The commotion in Dhaka’s streets never ceases. Among the chorale of blaring horns and ringing chimes, thundering vehicles and shaking carts, you can hear the electric murmur of the city’s three-wheeled open cabs, called tuk-tuks, as they wind through traffic.
One startup from Bangladesh has spotted an opportunity in the chaos. SOLshare intends to create a “virtual power plant” out of the country’s estimated 2.5 million electric tuk tuks.
According to Salma Islam, SOLshare’s head of projects, fundraising, and communication, “when (the tuk-tuks) return to the garage at the end of the night, they come back with 30% juice in their batteries.” That would be amazing if they could feed that back into the grid when demand is extremely high.
SOLshare has been working with local garages to upgrade their conventional lead-acid batteries to smart, lithium-ion batteries, so it knows exactly how much electricity is left in these tuk-tuks. These are outfitted with SOLshare’s advanced chip, which gathers information on the battery’s exhibition, area, and charge level.
When demand is at its highest, the startup asserts that the batteries’ residual electricity could supply up to 20% of the nation’s energy. When there is less demand on the grid, the vehicles would recharge over night.
SOLshare hopes that this mobile power supply will power Bangladesh’s economic development and stabilize the energy grid.
According to Islam, “the demand is constantly growing, because the population is also growing.” Additionally, “as people’s livelihoods get better, their energy requirements also increase.”
A bright idea
In 2021, SOLshare launched its SOLmobility EV pilot program. It began collecting information on the three-wheelers’ activities and mileage after partnering with 15 tuk-tuk garages to upgrade the batteries of approximately forty vehicles.
According to Islam, the smart batteries use 40% less energy than lead-acid batteries. In addition, lithium-ion batteries are lighter and more efficient than lead-acid ones and can be charged in just six hours, which is about half the time it takes for lead-acid batteries to charge. According to Islam, despite the fact that they cost more than twice as much as lead acid batteries, they can last up to five times longer.
A SOLshare smart battery was first used by Muhammad Delwar Hossain last year, who has been driving a tuk tuk in the Dhaka suburb of Tongi for over a decade. He says it’s supported his month to month profit by half since he can make more excursions on a solitary charge, and he feels his wellbeing has improved on the grounds that he’s as of now not taking in the poisonous exhaust produced by the lead-corrosive battery.
A light in the dark
SOLshare’s desires go a long ways past tuk-tuks – it needs to change Bangladesh’s whole energy area through different strands.
Using a pay-as-you-go mobile top-up system, the company began building peer-to-peer solar-powered microgrids in 2015 that enable households without solar panels to purchase excess energy from other members of the community. Until now, it has introduced 118 microgrids the nation over. So far, the startup has raised $6 million.
According to Islam, the business also installs residential and commercial solar panel systems and has 27 megawatts of installations scheduled.
Islam asserts that increasing solar power can assist the nation in lessening its reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, these microgrids have the potential to feed excess energy back into the national grid.
SOLshare’s developments come at a significant time for the country’s energy area.
According to Islam, “we had massive power grid failures last summer… that was an eye opener for everyone.”
Households all over the country experienced frequent load-shedding, which is the practice of forcing power outages in order to reduce the strain on the grid and prevent a complete blackout. Then, in October 2022, Bangladesh experienced its worst blackout in eight years when the national grid failed, leaving 96 million people without electricity.
Even though Bangladesh is home to the largest off-grid solar power program in the world, the country only uses 3.5 percent of its energy from renewable sources due to its rapid growth and rising electricity demand.
The low-lying nation is also one of the world’s most vulnerable to climate change and floods, droughts, and storms, so it is essential to find a sustainable way to meet its growing energy demand.
Sonia Bashir Kabir, the founder of Bangladeshi venture capital firm SBK Tech Ventures and an early investor in SOLshare, asserts, “I think they were a little bit early, ahead of their time.” She believes that the company has a lot of potential in the next five years.
She asserts, “The government has taken a very serious mandate to look at the climate, which helps because that means the policies will be favorable.”
Accelerating the renewable revolution
Not only is it difficult for Bangladesh to meet its energy needs, disturbances in the oil and gas supply all through 2022 have caused a worldwide energy emergency. This has sparked a revolution in renewable energy, with solar and wind energy growing 30 percent faster than anticipated last year. Many people are hoping this will speed up the growth of the green energy industry.
In addition to working with battery manufacturers to install its digital chip directly into the battery, SOLshare is continuing to upgrade additional tuk-tuks.
Through its various ventures, Islam trusts the organization will turn into “Asia’s biggest virtual utility supplier” – a model that could play “a gigantic job” in different nations with enormous armadas of electric three-wheel vehicles, for example, Thailand and India, she says.
Islam asserts, “We are not relying on just a central power grid. Instead, we are tapping into as many decentralized renewable sources as possible.” We believe that if we can accomplish this in Bangladesh, you can also accomplish it anywhere.