In a remote village Bangladeshi village called Shikarpur, until recently, few people had electricity. But a new system is beginning to connect the village’s handful of solar-powered homes with neighbors who can’t afford to own panels themselves.
In the peer-to-peer system, neighbors can sell extra electricity to each other. “The aim is to create efficient and dynamic local energy markets that empower households and encourage solar entrepreneurism,” says Sebastian Groh, managing director of Solshare, the startup making the technology now in use in Bangladesh.
The startup launched when the founders realized that Bangladesh had a growing number of home solar panels – a government program in 2014 aimed to double the number of home systems – and those solar panels were generating more power in the middle of the day than residents could use and store in small batteries. Around 30% of the energy may be wasted.
At the same time, when someone living off the grid in Bangladesh wants to charge a mobile phone, they can pay as much as 100 times more for the electricity than someone living on the grid in a city. Neighbors were already beginning to informally rent out power by running cables to their neighbors houses, watching how long someone used a light bulb at night, and asking for payment the next morning.
The new technology installs power meters and solar charge controllers in the homes of people who want to sell or buy power, along with cabling to connect them, and uses software to create a bottom-up version of a smart grid. When extra electricity is available, the software redirects it where it’s needed, and tracks usage so that neighbors can pay each other through a commonly-used mobile payment app on their phones.
“The villagers see the results of their trading almost in real-time in the mobile money wallets and can buy their groceries with the money just earned through their solar systems,” says Groh.