Solaric takes green energy tech to next level
Solaric, a developer of renewable energy technology and products, is set to expand its operation in a bid to grab the country's growing solar energy market.
The US-Bangla joint venture company will open a new factory in Dhaka today to manufacture solar optimisers, a key component of solar home systems (SHSs) that increase power voltage.
Didar Islam, managing director of the company, said he developed the solar optimisers with a handful of Bangladeshi engineers.
The existing SHSs, he said, had limited load capacity, sufficient to run only a fan and a light bulb.
“But the solar optimisers now enable people to use anything they want with solar power, in the same way that we use electricity in our homes.”
The device converts 12 volts into 125 volts, the utility level voltage, allowing consumers to use laptops, TVs, fans, light bulbs and most importantly, charge their mobile phones -- a simple task that was not possible with the earlier versions of the system.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena is expected to inaugurate the 10,000 square feet-factory, which will double the company's production capacity to 15,000 units a month.
The company will also assemble LED bulbs and energy-efficient fans at the plant located in the neighbourhood of Bhatara in the capital.
Solaric is expanding its facilities in terms of production, customer base, business partners and investment to meet the growing demand for solar products at home and abroad, said Islam.
It aims to spend around Tk 40 crore ($5 million) on expansion this year.
The programme for installing SHSs in Bangladesh has the fastest penetration rate in the world, with the country installing more than 70,000 such units a month.
As of May, more than 3.1 million SHSs have been installed with support from the World Bank and other development partners, according to the Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Idcol), the implementing agency.
The total installed capacity of the SHSs is around 140MW, sufficient to provide clean electricity to 14 million rural people, Idcol said.
Only 42 percent of the population in rural Bangladesh has access to electricity, and reliance on the grid alone will not achieve the government's vision of universal access to electricity by 2021, WB said.
Off-grid SHSs have subsequently become the only option for electrification of the remote rural areas.
At Solaric, Islam, who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida in the US, has developed two kinds of solar home systems: the third generation SHS, which allows the use of standard appliances, costing between Tk 12,000 and Tk 35,000 and the nano-grid systems priced at Tk 8 lakh per unit.
The third-generation SHSs lowers system costs and provides maintenance-free operation, making it commercially viable and mitigating the need for subsidy or any grant for the solar system to be disseminated in the off-grid areas.
In the nano-grid system, a basic 1.5 to 3 kilowatts peak PV system is installed in a small cluster of households within a short radius of each other (ideally 230-250 metres) and power is distributed to the households from the system. The generation and storage of the system is 48 volt DC.
With nano, the cost per light per month is only Tk 20 against Tk 120 for kerosene lamps, Islam said.
To reduce the overhead of operation, pre-paid metering was introduced with a simple and standalone operation.
As of now, Solaric through its partners such as Grameen Shakti, Brac and Palli Daridro Bimochon Foundation have reached 4,000 villages, 65,000 households and business facilities and connected 100,000 people at home and abroad.
In addition to its local operation, Solaric is closely working with foreign partners in many countries such as India, Nepal, Tanzania, Malaysia and Myanmar to export the technologies.
The company, which set up the first factory in Badda in 2011, has 235 employees and the new factory will employ more than 150 people.
Solaric, short for Solar Intercontinental Ltd, is 80 percent owned by Islam and 20 percent by American investment firm SEAF BV. The company last year generated $4.9 million in revenues and is projected to earn $10.5 million this year.
For more than 14 years, Islam lived the American dream working as an electrical engineer for top companies.
After securing a position in the national merit list in both SSC and HSC exams from Jhenidah Cadet College, he enrolled at the Dhaka Medical College only to leave out of boredom just after three months.
He decided to study electrical engineering instead and waited nine months to sit the next admission test at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Upon graduation, he took a job as a lecturer at BUET, which he quit within a year for further studies in the US.
In early 1996, he designed the first single chip radio in the world called QWIKRADIO, which earned him 10 US patents.
“It was a technological breakthrough that many electrical engineers dream of. It was also financially very rewarding for me,” said Islam, adding that 50 percent of the new homeowners in the US now use the chip in their garage door openers.
Between 2001 and 2004, he worked at MAXIM, the world's largest analogue semiconductor company, as its design director of chips for portable power devices such as laptops.
In 2007, he finally decided to come back to Bangladesh with his family to concentrate on original research and innovation that can benefit the country's rural population.