Here’s a question for you. If the world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own any taxis, and the world’s largest hotel company doesn’t own any hotel beds, then what does the future of an energy company look like in the sharing era?
Forget power plants, and hydro poles. That future may well be a smart peer to peer solar microgrid that lets you control your own electricity use and buy and sell electricity with your neighbours.
Such a revolutionary system currently exists in Bangladesh which, with six million solar home systems installed, is enabling some of the world’s most marginalized communities to take control of their electricity supply for the first time. “We believe that our smart peer to peer grids can be the future for energy utilities globally,” says SOLshare.
SOLshare’s award-winning platform has created 34 solar microgrids so far across Bangladesh and India, where household solar panel owners can buy and sell electricity according to their needs, while also providing their neighbours with access to electricity, often for the first time. It has lifted almost 5,000 people out of energy poverty,
A huge majority (84%) of SOLshare’s end-users live on less than $5 per day and approximately 40% of its customers are first time electricity users, for whom solar was previously out of reach. SOLshare’s technology enables solar home system users to earn additional income while meeting their growing energy needs in a low-carbon way. The ‘social return on investment’ is estimated to be $4.85 of impact for every $1 invested.
“At SOLshare we came up with a way for people to turn their excess solar electricity into money with zero hassle. It also enables them to purchase more power on the go whenever they want as well as they get to invest in more power generation and trade it off for a handsome return with minimal risk. This led us to install the world’s first cyber-physical peer-to-peer (P2P) solar sharing grids, and this of all places in remote areas of Bangladesh.”
Its peer-to-peer solar energy exchange platform, ‘SOLbazaar’, interconnects households’ existing solar home systems into a network which allows households and small businesses to trade electricity with their neighbours. They can sell what they don’t need and buy additional electricity when they need more. More than 700,000 households are connected so far, and they have collectively earned more than $16,000 by selling 24 MWh of excess electricity.
SOLshare’s technology consists of the SOLbox, a two-way smart meter which is installed in customers’ homes; the SOLcloud, a data collection and analysis platform that integrates with mobile money platforms, allowing people to pay for their electricity using their mobile phone; and the SOLapp, which field agents use to support customers.
“The SOLbox, SOLapp and SOLweb together form the SOLbazaar, enabling one house to smoothly connect to another, eventually connecting to ten houses which then connect to hundreds of households – all possible due to the sharing nature of our trading platform,” SOLshare explains. “As the SOLshare network grows, it can connect with the national grid, operating in island mode when the grid is unavailable, and drawing power from the grid when it is available.”
People who don’t have their own solar home system can plug into the network and run appliances, at a fraction of the cost of buying their own system.‘The poorest could previously never afford even the smallest solar home system,” explains Sohel Ahmed, managing director of Grameen Shakti, the world’s largest solar home system distributor, which markets the systems. “They can now buy the meter and use the electricity when their child has to study for an exam or someone in the household is sick and they need a light or a fan. They pay just what they use. It might only be 7 or 8 days a month, but those 7 or 8 days could make all the difference.”
SOLshare, which won an Ashden Award in 2020, also has just won another prestigious award, this time from EIT InnoEnergy, the world’s largest sustainable energy engine. It was awarded a $120,000 cash prize and a $364,000 fund aimed at bringing its technology to 350,000 householders and small businesses across Bangladesh, India, Sub Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands over the next five years.
There is certainly room for expansion. As Ashden notes, around 50 million people currently have no electricity or an unreliable supply, and nearly a third of the electricity generated by today’s six million solar home systems, worth $1 billion, is wasted as people’s usage patterns vary day to day and season to season. While globally, Bangladesh is considered the market leader in installing solar home systems, the systems remain too expensive for many people from the river islands who still rely on kerosene or diesel.
EIT InnoEnergy’s annual sustainable energy competition is a global call for start-ups that seeks to reward and develop the most innovative ideas in sustainable energy from around the globe, and in 2020, it attracted 1,098 entries from 83 countries.
The judges said that SOLshare stood out because its value proposition has the potential to transform rural power markets with a large market globally. Its solution not only creates a transformative experience for end users but also represents a profitable business proposition for SOLshare itself. “SOLshare has the potential to lift thousands of families out of energy poverty in a sustainable way by simply utilizing existing infrastructure in a smarter way,” said EIT InnoEnergy CEO Diego Pavia.
“This investment and award are a milestone moment for SOLshare,” said Sebastian Groh, SOLshare’s managing director. “Our technology contributes to several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including energy for all, gender equality and climate action and every step towards our funding goal means that we can brighten even more lives.”