In 1997, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) founded SELCO-India, launched as a commercial energy services company and now operating in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. SELF linked-up with India’s 5th largest bank to finance solar lighting for consumers, serviced exclusively by SELCO-India. SELF installed the first Solar Home System (SHS) directly financed by the World Bank’s first-ever loan for solar PV, and signed up farmer societies to be electrified by SELCO-India under the World Bank/Global Environment Facility program.
The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) founded India’s SELCO Photovoltaic Electrification, Pvt., Ltd. (SELCO). With initial funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, SELCO was established in 1995 to market, install, and service SHS in south India. Doing business as The Solar Electric Light Company, SELCO has achieved international recognition as the first company to concentrate on marketing and servicing SHS in the rural Indian market. Under the direction of Managing Director H. Harish Hande, SELCO had installed over 500 SHS by early 1997.
SELCO has focused on providing reliable electric service to its customers, rather than simply selling a product. The Company uses TATA-BP solar modules and deep-cycle batteries purchased on the Indian market, while manufacturing its own lights and charge controllers. Currently, its primary products are 22 and 35 watt SHS, and it will be introducing a 50 Wp system to customers shortly. These systems provide sufficient electricity to power two to six compact fluorescent lights for several hours, as well as a radio, black-and-white television, or small fan. SELCO also performs high quality installations on each of its sales. Each SELCO SHS is installed with PVC conduit, switches, and additional outlets for lights or small appliances. After-sales service of SELCO SHS is also an essential part of the SELCO approach. Through its network of solar service centers (SSCs) and service technicians, SELCO provides after-sales service for one year on all SHS sold. Periodic maintenance checks on installed systems are made throughout the year to ensure the functioning of equipment, and provide further user instruction. Throughout rural Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the SELCO name has come to stand for quality, and interested customers have begun to ask for a “SELCO”, rather than a SHS.
SELCO has been successful by coupling quality products and after-sales service with customer financing. SELCO has worked with several rural banking groups to set up financing programs for interested customers. Qualified homeowners can borrow money at Government subsidized rates for the purchase of a SHS, paying 25% down and repaying the remainder to the bank through monthly payments over 3 years. SELCO has set up financing programs through several rural banking institutions, including Syndicate Bank, the fifth largest in India, with over 1,500 branches in South India. SELCO is the only company currently sanctioned to supply and service SHS for Syndicate bank borrowers. SELCO is also financing SHS through low-cost World Bank funds available through the PV Lending Program of the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA). Through the IREDA funds, SELCO has been able to provide SHS financing to members of several farmer societies and cooperatives in South and Central Karnataka. SELCO is the first organization to use World Bank funds to provide SHS financing for rural customers.
There is an enormous demand for rural electricity in south India, with more than ten million families in India’s four southern states still unconnected to the electricity grid. In addition, there is a growing demand for SHS from grid-connected households which experience significant power outages. Daily power outages of 6-10 hours are common in urban areas, while rural areas suffer blackouts as much as 20 hours per day. As a result, backup electricity generators, such as diesel generators and battery backup systems have become popular consumer items.