Close to the grid but far away from accessing its power

Published on Friday, 11 November 2016

Published by Sohail Hasnie on Friday, 11 November 2016

Bee farm run by the Kyrgyz couple.
Bee farm run by the Kyrgyz couple.

A couple running a small bee farm next to a rapid stream of snow-melted water does not often trigger the idea of off-grid rural electrification. Off-grid usually brings up the picture of a small house in a far-flung area where kerosene is used for light. I used to get the same image too. 

Last month’s experience broke that mindset.

As we were driving back from our field trip to the Toktogul hydropower plant in the Kyrgyz Republic, we stopped to buy some honey. We came across a small roadside home-based business run by a couple along the ADB-financed Bishkek-Osh road.

The couple’s business model is simple: wait for the bees to produce honey in one of their 15 beehives, extract the honey manually, display it on the side of the road, and sell it for cash.

Simple business, simple life. And simply amazing surroundings.

The couple’s access to energy, however, is not that straightforward. They don’t have access to abundant electricity, like we do. The family owns a 100-watt Pico hydro unit that generates electricity from the small river behind the one-room house the couple lives in. The small generator is enough to power two light bulbs and a tiny LCD television. They have no fan, no heater, and no motor to extract honey. We could see a power distribution line nearby, but the couple’s house is not connected to it.

The husband knew about solar energy, but not where to get panels. He knows about batteries too, but these technologies are far away from their little home by the river. The couple told us that they could easily double their business income if they could extract honey mechanically, and they would be happy to pay for something that will work.

My conviction got reinforced – off-grid is the only way to bring electricity to millions who are still dreaming of it.