The SOLshare project was developed in order to provide off-grid Bangladeshi populations with an accessible and affordable energy solution. SOLshare focuses on both the 12 million households that have neither access to the national grid nor their own Solar Home Systems (SHS), and use expensive kerosene and car batteries as their primary source of energy, as well as on the 3 million households that have their own SHS. For both target groups the situation can be significantly improved by SOLshare.

Households that have their own SHS face the problem of underutilized generation capacity, due to the battery capacity limits and time-varying consumption requirements, while other households do not have any access to electricity at all. Therefore, the market opportunity lies in connecting these two types of households to enable energy exchange between these households. This will create a more cost effective, efficient, reliable and flexible electricity supply. In contrast to the mini-grid approach, the SOLshare grid will be decentralized in terms of energy storage as well as energy production which lowers performance risks due to risk diversification, enabling the grid to grow dynamic. This concept is called “Swarm Electrification” and was developed by the German company MicroEnergy International, the mother company of SOLshare. Furthermore, Swarm Electrification has the advantage of being compatible with microfinance, making it fundable for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), enabling them to take things into their own hands. Once the BoP is able to exchange electricity, they will also be able to buy electricity from and sell electricity to each other, making them consumers and producers of electricity at once (so called prosumers), creating new and gender neutral business opportunities, as the physical barriers are eliminated.

As the performance of existing solar home systems improve with Swarm Electrification, SOLshare will also enable end-users to use new kinds of technologies and devices that require more power than a typical SHS can provide. This includes services related to education, for example the ability to provide sufficient light for a classroom. Entertainment devices such as TV’s, DVD players and computers are possible with Swarm Electrification, which will increase the quality of life as well as social interaction and give access to more information, which is again useful for raising the level of education. Additionally, higher capacities and reliability of energy supply will facilitate the utilization of more devices for productive use and therefore increase productivity and income.

In addition to the socio-economic impacts, this innovative approach will also have a substantial environmental impact, mainly due to the reduction of CO2 emissions on a long-term basis.

Objectives and beneficiaries

Only 60% of Bangladesh’s population is connected to the national grid, and this electricity is not supplied to the majority of the rural population. However, with Solar Home Systems (SHS), consisting of a 20 to 85Wp solar panel, a battery, and a charge controller, has begun to electrify Bangladesh’s rural communities. More than two million SHS have already been installed by Partner Organizations (POs) (such as Grameen Shakti and BGEF), who cater to the energy needs of the un-electrified rural population. Currently, these POs are expanding their customer base at a rate of 67,000 systems per month, making Bangladesh the fastest growing SHS market in the world. SOLshare targets rural off-grid Bangladeshi regions – where both the consumptive and productive potentials can be enhanced.

ME SOLshare was set-up with the innovative vision that energy sharing between individual standalone solar systems can mitigate the present limitations of decentralized rural electrification and contribute to a significant alleviation of energy poverty in Bangladesh. Most SHS owners have excess electricity; simultaneously other do not have any access to electricity. ME SOLshare will design and sell innovative solar charge controllers for Solar Home Systems (SHS) with the goal of improving the technical performance of each system, enabling SHS owners to turn their excess generation capacity into additional income, and providing non-SHS owners with access to more affordable electricity through a SOLshare microgrid network.

Strong points of the practice

The SOLshare project proposes an improvement to SHS, as:
• It increases the efficiency of SHS in terms of utilization of existing storage capacities as well as to production capacities. Storage capacities because the theoretically maximum available amount of stored electricity for each household is now the sum of all connected storage capacities minus the amount of transmission losses depending on the length and condition of the connection cables. The same principle works also for the maximum amount of electricity that can be produced at a certain time as well as provided electricity at a certain time.

