SELCO Solar Light provides sustainable energy solutions and services to under-served households and businesses in India.
Focus: Energy, Environment, Rural Development
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 500,000 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 575,000 (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 100%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, India, 2007
About 57% of India’s population does not have electricity and for many more the supply is unreliable. SELCO’s approach to the lack of working electricity through much of rural India relies on three principles: the poor can afford sustainable technologies; the poor can maintain sustainable technologies; and it is commercially viable to operate a venture serving the needs of the poor.
Innovation and Activities
SELCO has pioneered energy access to families living below the poverty line through a combination of customized energy service systems, innovative financing and an understanding of market needs of different user groups. Rather than focus on a saturated solar technology production field, SELCO brings the sustainable technology to the base of the pyramid using financing mechanisms that render it affordable and productive for the end user.
To do this SELCO pioneers links between technology, financing, energy services, income generation and quality of life. The organization runs its grassroots operations through 28 Energy Service Centres (ESCs).
The centres market, sell, install and service SELCO’s products.
The company’s core business is the sale of energy systems that provide electricity for lighting, water pumping, clean cooking, communications, computing, entertainment and small business appliances.
The company works with banks to structure innovative financing for customers.
A standard SELCO four-light system, for example, costs users approximately US$ 380. A user will usually pay a small down payment and then monthly instalments of US$ 6-8 over five years. The user can also pay by generating extra income resulting from additional work made possible with the light and savings from eliminating costly fossil fuels with customized payment schedules.
SELCO further spreads the sustainable technology through “business associates”. These entrepreneurs lease solar-powered lights to street vendors in the evening. SELCO has reached 130,000 clients across the Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat. Energy services have led to improvements in the quality of life for thousands of people, including better education outcomes for children who can now study at night.
Harish Hande is an engineering graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He earned his doctorate in energy engineering at the University of Massachusetts, specializing in solar energy. Hande originally started his PhD thesis in heat transfer, but changed his academic focus after visiting the Dominican Republic and observing areas with poverty worse than India using solar energy. Upon returning to Massachusetts, he abandoned his heat transfer thesis and started anew on solar electrification in rural areas, conducting much of his research in India, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic. He is recognized as an international expert in the field of renewable energy.