SELCO Solar Lights Rural Lives

Listed as a finalist in the Ashden Sustainability Awards for it's simply designed, turnkey solar product, SELCO's motto appears to be "Solar electricity is expensive for the rich; but it is cheap for the poor." SELCO also was listed among the 25 "innovators" that recently won the 2005 Tech Museum Awards (Silicon Valley area of California) for using science to improve lives in countries such as China, Chile, Thailand, Africa, and Brazil. TreeHuggers come in poor and rich models as well; maybe we ought to look into their business model. From its base in Bangalore, SELCO has installed 38,000 solar home systems across India, and become expert in finding ways to make solar affordable to virtually all income groups. The following additional examples are taken largely from the Ashden Awards announcement.

SELCO's most recent initiative has been its '3000 Solar Home Lighting Project', successfully selling solar home systems (SHS) to 3,000 poor households in Belthangadi District, in the state of Karnataka - reaching around 15,000 people.

A typical SHS consists of a 35-watt panel, four compact fluorescent lights, and a battery, for charging appliances like a TV, radio, tape player or a fan. The panel sits on the rooftop, or is attached to a free standing pole. It charges the battery during the day, in order to provide at least four hours of light and power each evening. As part of the business model, spent batteries and CFLs are collected and sent back to the manufacturers for recycling. The after-sales service involves follow up visits every three months during the one-year warranty period, making sure the system is working properly, and that the customer knows how to use and look after it.

"One of SELCO's major preoccupations is persuading banks that, when it comes to loans for solar, the poor are eminently credit-worthy....Take the case of one street vendor. Repayments on his solar system were set at 200 rupees (£2.50) per month. Any doubts as to whether he could afford this were soon dispelled when it emerged he would save exactly twice that in kerosene costs". (It appears in both close ups that the lamp/battery module is encased in plastic wrap to prevent dust, water, or food from spattering on it.)

No stretch to conclude that SELCO's simple design would be perfect for the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to keep on hand in large numbers for extended power outages: say in the even of a hurricane? The cost probably is low enough to make what our armed forces spends on comparable technology to look like the golden fleece. Alas, we've already forgetten the motto haven't we?

Could also fit somewhere in that off-grid recreational home or lakeside cabin.