The Financial Express

Life beyond Rampal: \"Swarm electrification\" a Bangladeshi trademark

| Updated: October 25, 2017 05:23:13

Life beyond Rampal: \"Swarm electrification\" a Bangladeshi trademark

"Swarm electrification" may become Bangladesh's answer to its burgeoning domestic energy needs. According to a Sara Badiei report for online magazine Motherboard (November 29, 2016), Bangladesh's entry into this form of energy supply, "could revolutionise the use of electricity in impoverished and rural communities that up to now have never known any source of power apart from kerosene and batteries." How this can be extended to fuel factory-needs, public utilities like lighting up the streets and highways, and even automobiles at some point, raises an opportunity that (a) eliminates dirty environment-damaging emission, much to our health's benefit; (b) gives our flora, fauna, and vegetation, particularly in the sensitive Sunderbans UN Heritage zone, a fresher lease of life; (c) promotes the ingenuity to multiply usages from the limited applications presently; (d) takes another bite out of poverty in time to finish the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets with flying colours; and (e) adds to household savings that can even boost merchandise demands in so many sectors, all to the advantage of the national economy.
Badiei informs us how the name originated with Sebastian Groh, managing director of ME SOLshare, a Bangladeshi enterprise dedicated to "create a network, share electricity, and brighten the future" (from its webpage). In short, the outfit belongs to the Fourth Industrial Revolution stream of enterprising, youthful entrepreneurs carving something out of mundane artefacts by applying sheer brainpower.
He derived the name from a swarm of fish, resembling the alternate label we may be more accustomed to: herd instinct. In this setting, the absence of central intelligence is compensated by numbers: groupings protect each unit, so when one unit is lost (a fish is trapped or a cattle lassoed), the group can still survive. Using solar panels and a black-box purchased from ME SOLshare, called SOLbox for Tk 2,500 (payable in small installments, if needed), any person can trap sun-light, then with a mobile phone connection to bKASH, he or she can exchange or sell any surplus. By adding credit to their mobile wallet, purchasers can use the "buy" mode from those using the "sell" mode to supply. 
Solar panels are not new in Bangladesh, nor are they uncommon: over four million homes have them, with 20,000 new solar systems being installed each month, for a total of one-quarter million annually. When one considers that the entire planet has only six million solar panels, Bangladesh can only be in the thick of this ingenious movement, alongside with such industrialised countries, as across West Europe, and in New Zealand and the United States. India is nonetheless poised to become one of the largest nerve-centres of this new technology, which is good news for Bangladesh: instead of digging out Indian coal to feed our growing list of energy-producing plants, we could join the movement and participate in preserving the South Asian ecology together.
As a cheap source of electricity, this "swarm" technology is set to get more inexpensive over time, but equally importantly, it can override disasters, like floods and storms: black-outs and load-shedding would become a problem of the past, while, very much like microcredit opened both gender and monetary windows across the countryside, ME SOLshare promises to be an equally profound successor. No wonder it won the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's "Momentum for Change" award this year.
 "Swarm electrification" would also help defuse both (a) swarms of protestors against environmental damages, such as the growing numbers of challengers of the Rampal project indicate; and (b) the unnecessary electrification of individuals in those protest groups, since what we need less of at this historical juncture are lung-bursting protest movements, halting traffic, among other consequences, and more rational thought-processes flowing. Instead, it offers opportunities to those protestors to channel their own human energy to conceive and create new outlets with the new technologies, such as solar panels and SOLbox: remote arenas can be lightened, enlightened, and enlivened; and by bringing many areas out of darkness, the economy can be given a spurt from out of thin air. 
Whichever way one looks at the possibilities, "swarm electrification" goes beyond any herd instinct, if that is how it must first be conceived: it represents a totality (a group) that delivers the most when individualised (that is, the creative purposes it is directed to and the new arenas opened); but more like assembly-line production surpluses need to be sold, and for which a "herd" or "swarm" of buyers establish the perfect finish. Setup costs aside, the average Bangladeshi citizen can find himself/herself saving, splurging, and diversifying purchases. For those better endowed with resources, it is game-on: find outlets where electricity can be easily supplied, or industries where substitution is possible; once done, Amar Sonar Bangla cannot be far behind!
In short, "swarm electrification" creates swarms of opportunities out of thin air, and can electrify static societies given the right kind of upwardly-mobile, laterally-diffusing initiative. Is Bangladesh ready to take a deeper dip?    
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.
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