Practical Applications of Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Electricity in Bangladesh

Dr.  Engr. Khursheed-UI-Islam Renewable Energy Consultant and Partner, ARMCO


Background - Development of Global Market Demand for Solar PV Electricity & Other RE Technologies

The Global "Energy Crisis" of 1973 - a situation created by the Oil Embargo, imposed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - triggered a series of 'Shock-waves' across the globe, which literally jolted the "Petroholic" human society back to their senses to become careful in the use of Fossil Fuel Resources and the look for solutions through the use of alternative sources of Energy. The human race, which, until then, had otherwise been lavish in their use of global resources, started realizing seriously for the first time that the fossil fuel resources of this planet are limited in their reserves. This 'crisis' initiated the first innovative thoughts and 'kicked off a series of market-oriented R&D activities by serious research institutions, as well as commercial companies all over the world, including large Oil Multinationals, to develop and market commercially applicable Renewable Energy (RE) Technologies and Systems, amongst which Solar PV occupies a key position. This initial ‘driving force' which created the first Market demand for Renewable Energy, was soon further reinforced by the 'big scare' of Global Warming, caused by the Greenhouse Gas Emission from Fossil Fuels.

Why Solar Energy ?

Let me answer this question with a Vision in future.

Pictures from Weather Satellites show something odd about our Planet - Earth. The familiar Icecaps are not there any more. A large part of Bangladesh , Maldives, St. Marshall and other lowlying countries of the world, lie submerged below the Oceans. So does a part of Florida. In Washington you can row from White House to the Capitol. The Sahara Desert is blooming again. Travel Agents are advertising on Chice Sea-shores in Sacranmento. But the Sand Dunes have began drifting across what used to be the Corn Belts of the North American Continent.

That could have been the Nightmare Scenario of the Earth, perhaps in less than a Century from now. No one knows for sure whether any of this nightmare will come true; but experts do know that mankind is now in a position that it has never known before.

"The world has never been faced with such a complex problem before-certainly not in the environmental area and probably nowhere else", said David Slade of the U. S. Department of Energy once thoughtfully.

However, as the human history teaches us, crisis situations in terms of dwindling global resources and visionary thoughts resulting out of such situations ~ no matter in which sector - have always Jolted' the human race back to their senses to be careful with global resources and find out appropriate alternative solutions. This too has already started to happen in the area of Energy use - to look for:

Environmentally Clean "Energy Sources of Tomorrow

Sun - an almost "Endless Source of Clean Energy."

About ninety three million miles away from our Planet, there burns in Cosmos, an almost endless source of Energy – the SUN, powered by its unique and magnificent self-sustaining thermonuclear fusion - the most Powerful Powerhouse of our Planetary

System, which sends to earth each year an Energy Input that is equivalent to 15,000 times the world's total Commercial Energy Consumption and more than 100 times the world's proven Reserves of Oil, Gas and Coal !!

Commercialization/Marketing of Solar PV Technology- -Global Constraints--Past, Present & Future Trends

Unfortunately, harnessing SUN's gigantic power on earth and the dissemination/commercialization of this technology through a serious teamwork between Scientists, Engineers, Economists and Market Experts had long remained a somewhat non-serious issue, when compared to the efforts that were being put for developing and commercializing more conventional energy technologies. On a global basis, not even 1/20th of the financial investments and technical efforts that were put in the past in developing and commercializing the Nuclear Energy, for example, were made available initially for developing and disseminating Solar Energy Technologies. Experts are aware, why it had been so in the past and why the Price of Solar Cells and Panels are still relatively high, although in the recent past it is dropping at a faster rate than expected.

It is easy to control and twist the price of the Fossil Fuels like Petroleum by ‘screwing up or down' its production and/or influencing the OPEC member countries, by the Oil Multinationals. But the dilemma has always been to put a Trice Tag' on the SUN and form 'Price Cartels' to control it, which such International Oil Companies - the Seven Sisters can easily do with prices and production of Fossil Fuels? Sun's endless clean energy is free and available for everybody on earth! Hence, more complicated control on the Market Pricing and Price Control Mechanisms through Price Control on Solar PV Equipment & Technology and the Inputs that go into Production of Solar Photovoltaic Cells & Panels for its commercial use, needed to be globally thought out. Manipulating the Price of Silicon Ingots - the major Raw Material from which PV Cells & Panels are produced - is still being used as a major Strategic Parameter to control the Cost of Solar PV Cells and Panels. Solar PV Technology is now totally proven, only what needs to be done is the reduction of the Price of PV Cells & Panels. The time for Price reduction is, however, now ripe, driven by the 'big scare of Global Warming', as well as the deminishing Global Reserves of the Fossil Fuels, which, at the present dynamic growth rate developed and developing nations alike, is expected to be exhausted in next 65 to 100 years at the most!

