Solar Power is the Key to Sustainability for Poor Households

Author: Darvin Tocmo  Date Posted:18 November 2016 

Solar Power is the Key to Sustainability for Poor Households There was a market vendor who approached a solar company to have solar lights installed in her home and the social enterprise cut into her roof and installed a glass tile. The woman, who sells food in the market during night, only wants to have a light for her to prepare the food during day time. But there was a problem, the woman is living in the slums and her house can't get enough light because there are no enough windows to let the sunlight in and it did not make sense to use solar lights in the daytime. India chairman Harish Hande said “why should she buy a 10,000 rupee solar system when with a 2,000 glass tile she (could get the light that she needed)?” Hande, who has made it his life’s mission to provide sustainable technologies for the poor, said “we aim to provide solutions and not just sell products to make a profit.” “Don’t sell to the poor. Look at what they need,” he added in an interview at the Ramon Magsaysay Center. Hande, who was given a Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2011, is back in the Philippines to share ideas with local social enterprises in the hopes of replicating his success in energizing poor communities in rural India. These series of workshops were hosted by the Ramon Magsaysay Transformative Leadership Institute. “Philippines, like India, has a number of poor people and (is) at the forefront of climate atrocities,” Hande said. He also pointed out that the Philippines has one of the highest electricity rates in the world and that the poor should be taught that it is more costly to spend money on kerosene and gas than to invest in solar energy. The key is long-term financing through institutions. “When a potential customer approaches them they break down the figures to show how much they will have to pay per month for solar energy, based on long-term financing. Often, it is cheaper than what the customer is currently spending on non-renewable energy sources,” technical advisor Thomas Pullenkav said. To bring down the cost, they customize the solar power system to fit the lifestyle of the resident. “Once you find out the bare minimum of what they need then it’s our job to find out how (it can be affordable for them),” Pullenkav added. “Don’t push the poor into more debt. It’s unethical,” India chairman Harish Hande also said. “A house needing two to four lights would require a system that costs around $180 to $200. Poor customers can pay in installments over a period of five or 10 years. Once they are done with the payments, they do not need to spend anything since solar energy is free,” Pullenkav said. And for those with small businesses, as in the case of the market vendor, electricity would allow them to earn more income. In the end, the system will be paying for itself. Hande said customers only need to maintain the batteries, which are usually replaced every five years. He explained that it is not difficult to convince the poor to try solar once they realize that the system works. He said it is more difficult to convince the rich since their households consume more energy.