Monpura is one of the remotest and darkest islands of the country situated in Bhola. The island is very popular among the local travellers for its panoramic natural beauty. More than 50 thousand inhabitants are living in the island.
But living is difficult in Monpura as the island is most vulnerable to natural disasters but inhabitants are simple and very hard working. Life used to stop there after dusk as there was no electricity at Monpura. The nearest grid connection is 57 km away and there is very little chance of grid connection in the area because of technical challenges of installing grid connection.
People used to depend mostly on biomass (wood, straw, animal manure, forest debris etc) and liquid fuels like kerosene and diesel to meet their lighting demand. Liquid fuel, such as kerosene and diesel, are expensive and burning such fuels emits carbon and other health hazardous things to the atmosphere. Collection of these biomass fuels was difficult and various diseases including respiratory problem was common among inhabitants there because of the smoke produced through biomass burning. People had no choice but to use biomass fuel and couldn't work at night and study was difficult for the children. Shopkeepers used to close their shops after sun-set.
Although a number of households have been using Solar Home Systems (SHSs) for lighting their homes, many cannot afford it as it is expensive. Moreover, through SHS, only light can be used for 3-4 hours at night but modern electronics like colour TV, fan and refrigerator etc. cannot even be thought of (modern equipment cannot be used with smaller size of SHS panel).
People of the area never had the hope of electricity until the installation of 177kWp Solar Mini Grid Project (SMGP) by Solar Electro Bangladesh Ltd (SEBL). People get relief with the installation of SMGP as it is now supplying uninterrupted grid quality electricity to the adjacent 500 households and 161 small business enterprises including a rice mill, an ice mill, two saw mills and two workshops.
After the installation of SMGP, the lifestyle of the people has changed significantly. Shoppers, who used to close their shops at night, are now using not only colour television but also refrigerator at their shop. "My shop is now open till 11 pm of night and I observe a large gathering of people to watch drama or news in my colour television at the shop", said shopkeeper Faysal adding that because of the gathering, both his sales and earnings increased. Fisheries owners who used to sell fish in the local market (since the preservation was difficult) are now sending their fishes to far-away places such as Barisal or Bhola and preservation is no longer a problem at this moment as they can buy ice from their neighbourhood.
This writer has observed in remote areas of Bangladesh that the SMGP has the potential for not only reducing deforestation and carbon emission but also giving electricity to millions of people living in various islands. The objective of the SMGP is to provide grid quality electricity to households and small commercial users and thereby encourage commercial activities in the project areas.
The SMGP was financed by the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state- owned non-banking financial institution (NBFI). The total project cost for installation of the SMGP was Tk 68.40 million of which an amount of Tk 34.20 million (50 per cent of the project cost) was provided as grant, Tk 20.52 million (30 per cent of the project cost) was provided as credit with an interest rate of 6 per cent and an amount of Tk 13.68 million (20 per cent of the project cost) was invested as equity by the sponsor company SEBL.
The IDCOL is providing technical and financial assistance to the entrepreneur or sponsor to implement such kind of projects. So far, iIt has financed 18 SMGPs against target of 50 SMGPs.
To achieve the government vision to "Ensure Energy for All by 2021 and to Produce 2,000 MW of Electricity from Renewable Energy", we must look into projects like this. Only 18 islands are illuminated through SMGPs at a time when a large number of islands are yet to get electricity.