Grameen Shakti first focused on solar panels because, as Dr. Barua notes, “Bangladesh has plenty of sunshine.”
And not only are solar panels portable, they are also better for the environment and more reliable than the nation’s present energy grid, which is not only unavailable to most areas outside cities but also prone to frequent blackouts.
Traditionally, most rural dwellers rely on kerosene or candles as energy sources. But they’re costly, give negligible light, and emit fumes.
Following the model popularized by the Grameen Bank, Grameen Shakti used microcredit loans for disseminating the panels. Buyers make down payments of 15 to 25 percent and then pay off the loans in two or three years.
The cost of the panels is offset by the buyers’ lower energy costs. For example, explains Barua, shop owners who purchase a solar panel system no longer have to buy candles in order to stay open at night. Previously, a shopkeeper might have spent $6.50 a month on candles, but for a small solar panel system with a battery, the monthly payment is about half that. And in addition, the solar unit would allow the store to stay open longer, generating more income.
Mawna, a rural village several hours north of Dhaka in the Gazipur region, is a model of Grameen Shakti’s success. Farmers like Mrs. Abdul Kalev can return home after a day of work, turn on the lights, and relax in front of a TV set powered by an 85-watt solar panel perched on the roof.
Kalev says that her six-person household enjoys its new energy source immensely. They’re pleased because it has improved their lives and also helps the environment. Now that they have reliable electricity, the children can study in the evening and don’t have to breathe kerosene fumes.