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Group Brings Solar Power to Rural India

In today's Searching for Solutions report, we feature an Indian company that has brought environmentally sustainable electricity to several thousand rural families in southern India. VOA's Paul Sisco has more.

SELCO is a private company in Bangalore, India, that brings solar power to low income families and small businesses in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. It has twice won Ashden awards for Sustainable Energy.

Chairman of the Ashden Trust, Sara Butler-Sloss explains, "By bringing together a package of micro-finance, of income generating training and encouragement as well as photovoltaic technology, they have found a way of showing how sustainable energy can improve the quality of life (of poor people) and they have done it in a commercial way," Butler-Sloss said.

The company's low cost solar home systems are sold to families and cooperatives that are not on the nation's power grid, bringing light and power to remote areas.

H. Harish Hande is the managing director of SELCO-INDIA says, "People come up and say 'my daughter has been able to complete her studies just because we have installed a solar light," Hande said. "We have increased our income. People even say 'my daughter was born under solar light rather than candles and kerosene."

The company has partnered with the SEWA Bank. SEWA stands for Self Employed Women's Association, a micro-finance institution with 300,000 members. One project provided low cost loans for solar sewing machines at this women's cooperative -- a move that was warmly welcomed.

One member describes a some benefits, "There are three benefits: one, now we have a new type of sewing machine which has 27 designs. Two, we can work when there is no power grid. Three, because it runs on solar we don't have to pay electric bills," she said.

Hande is trying to interest the United Nations Development Program to help establish similar projects elsewhere in the developing world.

He says receiving the Ashden award was a much needed boost for SELCO, "Winning the 2007 outstanding award is overwhelming because this reinforces that what we are trying to do is right, that we are on the right path," Hande said.

[The right path]--which is providing sustainable energy services to the people who need them most.

Some video courtesy of the Ashton Trust