Of the 17 million homes in Bangladesh that are cut off from the electric power system, 3 million rely on energy from domestic solar panels called Solar Home System (SHS). In these mainly rural areas, the start-up Solshare installs nanogrids (basically micro-networks) that allow individuals to share their electricity with roughly a dozen other homes, of which some are equipped with solar panels and others not.
Nanogrids for sharing solar energy peer-to-peer
Since homes equipped with SHS often cannot even store all the energy they produce, while others don’t have access to electricity at all, Solshare has come up with a solution that allows users to resell their excess energy to their neighbours without in a peer-to-peer way.
More precisely, each homes is equipped with a Solbox SHS upon which they get to choose whether they wish to be a seller or a buyer of the energy produced (this of course only applies to homes with a solar panel). The data is stored in the network, and payments are processed through a phone application via credit or debit. Even in the case that one of the individual installations fails, by connecting several SHS to each other as well as to homes without electricity, the nanogrid can provide a consistent energy network for an entire village.
This system offers several benefits to the village inhabitants:
- They have a inexpensive and reliable energy source and are not dependant on the central energy system
- They can develop economic activities that consume energy, notably agricultural
- Their life quality improves through better connectivity
- By selling their excess energy, homes equipped with SHS have a new income source
Replicating the model with a network of partners
In 2014, the year Solshare was founded, a governmental program was launched to double the number of SHS in the country from 3 to 6 million, making Bangladesh the country with the strongest growing domestic solar market in the world. Developing Solshare’s, whose current economic model is based on selling its solutions for connectivity SOLbox and SOLcontrol, is therefore all the more important. At 30$ a pop, these boxes are a considerable investment for Bangladeshi who can finance these through micro-credits of 25 to 36 months. The startup envisions setting up 10 000 nanogrids by 2030, reaching a total of over one million users.
In order to do this, Solshare has developed a vast network of partners consisting of private companies that work on producing and developing the SHS, research institutions that specialize in energy and organizations or (semi) public institutions. The company has meanwhile gained international recognition, receiving both the Intersolar Award 2016 and the Momentum for Change Award from the United Nations in light of the recent COP 22.
Soleshare’s potential spans far greater than Bangladesh. With a price decrease of 80 % since 2010, the number of SHS should soon explode and spread to other parts of the world, notably to southern countries where electricity networks are often underdeveloped and function poorly. Of course, Solshare’s solution is not ideal for all areas. The nanogrid system fails for technical reasons in villages that are geographically disperse, therefore remaining limited to areas that are more densely populated and which can use the system effectively.
A further challenge Solshare faces is covering the exact amount of energy needed, without having to rely on additional storage, which can rapidly become a costly affair.
The real gold mine that the startup has not yet tapped into is the possibility to use and benefit from the data it’s boxes produce. This could not only further Solshare’s economic model but allow the company to better understand, develop and adapts its services.
Solshare’s technology will without doubt shake up village life. By transforming certain neighbours into producers and others into consumers, the sociological and relational repercussions of this remains a subject worth further research.
This story was originally published here
by Shabbir Evershine