Dipal Barua’s non-profit company Grameen Shakti was founded in 1996 to provide alternative energy solutions to one of the world’s poorest nations, where most of the inhabitants get by on less than $2 a day.
Mr. Barua wanted to find an economical solution to provide affordable electricity to Bangladeshis, who up to now have mostly been without the normal conveniences of electric light and power that developed countries take for granted. The US$ 1.5 million award is going to be used by Mr. Barua to provide for more than 100,000 “green jobs” in his country, hiring people such as rural women from impoverished backgrounds.
The Grameen Shakti organization has been involved in a number of energy producing projects, including wind power and “bio gas” fuel programs to help improve the quality of life for this Asian nation of more than 130 million people. The 50 watt solar power units produced by Grameen Shakti, mostly by women employees, cost only about US$400 each, including the Japanese made solar panels.
The cost of the units, designed mostly for rural homes without access to city electricity grids, are partially subsidized by the Bangladeshi government ($48) with much of the remainder provided through low interest loans. When his organization began producing these solar units, only about 15% of the total population had access to electricity, Mr. Barua said. Due to the use of these units, this percentage has now risen to more than 30%, and has enabled many rural families to enjoy the benefits of electric lights, and appliances.
Providing poor Bangladeshis with solar electric power, at affordable prices and terms, is reminiscent of the work of another Bangladeshi, Muhammad Yunis, who won the Nobel Peace Price in 2006 for his work in providing small bank loans to millions of citizens to enable them to start small businesses and provide an income for their families.
Barua notes that his solar units have become successful because they are easy to install and use, due to a reduction in the cost of the imported solar panels, which now cost only $3 per watt instead of the original $7. The solar units are sold with a free maintenance provision and with a 20 year guarantee, which is particularly helpful in a country that is annually pounded by fierce cyclones and monsoon rain storms.
The Zayed Future Energy Award, sponsored by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Shiekh Mohammad bin Zayed, was presented during the World Future Energy Summit, held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
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