Is a Startup in Bangladesh Building the Future of the Electric Industry?
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
“The future of energy is decentralized, decarbonized, and digital.”
Neel Tamhane, UX Designer, SOLshare
Today’s electric industry in developed countries like the U.S. is centralized and all retail transactions are managed by either the utility or a retail marketer. Distributed energy resource (DER) owners have few choices on how to benefit from their investment – use everything internally, sell output to the utility under regulated rates, or, in some states, sell to an aggregator operating under regulated Independent System Operator (ISO) rules. Only in a few very limited pilots can consumers sell to each other.
While numerous companies in Europe and the U.S. are working to develop blockchain-based transactive energy trading, a small company in Bangladesh named SOLshare is implementing a new way for consumers to produce, buy, and sell electricity. Bangladesh is the world's eighth largest country based on population size with more than 166 million residents, yet its GDP ranks 43rd in the world. About 38% of the population has no access to grid electricity according to the Bangladesh government, although about 15% of those without do have access to off-grid electricity. The government's goal is to provide 98% of its citizens with electricity by 2021. Grid reliability for current customers remains a major concern as power cuts are frequent. Yet interestingly, out of this situation, we see a business arising that may lead us to the future of transactive electricity.
Implementation of transactive energy opens the door to new consumer choices such as producing and selling excess power to anyone who wants it, and having the capability to buy energy services from multiple parties. In the U.S. and most of the developed world, this capability is restricted by regulation and control of the distribution grid by incumbent utilities. Thus it can be instructive to look outside the developed world for examples of what can be done.
Given the lack of electric grid in Bangladesh, stand-alone rooftop solar and battery systems power more than 4 million households. But homeowners commonly oversize their systems to ensure enough electricity is stored in their batteries to carry them through the cloudy days during monsoon season. This capacity goes to waste the rest of the year. SOLshare founders address this issue with a concept they call “swarm electrification” in which small-scale local DC distribution grids coupled with simple control systems allow neighbors in villages to buy and sell power among each other.
To make it work, SOLshare knew its solution must be simple and low-cost but also must include the required components to control and automate the system and keep power flowing reliably. Everything is included in a few simple components:
- the SOLbox, which is a smart meter and power controller installed in each home. It includes a bi-directional DC electricity meter, smart grid power flow management, remote monitoring, and data analytics. The box handles accounting, tracking purchases and sales as well as a small brokerage fee to cover SOLshare’s costs. There is no need to send out bills – all transactions are settled via user’s mobile money wallets. Each box connects to other boxes on the grid and uses local intelligence to manage power flows in the most economic way.
- the SOLcontrol, which provides an easy-to-use interface for each homeowner to set how much power they want to buy from or sell to the network and at what price.
- connections between homes using a simple network of conductors
- a simple local wi-fi communications system
The following two videos offer a great overview of how the technology is applied:
Welcome to ME SOLshare!
SOLshare P2P Microgrid Installation
It is fascinating that SOLshare has taken all the necessary components for a microgrid and put them into a small cost-effective box. Connecting the system to a house reportedly costs about $100, and the company is working to reduce costs to below $50 per home. There is almost no cost for billing and payment processing given use of mobile money wallets. The system is simple enough to run itself while giving consumers complete control over energy sales and purchases. And, assuming the government eventually extends the transmission grid into villages with the SOLshare system, it is designed to interconnect into the larger grid.
So what can we conclude? Transactive energy doesn’t have to be complex. Technology to enable it can be cheap. Energy services designed to provide clear and immediate benefits have a strong advantage when it comes to customer adoption. Can these lessons be applied here in the developed world? Though it seems more complex when we discuss concepts like transactive energy here, maybe it doesn't have to be. If we start from the ground up with small local transactive microgrids, we can learn how to make things simple and effective, just like in Bangladesh.
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