However, the 'Good News' is that the multinational Oil Companies, have themselves now entered the 'Solar game', investing millions dollars for cost optimization of Production Processes and corresponding Costs for Solar Cells Panels through industrial R&D activities, as well as actual manufacturing and dissemination/ marketing of Solar PV Panels & Systems, realizing the fact that this "endless source of clean energy" can sustain their future Energy Business on long term - when all Fossil Fuels, especially Oil reserves of this planet will be depleted. The Energy Vision of this Millenium is Alternative Energy Technology. The largest share of such a diversification of Energy Technology will be in the form of Production and Marketing of Solar PV, Wind, Bio-mass and other Renewable Energy Equipment, Systems and Technologies.

The development of the Cost Scenario of Solar PV - its past, present and future - is very important as a parameter which determines its Market Penetration in developing countries like Bangladesh the PV Module price dropped from several hundred US dollars per Peak Watt (Wp) in 1970 to abt. US$ 5 - 6/Wp in the mid Nineties. This is a real impressive cost-reduction ratio of over 1 : 20 over the last 20 years !! With the 'Cost-Barrier' gradually reducing, the Solar PV Capacities globally rose from a humble 1 MW, 20 years ago from now, to the current world wide SPV Capacity of over 190 MW- a growth rate that equates' to an avg. of over 30% per annum. This is abt.3 times the average annual growth rate of conventional electricity capacities on a global basis. The target is to reach at least US$ 21Wp (i.e. US$ 200OlkWp) or even below (abt. US~ 0.50/Wp). When this is achieved, which is expected to happen soon (possibly by Year 20082010), the Solar PV will become economical as Grid-interactive Systems, especially in 'Sun-rich' developing countries like Bangladesh.

Application of Solar PV in Electrification of Remote Rural areas of Bangladesh

Less than about 20% of Bangladesh's population have access to the major Secondary Energy Electricity, which stays at the middle-point of all development activities. Being primarily an agro- based country, the major population of Bangladesh - abt. 105 million, live in rural areas. Only a little over 2 million consumers in rural area could be connected to Grid Electricity through Rural Electrification Board (REB)/Palli Bidyut Samity (PBS)'s Grid over the past two decades. It is estimated, however - based on the degree of inaccessibility/remoteness and the dispersed location of Households (1hinload` areas) - that at least about 20-25% of the rural areas of Bangladesh shall not be able to enjoy the facility of conventional grid electricity in foreseeable future. In India, for example, this is about the percentage of Rural Consumers, who could not yet be accessed by the grid electricity, whereas India started with their Rural Electrification Programme much earlier than Bangladesh

The first (62kw) solar PV pilot project at Narsingdi

Inspite of the present high level of PV costs, we, in Bangladesh, have already initiated the first practical steps towards field-testing its Market Potential, through Pilot/Semi-comercial PV Projects. PV Applications in the 4 isolated Islands of Meglina river in Narsingdi - Karimpur, Natunbazar, Alipur and Panchabati - are.for Rural Solar Home Systems, which provide about 62 kW of Solar PV Electricity to 795 Rural Consumers by using both Stand-alone type, as well as Central Battery Charging PV Systems to operate Lights, Fans, TV/Radio/Cassette etc. APEX INGENEURIE, France, supplied the PV Equipment and the entire Project was implemented by a Bangladeshi Engineering firm -ASSOCIATED RESOURCES MANAGEMENT CO. (ARMCO), specialized in Energy, Power and Renewable Energy in particular. FONDEM, France did the initial (Conceptual) Design, and selected the Site, based on a Socio-economic Study and Site Survey, conducted by Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS).

