Testing the strip light

The 2005 Ashden Award to PSL recognised their achievement in setting up a women’s solar co-operative to provide solar lighting systems and employment to families on remote islands. 

Char Montaz is a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. There is no mains electricity and most people rely on kerosene lamps for lighting. PSL recognised the need for both quality lighting and employment for unskilled women and set up the Coastal Electrification and Women’s Development Co-operative (CEWDC) to assemble and sell photovoltaic (PV) solar home systems.

It’s really changing things. Now our children’s grandparents are saying; ‘We’ll look after the kids – you go and work!’ And men are encouraging their wives to apply for work here. We advertised for 10 new members, and we had 120 people applying.

CEWDC member

Key points

  • 20 Wp system supplies two or three 6 W lamps for about four hours per day, and 80 Wp system supplies four 8 W lamps and a black and white television set. 
  • 35 members of the co-operative assemble and sell solar-home-systems and accessories, and run a PV-powered battery charging service for portable lanterns. 
  • 20 Wp system costs US$280. Customers offered micro-finance and pay a 10% deposit, followed by the remainder in 36 instalments over three years. 
  • Over 360 systems sold to island families by CEWDC by 2005, with a further 80 customers using solar battery charging station. 4,800 lamps and 400 batteries sold further afield. 
  • Replacement of kerosene for lighting prevents release of about 300 kg/year of CO2 per solar home system and about 100 kg/year per lantern. Total CO2 saving from all systems installed up until 2005 was 120 tonnes/year of CO2
  • PV lamps avoid fumes and fire-risk of kerosene lamps and help children study better with brighter light. Systems also create income generation opportunities, as people work at home in the evening or keep cafes and restaurants open longer.
  • CEWDC has brought employment and status to women, who would otherwise have been unlikely to work outside the home. Co-operative members earn between US$10 and US$50 per month, a significant salary in this region.

Background

Char Montaz is a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, 18 hours by boat from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. People live mainly by subsistence farming, fishing and trading. There is no grid electricity on the island, although a diesel mini-grid in the market provides lighting and facilities for battery charging. Generally people rely on kerosene lamps for lighting. The consultancy Prokaushali Sangsad Limited (PSL) set up the Coastal Electrification and Women’s Development Co-operative (CEWDC) to enable women to be providers as well as users of solar energy. Members of the co-operative assemble and sell photovoltaic (PV) solar home systems (SHS) to island families, as well as running a battery charging service.

The organisation

PSL was established by Dr Alimullah Khan as a development consultancy in Bangladesh in 1969. The CEWDC was started by PSL, which had been working on other development projects in the region, after discussions with business groups, teachers and other groups in the community, as well as a survey of 488 households. PSL sourced funding through the World Bank and other international donors, and provided technical assistance to the project regarding the assembly of components, system installation and business operation. 

The technology

How does it work? 

A solar home system (SHS) is a small, stand-alone electrical system. It consists of a PV module, which generates electricity from sunlight; a re-chargeable battery, which stores electricity so that it can be used during both day and night; a charge controller, which prevents the battery from being over-charged or deep-discharged; fluorescent lamps, wiring and fixtures. 

The CEWDC also owned and operated a 1.6 kWp solar battery charging station and two 10 kW diesel battery charging stations, which are used to charge batteries for portable lanterns. Batteries and lanterns are rented out to poor households with children at school. 

The technology in more detail

The PV modules used by the CEWDC are rated 20 to 80 Wp with 50 Wp the most popular size. A 20 Wp module can supply two or three 6 W lamps for about four hours per day: at the other end of the range, an 80 Wp system can power four 8 W lamps and a black and white television set.

The charge controllers are assembled by CEWDC members using kits imported from Germany. Members also assemble the electronic inverters for dc fluorescent lights, using both their own circuits and imported kits. 

The portable solar lanterns have a 20 or 30 Ah lead-acid battery. When fully charged, this can provide about 20 hours of light from a 6 or 8 W lamp.  

How is it manufactured, promoted and maintained? 

The members of CEWDC had little formal education when they joined the cooperative. Through the work of PSL, they have received extensive training in the assembly of electronic components, quality control, business development, SHS marketing, micro-finance and solar battery charging. The manufacturer of the charge controller kits approved the quality of assembly before allowing CEWDC to market them.

Each SHS is thoroughly checked by a CEWDC employee after installation, and customers are trained in how to use it.

Children watching a DVD, powered by solar PV.

Benefits

By 2005, over 360 households had bought an SHS from CEWDC, and a further 80 customers were using the solar battery charging station. CEWDC had, in addition, sold 4,800 fluorescent lamps and 400 batteries in the four nearby islands and to an NGO on the mainland of Bangladesh. 

Environmental benefits 

The replacement of kerosene with a SHS for lighting saves each household an estimated 120 litres of kerosene per year, thus preventing the release of about 300 kg/year of CO2. The total saving from the 360 SHS systems installed by the CEWDC up until 2005 was about 110 tonnes/year of CO2. Each lantern probably saves about 40 litres per year of kerosene, so the battery-charging station saves a further 8 tonnes/year of CO2.

Passenger and fishing boats can use battery-powered lighting at night, thus avoiding the use of diesel generators and the associated noise and air pollution.

Social benefits 

The PV-powered fluorescent lights replace kerosene lamps, and thus avoid the associated fumes and fire-risk. Women, who usually spend more time in the home, benefit most from the elimination of kerosene smoke and the risk of burns. Children can study better with the brighter light from a solar home system, and lights outside houses make it safer for people to go out after dark. Solar systems lead to opportunities for income generation, as people can work at home in the evening or keep cafes and restaurants open for longer.

Economic benefits 

One of the most significant benefits of the CEWDC is the employment and status it has brought to women, who would otherwise have been unlikely to work outside their homes. In 2005, 35 women were members of the cooperative, employed on system assembly, sales and book-keeping. A further 15 people were employed in the CEWDC trading office and shop in Galachipa, a trading town a few hours upriver, where systems can be sold further afield. 

Members usually work for CEWDC for about four hours per day which allows them to balance employment with other duties. Members earn between US$10 and US$50 (600 and 3,000 Taka) per month, depending on the tasks they undertake and the hours they work. This is a significant salary in a region where family incomes average only about US$50 (3,000 Taka) per month. 

The cooperative also offers loans of up to US$16 (1,000 Taka) to members and their husbands, to help set up other business ventures such as tailoring and catering. Ten members of the co-operative have been trained in fish farming as part of a government programme, and have set up small businesses in fish cultivation and fish feed preparation.

Update: what happened next?

There has been significant growth in sales of solar home systems, lamps and batteries since 2005. By 2009, CEWDC had sold 7,500 SHS, 3,000 solar lamps and 8,000 batteries. In addition, a new solar LED night lamp has been developed, with 3,000 of these sold. 
PSL has received a subsidy grant to install 1,000 SHS in remote islands. There are further plans to expand renewable energy applications for rural schools (installing computers) and health centres (installing lighting and vaccine refrigeration).