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Off the national grid, to the periphery

  • Published at 10:44 pm December 14th, 2019
Solar Panels
Photo of solar panels Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Solar panel market thrives on govt, NGO projects in remote areas, domestic uses

The local market of solar panel is expanding fast as the government is using the alternative source of power in its various projects, especially in the hard-to-reach areas, in line with its vision of ensuring access to power for all by 2021. 

Besides, non-governmental organizations in their projects and individuals in their houses are using solar panels to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply during protracted power cuts in remote areas. 

This increased use has led to the expansion of solar panel market over the past couple of years, according to industry people.

Now the annual demand for solar electricity stands at 100-120 megawatt and the market keeps growing at 15% per annum, Munawar Misbah Moni, managing director of Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy Ltd, a concern of Rahimafrooz Group, tells Dhaka Tribune.

As per industry insiders, the number of solar home system (SHS) installations reached 6.8 million in 2018, supplying electricity in the remote areas through off-grid power services.

According to Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) data, up to January 2019, about 4.13 million solar home systems (SHS) have been installed in the remote areas where electrification through gird expansion is challenging and costly. 

The program has since been supplying solar power to 18 million people and 12% of the country’s total population who previously used kerosene lamps are now getting power under the program, which the government-run IDCOL started in January 2003.

The company has a target to finance six million solar home systems by 2021 with an estimated generation capacity of 220 MW.

Market shares and local players

Imported solar panel dominate the market, with about 80% of the demand met with imports and the rest 20% met with local products. China, India, Germany and Canada are the main sources for the importers. 

At present, near about 12 to 14 companies are manufacturing and marketing solar panel for local market. 

Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy Ltd, Parasol Energy Ltd, Electro Solar Power Ltd, Green Finity Energy Ltd, Solar Power and Electric Ind Ltd, Radiant Alliance Ltd, Shouro Bangla Ltd, Baneco Solar Energy and Australia-Bangladesh Solar Power Ltd are the key players in the market.

Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy Ltd, a concern of Rahimafrooz Group, started renewable energy business in 2006. Rahimafrooz manufactures various types of solar panels and energy saving products at its Ashulia factory. 

The company enjoys around 15% share in the market and the rest 5% is shared by other local companies, says Abu Bakr Khan, head of business operation of Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy Ltd.

Solar Power & Electric Industries Ltd, a sister concern of GTS GROUP, has been manufacturing solar panel at its Sreenagar factory in Munshiganj since 2009.

Australia Bangladesh Solar Power Ltd manufactures solar panels at its Manikganj factory. 

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Australia Bangladesh Solar Power Ltd General Manager Samapta Kumar Rajbongshi said: “Our business is expanding through government and NGO projects. Australia Bangladesh Solar Power wants to cover all schools in the divisional cities with solar electrification.”

Electro Solar Power Ltd (ESPL) of Elector Group started assembling solar panels after importing solar cells in 2009. 

Parasol Energy Ltd, a sister concern of Paragon Group, is also manufacturing solar panels.

An expanding market

The government targets to generate 10% of the country’s total electricity from renewable sources by 2021. With the target in view, IDCOL was set up to ensure financial and economic sustainability of the sector with an ultimate goal of commercialization, according to industry players.

According to the “Renewables 2018- Global Status Report”, 17 million Bangladeshis use solar home systems (SHSs), making it the country with the second highest number of people who avail the system after India, which has 148 million users.

This means about 13 percent of the population in Bangladesh gained access to electricity through off-grid solar home systems.

“Now Bangladesh is in the leading position in solar home system in the world. On the other hand, rooftop solar system, solar irrigation and solar street light are other vital areas where the market can expand further,” says Md Enamul Karim Pavel, head of renewable energy of IDCOL.

IDCOL has approved 11 rooftop solar projects of which four are already in operation with a cumulative capacity of about 3.07 MWp up to July this year, he adds informing that the company has a target to finance the production of 300 MWp by 2022.

Solar irrigation is a vital area for expansion of solar panel market. The system also costs less than the diesel-run method. Farmers can save up to 28 percent of their costs in each bigha of land if they use solar-powered pumps in place of diesel-run ones to irrigate croplands, according to a Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) study.

Up to October 2019, IDCOL has approved 1,630 solar irrigation pumps of which 1,323 are already in operation with a cumulative capacity of about 32 MWp and the company has now set a target of installing 50,000 solar irrigation pumps by 2025, according to IDCOL data.

Major challenges 

Imported solar panels are the major obstacle in the way of the local solar manufactures, who allege that low quality solar panels from China have flooded the market as they are low-priced.

Australia Bangladesh Solar Power Ltd General Manager Samapta Kumar Rajbongshi says: “Low quality solar panels have grabbed the market. We cannot compete with them because of their low price. Import of solar panels should be discouraged and curbed to boost the local industry."

High interest rate of bank loans is another stumbling block for the local manufacturers.

Local manufacturers’ demands

Local solar module manufacturers demand 20-30% quota in supplying solar panels for different government projects.

The Solar Module Manufacturers Association of Bangladesh President and Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy Managing Director Munawar Misbah Moni says the government will not be able to achieve its target to generate 3,000MW of electricity from renewable sources by 2021 without the growth of the local industry.

Quota facility and priority for the local manufacturers are essential for the local solar industry, he adds, demanding policy support and proper guidance for the development of the local industry.