ME SOLshare is piloting a new business model in Bangladesh that hopes to leverage the country's explosion of household solar into a peer-to-peer (P2P) utility. Instead of developing mini-grids or installing more rooftop systems, the start-up hopes to tap into the existing 4-5 million home systems that are already widely deployed in rural areas.
"We saw 30% of electricity produced by solar home systems going unused," said managing director Sebastian Groh. "We also saw people who could not afford solar making deals with their neighbors (who had solar) to share their system. If there is extra capacity and there is demand, and also user behavior is showing they want to trade energy, why don't we give them a system that allows that?"
"We're building our own grid," he added. The company expects that a customer trading 1 kwh per month to start will be feasible.
Bangladesh, whose Infrastructure Development Co. Ltd (IDCOL) program has been the pioneering force behind rolling out and scaling decentralized energy solutions, has resulted in consumers who have "a high degree of energy literacy", said Groh.
He also noted that the company is only able to build its energy trading model because of strong quality standards adopted by IDCOL over a decade ago, which ensured that all systems were designed the same way. Additionally, an IDCOL focus on quality batteries with a longer life-span also helped.
SOLshare's innovative approach, which has received support from the Asian Development Bank's Energy for All program, requires proper metering and has to be attached to mobile wallets, so money is paid and received real-time for the sale of electricity. It will also require coming to terms with the national energy ministry on tariff rates, but that is expected to be a medium-term issue.
Ultimately, the goal is that If grid extension reaches SOLshare customers one day, the company will have a built-in "smart switch", which essentially means instantaneous grid readiness and integration.
"We want to bundle a huge number of solar home systems into one node, that can then easily connect to the grid."