Meet Mr Sunshine
Monday, August 1, 2011
Mumbai: For A Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Harish Hande is surprisingly easy to reach. Scarred by my previous experiences with tight-fisted companies’ fortress-like PR mechanisms that make it as difficult as possible for the media to reach their clients, I dialled the number on the website of the Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO) India with consternation, only to be greeted by an affable team that put me in touch with their Managing Director, no less, in a matter of minutes.
That was the first indication that Hande and SELCO, who were cited by the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation (RMAF) in Manila on July 27, for ’passionate and pragmatic efforts to put solar power technology in the hands of the poor, through a social enterprise that brings customised, affordable, and sustainable electricity to India’s vast rural populace, encouraging the poor to become asset creators’, actually walked their democratic talk.
“But there’s so much more to do,” the 44-year-old admits with surprising candour, over an international telephone call. “Our achievements that you read about on the website and in the media reflect only the five per cent success we have had. But we have also failed with 95 per cent.”
Still, the five per cent has accrued to lighting up over 1,15,000 rural homes across the country since the company’s inception in 1995, no mean feat in a country where 500 million people still live without electricity, he tells me.
A large part of that has been achieved by decentralising the process a simple but effective innovation that has killed the fallacy that solar energy is expensive and impractical.
“When you centralise a power grid, you create additional social costs because it comes with its own processes tied up in red tape, thereby delaying the arrival of power to villagers.
The beauty of decentralisation that is that you create personalised solutions based on people’s different needs, thereby cutting down on energy losses incurred during transmission and distribution,” is how the University of Massachusetts graduate explains SELCO’s approach to the dissemination of solar energy.