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Aug 2014

Breaking Energy Poverty without Damaging Nature

18 August 2014 | Posted by Zachary

The Sustainable Energy For All initiative is an effort to bring reliable electricity to the 2.3 billion people in the world who don’t have it, but specifically with the use of clean, renewable energy technology. This is a gigantic challenge that requires the efforts of countless organizations, companies, and countries. One notable company that has been working on this for nearly two decades, long before the Sustainable Energy For All initiative was even formed, is Grameen Shakti.

Grameen Shakti

Grameen Shakti has brought 1.4 million solar energy systems, over 800,000 improved cooking stoves, and nearly 30,000 biogas power plants to people in rural Bangladesh. It is installing approximately 25,000 solar home systems, 14,000 improved cooking stoves, and 300 biogas power plants every month. The total number of beneficiaries is now over 15 million.

Approximately 360,000 customers have already completely paid off the cost of their systems (they are able to pay them off over time).

Grameen’s total lineup includes solar systems, improved cooking stoves, biogas power plants, and organic fertilizer. But it doesn’t only sell these green options — it also provides training and capacity development and has created 45 “Grameen Technology Centers.” Regarding these innovative technology centers, Grameen Shakti writes:

"GS has set up 45 Grameen Technology Centers (GTC) under a pilot program to scale up its solar program, specially production of [solar home system (SHS)] accessories by manufacturing these locally. GTCs are also contributing to women empowerment by developing Solar Technicians. GS will help these technicians sign annual contracts with its clients for after sales maintenance and become entrepreneurs in the future.

"More than 60 thousand people each year are installing SHSs all over Bangladesh for business or household purposes…. GS envisages a future where there would be a huge demand for SHS accessories as well as maintenance services to keep the installed SHSs in working order. GTCs are also running a very successful Renewable Energy Exposure Program for rural school children and more than 5000 school children have participated in the program."

The reach is staggering. The distributed nature of how Grameen Shakti is bringing clean electricity and other green solutions to rural Bangladesh is hard to comprehend. Since inception, the social business has trained over 40,000 people and has set up 1,268 branch offices. It is doing business in all 64 districts (or zila) of Bangladesh.

It’s also something that simply couldn’t be done (cost-effectively) using the historical model of large power plants and a central electricity grid. Distributed solar and biogas power plants are akin to mobile phones, jumping past large and inefficient infrastructure projects built across the developed world during the last century.

By 2015, Grameen Shakti intends to have 2 million solar home systems in place in 2015, as well as 2 million improved cooking stoves and 100,000 biogas power plants. It also intends to have created 100,000 green jobs.

The challenge I discussed at the top of the page is staggering, but so is the work being done by Grameen Shakti and similar companies. Grameen Shakti offers an excellent model for others to follow in other locations. As solar costs continue to drop, the potential becomes even larger.

Grameen Shakti was a 2013 Zayed Future Energy Prize finalist. I hope and think this this will help to inspire others to start up their own “Grameen Shakti” in other countries and regions of the world where electricity is unavailable, unreliable, or dirty. The world needs more companies like this.

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