There is no mains electricity on Char Montaz, a remote island in the Bangladeshi Bay of Bengal, 18 hours by boat from the capital, Dhaka. A diesel generator and kerosene lamps provide an unreliable and polluting power supply. Lack of skills and employment opportunities, especially for women, are further problems in a largely subsistence economy.
Prokaushali Sangsad Limited (PSL) was established in 1969 as a development consultancy in Bangladesh. Recognising the problems of Char Montaz and after wide consultation with the local community they set up the Coastal Electrification and Women’s Development Co-operative (CEWDC). The Co-operative had two missions: to deliver reliable power and to deliver reliable employment.
Funded by the World Bank and other international donors, PSL trained women in the assembly and installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. The systems provide power for lamps and even television, while standalone lamps and battery-chargers are also available. A typical system costs US$280, but customers are offered micro-finance and only pay a 10% deposit.
By 2009 CEWDC had sold 500 solar home systems, 3000 solar lamps and 8000 batteries. And their market is growing with grants to install 1000 solar home systems on other remote islands and plans to develop renewable energy applications for schools and health centres in the region.
However, as impressive as the numbers are, the scheme’s impact is also visible in the independence and self-esteem it offers to the women, a reminder that a truly sustainable project needs to reach right in to a community and, in turn, depends on that community for its long-term success.