Today we had a meeting at SELCO's head office in Bangalore. SELCO's main focus is on installing solar lighting systems in rural homes in India; however, they also install solar lighting systems in schools and businesses. A typical system includes a solar panel on the roof, a rechargeable battery, and a few CFL or LED lights installed inside and sometimes outside the house. The homeowner switches on and off the individual lights with switches on the wall the same way we do. SELCO has provided nearly 150,000 homes in India with these systems. Families typically take out loans to pay for the systems and repay the bank over a period of 3-5 years. The individual we spoke to, Ananth, explained that SELCO has over 27 branches that install the systems and provide technical/repair services. Each branch generally has a manager and two technicians. The distributed branches give SELCO the ability to quickly repair the systems and make support more accessible. The individuals who purchase these systems generally have an income of a few thousand rupees a year. Many make much less than this and SELCO is working on alternative models to address the lower income bracket. One alternative model is a central, solar-powered, charging station in a village where people purchase an individual light and pay a small fee to charge it each day from a shared solar panel - functioning similar to a gas station. Ananth said that they have worked slowly and steadily to reach the number of people that they have. He had a lot of good feedback for us and advice on moving forward. Many of their customers need an additional light or lantern that is not connected to the main system to keep on for longer hours as a nightlight, outdoor light, or light for where their animals are sleeping. He said fishermen are also in need of portable lights for their boats. And for the many people who cannot afford the payments of a whole system, or who do not have a house to install the system in, portable, rechargeable lights are a good option. Most important is to get the cost very low, the brightness and quality as high as we can get it, and to get the product out there. After that, we will learn much more about how and where the product is most useful. Below is Selco's head office in Bangalore.
Below is an image of the interior lights in one of Selco's home systems (from their website):