Can sales of solar products and services be a commercially viable business in poor rural communities? Although enthusiasm for off-grid electrification among researchers and practitioners is widespread, the determinants of commercial success in this domain remain poorly understood. This article reports results and lessons from a successful field project in Uttar Pradesh, India. In collaboration with a local social enterprise, Boond Engineering and Development, a small investment of USD 5000 was made to establish an energy center in the Unnao district of the state. The energy center became profitable immediately and generated seven dollars of business in solar home systems for every dollar invested during the 6-month evaluation period. Factors contributing to the success of the project included robust marketing, a strong banking partnership, the high quality of products, and continuous evaluation of staff performance. Challenges to sales of solar products included a bias in sales toward large solar home systems, the limited access to finance for poor households, and access to working capital. Overall, the energy center model holds considerable promise for alleviating energy poverty in rural India on a large scale.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank MORSEL India for excellent data collection. The research was funded by the Earth Institute at Columbia University under an Earth Clinic grant. We are grateful to Jonathan Balls, Harsh Singh, Rustam Sengupta, Ryan Kennedy, and Patrick Woolsey for thoughtful comments on earlier drafts.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law