The Project is operating successfully since its commissioning in 1996/97. The degree of Consumer-satisfaction is demonstrated by a regular Bill Payment by the Consumers, the Bill Recovery Rate being over 90%. Although a low profile' Project in terms of its total cost (about US$ 1.5 million), this Pilot Project has attracted the attention of a large number of International Donor Agencies (e.g. The World Bank, GEF, ADB, USAID,CIDA etc.) and has acted as a 'Flagship Venture' in encouraging a series of PV and other Renewable Energy Projects by public, private and NGO Institutions. Private, totally commercially-oriented Companies like Rahim Afrooz, Micro Electronics, Siemens and reputed NG0s like Grameen Bank, BRAC, ANANDO etc., have programmed and ventured in a much serious and larger way into the Renewable Energy sector, since implementation of this Pilot Project.

'Feed-Back’ and lessons learnt from Narsingdi PV pilot project

The Objective of the Narsingdi Pilot PV Project was to test the various Commercial PV Systems under the Rural socio-economic conditions of Bangladesh and apply the 'Feed-backs'/Lessons learnt, while replicating all future PV Projects in the country. The major Lessons learnt through this Pilot PV Project are the following:

Stand-alone PV Home Systems are more popular than those where Deep Cycle Storage Batteries need to be transported to and from a Central PV Battery Charging Station.

There is a necessity and ample scope to improve upon the Maintenance 1 Repairs and Monitoring of the Systems and Services to Consumers

There is a need also to try Solar A.C. (Alternating Current) based 'Mini Grid' System, which is able to provide a higher load (about 150200 W) and will allow use of readily available Grid Appliances (normal Lamps, A.C. Fans etc.)

There is a lack of interest and dynamism in replicating 1 disseminating Renewable Energy Projects of this type amongst the GOB implementing institutions. Maintenance, Monitoring and further Project/Fund development activities of future Solar PV and other Renewable Energy Projects are not being given the due serious consideration they deserve from concerned GOB institutions, who, apparently are more pre-occupied with Conventional Electric Supply.

The future

The Solar and Other Renewable Energy Technologies (Wind Power, Bio-mass, Bio-gas, Geothermal, Oceanic Tidal, Oceanic Thermal etc.) are no more 'Pipedreams'. Many of them, especially the Solar PV, and Wind Power Generation, have crossed the threshold of large scale Commercial Applications. These "Energy Sources of Tomorrow' - as already mentioned -are expected to penetrate at least abt. 40-50% of the total global

Energy-mix in the next 40-50 years. There is no better choice in sight to mitigate the Greenhouse Gas generation and the related problem of Sea level Rise to save our Planet than to gradually switch over to Renewable Energy.

Diversifications

Diversifications of Solar PV are also being planned and tried in a Pilot scale first, later to be scaled up and commercially applied. Apart from Rural Home use, the Solar PV Water Pumping, especially for Rural Water Supply, using Solar Deep-well Pumps, is the next Market trial target. Other major Diversifications will take place in practically testing the Hybrid Systems, for example, PV-Diesel, PV-Biomass and PV-Wind could be very appropriate for Rural areas and Coastal belts of Bangladesh, as such Systems offer better 'System Reliabilities'. Larger capacity Low Tension Central Grid (A.C.) Systems also need to be field-tested in pilot scale for later Commercial Operation under Bangladesh conditions.

Conclusions - Investment potential by the private sector

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), created by the World Bank and a number of other international donor agencies are now encouraging the private-sector investments in these areas and supporting them with finance. Apart from this, a number of Private-sector Companies and reputed NonGovernment Organizations (NG0s) like BRAC, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), ANANDO (German backed-up) etc. are operating in this sector, even if - at present price situations of Solar PV the commercial returns are. either very slow and/or negative now. This, they are doing, looking, naturally at its enormous future Commercial Market Potential. Being inspired by the success of the Narsingdi Pilot Project, further replication of the same are now being sought through international finances, e.g. materilization of 6000 Household Solar PV Electrification and Planning & Implementation of typical 25 - 50 kW 'Mini-Grid' (A.C.) PV-Diesel Hybrid Systems

We are quite confident that the Solar PV - now being a field-proven technology, such bold and visionary investments made to-day, can really 'spark-off’ the beginning of a long journey into the realm of Commercial Applications of Solar PV and other Renewable Energy Technologies for enhancing the quality of life of the people in developing countries like Bangladesh, especially in rural areas. So let's march forward with the rest of the world to harness the "most Powerful Powerhouse of our Planetary system", as we call it, and "plug even the remotest rural area of Bangladesh to this gigantic source of energy - the SUN!"

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