• The Swarm Electrification approach which is enabled through SOLshare improves the technology in terms of performance risks. The fact that SOLshare creates an electricity grid with independent and decentralized storage and production units, will lead to lower performance risks for each household, as a result of risk diversification.Beyond the technological improvements, SOLshare will also be an improvement for all existing business models and development projects which focus on the dissemination of stand-alone household electricity supply systems, like SHS. In Bangladesh, SOLshare creates synergies with the IDCOL SHS program, making it even more attractive, as it improves the usability as well as efficiency of SHS systems and adds new business opportunities for end-users and service companies. Furthermore, SOLshare can be a door opener for many other companies and producers of energy efficient devices like entertainment devices or devices for productive use, which usually demand a higher performance than usual SHS can supply.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

The SOLshare business plan offers many benefits to the environment by employing a competitive business model to enhance the proliferation of SHS in Bangladesh. Most SHS end-users in Bangladesh do not have access to a traditional national grid connection, and therefore rely on other sources of energy generation such as collecting wood for fuel, or most commonly, useing kerosene for lighting and cooking purposes. IDCOL estimates that a kerosene lamp used in this manner, consumes approximately 47.6 liters of kerosene per year. Not only is this significantly costly, particularly for a poorer household, it also causes significant air pollution to meet the household’s most basic energy needs. This means that by switching to a SHS an end-user can reduce CO2 emissions by 8.1 kg CO2/year. Therefore, with an estimated market penetration of 830, 000 SOLshare SHS in 2019, the SOLshare CO2 reduction can be estimated to amount to approximately 6 6,000 tonnes for the year of 2019. However, in addition to the benefits derived from switching from kerosene to a SHS, the SOLshare model maximizes the use of battery capacities, thereby mitigating the varying demand through energy sharing. Thus the life of the overall unit is increased, decreasing the CO2 expelled per unit over time.

Although these savings are not quantifiable without a pilot project, we estimate that due to increased efficiency and use of system capacity, CO2 reductions could be doubled per SHS. Conservatively, this means that the SOLshare model reduces CO2 emissions by 10 ,000 tonnes in the year 2019 alone.

Moreover, the environmental benefits are not limited to air pollution. In the past, many micro-grids in the past have employed large solar fields to generate the energy needed to provide a reliable supply of energy to the connected end-users. However these solar fields regularly use productive land that and therefore cannot be used for other productive purposes such as farming, irrigation. In addition, vegetation cannot be planted close to the solar fields, thus increasing the size of unusable land. SOLshare on the other hand, relies solely on SHS, which are installed upon the roofs of the end-users themselves and thus does not compromise any additional land surrounding the villages.

Replicability potential of the practice

The only new technology used is the SOLshare Controller. In addition to the connector unit, the SOLshare Controller incorporates a standard solar charge controller with data logging and data storage capabilities. The controller features inputs/output terminals for connection of photovoltaic (PV) modules, low voltage Direct Current (DC) appliances loads, batteries and Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports for communication input/output (I/O). Communication is used for downloading stored data sets, installing software updates on the hardware, and an integrated processor for decentralized control. Interconnection of several houses via SOLshare controllers allows for peer-to-peer power flows, which are controlled with agent based control algorithms by each SOLshare Controller’s processor. The sharing of electricity is recorded on the net-metering principle, the status of which is displayed to the end-user via a LCD display on the controller. In this way, the user is able to view whether they have consumed net electricity from the micro-grid or whether they have injected net electricity into the micro-grid. The former indicates that a payment will be due at the end of the month, and the latter indicates that a credit will be written to the end-user’s account. It is important to mention that there is no user-to-user payment required. The excess electricity will be sold based on “scratch codes” provided by ME SOLshare to the SPPs, who in the back-end, will monitor the data – energy consumption patterns, malfunctions, battery status. As the household’s consumption will increase in time, progressively, each HH/ microbusiness can decide if the SOLshare controller will be used just for acquiring electricity from the local champion or also for producing own electricity – thus the need to additionally acquire a solar panel. Once significant generation capacity has been reached, in order to guarantee a diversified usage pattern and minimize storage, which results in higher cost, microbusinesses are approached that run their AC-based machinery during the day and equipped with an inverter to which the swarm electricity is automatically channeled.