‘Swarm Electrification’ in Bangladesh Lets Neighbours Swap Solar Electricity

For decades, families had little choice but to use kerosene. Now they’re swapping solar electricity.

Ten households in Shakimali Matborkandi, a village in the Shariatpur district of Bangladesh, have seen a dramatic change over the past year in the way they light their homes and charge their mobile phones.

For decades, these families had little choice but to use kerosene, the most popular fuel in tens of millions of homes in the developing world. But in September 2015, a Bangladeshi company, ME SOLshare, introduced them to what it calls “swarm electrification”.

In a fresh twist on the sharing economy popularized by Uber and Airbnb, ME SOLshare’s pilot project enables the residents of Shakimali Matborkandi to trade electricity among themselves, free of any contact with a local utility.

Bangladesh is the world leader in the number of installed solar home systems, which makes them a natural testing ground for rural peer-to-peer electricity trading. Image: ME SOLshare 

More than four million homes in Bangladesh are already equipped with solar panels. But, starting with the Shakimali Matborkandi pilot project, ME SOLshare aims to go a step further. With the help of a black box called a SOLbox and a mobile phone connected to the largest mobile banking network in the country called bKash, each family can buy solar electricity from their neighbours when they need it, and sell when they have a surplus.

If anyone on the grid needs electricity, they add credit to their mobile wallet, switch their SOLbox to ‘buy’ mode, and trade the credit for power. Similarly, those who have excess power, or simply want to make some extra money, set the box to ‘sell’ mode. They can then use the credit on their mobile wallet to buy products at any local store.

Electrical engineer from UBOMUS installs a solar home system. Image: ME SOLshare

This system, known as peer-to-peer electricity trading on a nanogrid, is already making inroads in some industrial countries, such as the Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany and the US. But its introduction to Bangladesh could revolutionize the use of electricity in impoverished and remote communities that up to now have never known any source of power apart from kerosene and batteries.

Read More: An Indie, Off-the-Grid, Blockchain-Traded Solar Power Market Comes to Brooklyn

What’s more, in countries prone to armed conflict and natural disasters, such as Bangladesh, where floods affected 3.2 million people and damaged over 250,000 homes this past summer, swarm electrification can keep the lights on even if there is extensive damage to the utility power grid.

Sebastian Groh, ME SOLshare’s managing director, said in an interview that the technology inspires a new way of thinking. “It inspires entrepreneurship. You are not just focused on your needs.” He added that “people are encouraged to use energy efficient appliances and the latest LED lights to reduce consumption” so that they can sell surplus power to their neighbors.

Groh came up with the term “swarm electrification” because, he said, “in a swarm of fish, there is no central intelligence and the fish work together to create unity.” He added that, “if a shark attacks a swarm, it may take out one or two fish, but the rest keep on swimming.”

SOLshare SOLbox Video. Video: Me SOLshare/YouTube

Another advantage of the technology is the low cost and reduced environmental impact. In rural Bangladesh, the average household spends $2 USD a month on kerosene for lighting but, as Nasir Uddin, executive director of Bangladesh-based nonprofit UBOMUS, one of the leading installers of solar home systems in the country, put it: “You can’t charge your mobile phone with kerosene.”

The SOLbox itself costs $30, which consumers pay in installments over 24-36 months. After that, they own the box. Mr. Uddin said: “There are thousands of places in remote Bangladesh where this kind of project may be implemented.”

He added that for the same cost as kerosene, the SOLbox enables consumers to have access to bright, clean lighting, and they can also charge their mobile devices.

In Bangladesh, about 20,000 new solar systems are installed each month. According to Groh, ME SOLshare plans to install another 200 SOLboxes by February 2017.

Beneficiary from Shakimali Matborkandi village stands next to her new SOLbox. Image: ME SOLshare

The potential of swarm electricity extends far beyond Bangladesh. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), more than 6 million solar home systems are in operation worldwide, and their cost has dropped by over 80 percent since 2010. As prices continue to drop, the number of solar home systems will continue to rise, with the Climate Change Group estimating that five million solar homesystems will be sold in India alone between 2014 and 2018.

The challenge that the technology faces in reaching this wider market will be in finding the right sites. For efficiency reasons, the nanogrid uses direct current as opposed to alternating current, which means the lines carrying the electricity cannot extend far without significant energy loss. Only areas with high population density are candidates for this technology. Bangladesh makes a perfect guinea pig with a population of over 160 million people squeezed into an area roughly the size of New York state.

ME SOLshare’s technology won the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Momentum for Change award this year. According to Nawal Al Hosany, an expert on energy innovation and a member of the UNFCCC award advisory panel, ME SOLshare’s technology “could make secure, sustainable and healthy energy access a reality to many millions of people across the globe who currently live day-to-day without it.”

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Crime in Spain, brief overview

Several studies showed that crime in western societies fell from the mid-nineteenth century to World War II, and it increased from that date (Gurr et al., 1976; Killias & Riva, 1984). Later, while crime remains invariables for some years, it considerably increases in the mid-sixties. For instance, In France, criminal offences soared from 13 per thousand inhabitants in 1950 to 61 in 1998, being most of this growth concentrated between 1965 and 1982 (Geri, 2000) Equally, studies show an overall increasing trend up to date in France and other countries.

In the case of Spain, after the end of the civil war in 1939, the country experiences a process of criminalization and persecution of those defeated during the conflict, as well as their equalization of the status of common criminals (Gómez, 2009). Additionally, in the first post-war years there is a growth of property crimes due to scarcity and rationing and it slightly increases year after year until 1971, when the number of infractions comes close to hundred thousand (Hernando, 2016). The most common crimes during this stage are thefts, small scams (swindles) and robberies with force. Most common criminals make use of cunning and techniques based on deceit and ability, being infrequent crimes of a violent nature.

In the early 1970, Spain was in the last stage of the Franco Regime. The last years of the dictatorship were characterized, on the one hand, by the grating of greater degree of freedom to the people, and on the other, by greater political and economic instability: clamour for freedom and political tensions raised and 1973 marks the beginning of an economic downturn due to the oil crisis. It is precisely these years when crime in Spain experiences relevant changes: criminal offences alarmingly skyrocket and provoke an overall state of alert across the country, particularly in the most urbanized regions and between 1983 and 1987, one of the most problematic periods of the recent country. Potential for conflict arises in the streets and the number of offenses soared from 426,528 in 1982 to 762,113 in 1984. There is not an entire rupture with the previous period as long as the most common offense are still thefts and robbery (property crime represents approximately 87% of total offenses). Yet, there is an increase in personal crime, homicide and rapes and robberies with violence become the most relevant crime during these years. The factors of this quantitative evolution are, according to several autors, the greater incidence of narcotic consumption and traffic (Hernando, 2002). Indeed, the drug consumption infected many cities in Spain and the number of deaths from drug overdoses particularly increase during the eighties. Juvenile crime also arises and in 1982, the country registered double arrests of young boys than in 1979.

From the end of eighties up to 2008, the country experiences a gradual increase in the number of criminal infractions, coming close to 2.5 million or more than 50 per thousand inhabitants. In recent years, the country registers an overall decrease in crime, also coinciding with the economic crisis suffered by many western economies since 2008.