthly amount in three years. It costs the same like one kerosene lamp for the same period.
Grameen Shakti is providing microcredits to help people buy solar home systems with a three-year monthly payment system.
â€œThe costing is the same as a family spends on kerosene,â€ Kamal said.
The company is directly or indirectly helping eight million people in Bangladesh to light their homes and business units using solar power.
Grameen Shakti was established by Dr Yunus to promote renewable energy technologies to the rural people to protect environment and improve living standards simultaneously.
The initiative has already won a number of prestigious awards both at home and abroad.
As of 2012, the company has also installed 595,516 improved cooking stoves and 24,206 biogas plants.
Every solar home system unit helps cut 0.232 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
Altogether, the solar home systems installed so far brought a CDM (clean development mechanism) benefit for Bangladesh at $2.32 million a year.
Bilkis Begum, who installed a solar home system at her home in Gazipur with the help of Grameen Shakti, described how the life of her family members has changed.
â€œMy sons are now able to study at night. I also prepare products from bamboo and canes at night with five women from the area.â€
â€œThey earn Tk 2,500 a month and I earn Tk 3,500 a month from the work,â€ she said, adding that it cost Tk 600 a month to buy kerosene earlier.
Dr Kamal Hossain, an eminent jurist, Rehman Sobhan, a renowned economist, Wahiduddin Mahmud and AB Mirza Azizul Islam, both former caretaker government advisers, and Salehuddin Ahmed, a former governor of the central bank, were also present.