This profile was prepared when Harish Hande was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Harish chartered the Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO) in 1995 to challenge these assumptions. SELCO has proven the poor can afford and benefit from modern and clean energy services. Today, over 95,000 solar systems have been installed by SELCO with over 400,000 people directly benefitting and tens of thousands more indirectly benefitting. SELCO has provided sustainable energy services to the underserved and keeps costs to a minimum by focusing on the specific lighting needs of its clients as opposed to the common practice of catering to the general electricity demands of a population. Additionally, through door-step service, SELCO demonstrates that maintenance is not an issue. The families and individuals purchasing solar services receive routine check-ups and care for the equipment. The company works with the natural forces of the market and though 75 percent of its client’s earn less than US$4 a day, SELCO generates enough revenue to break-even. As SELCO offers unique products and services to deliver electricity to the poor, its financing methods are equally important. Since an energy service to an underserved household can represent several months of income, the provision of affordable and accessible credit is essential. By partnering with credit cooperatives, commercial and regional rural banks, SELCO helps customers obtain the necessary credit to purchase solar lighting and heating systems. Intrinsic to SELCO’s mission is Harish’s belief that global climate disruption must be addressed. Greening rich nations will not solve the problem and according to Harish, “The planet will be destroyed by the billions of people in the developing world who will be forced to use non-optimal forms of energy to meet their absolute basic needs.”