The Indian solar mission has been hailed by everyone as a breakthrough programme for the world – well, by almost everyone – except the practitioners: the people who will actually do the work at the grassroots level.
An extremely well-intentioned programme that has been in the planning stages for a couple of years has become anti-poor, anti-innovation and anti-small enterprises. It is a document that has trashed democratic systems, insults the decision-making of the poor and disregards all the work done by rural energy enterprises over the last two decades.
Some of us who have spent most of their careers in the field of rural solar see the solar mission as a major threat to the hard work of two decades. It attacks the very fabric of a sustainable model for reaching the poor with high-quality, need-based systems, deserved doorstep service and affordable financing. The very incentives needed have been ignored and trampled upon – by infusing unsustainable subsidies, under-designing prescribed products, and forcing low pricing and poor financing suggestions.
The mission specifies the type of product, the price and a confused financing structure. By defining the product configurations, it is killing innovation and choice for the poor. The design of most of the prescribed 11 products are heavily under-designed – a consequence that will be borne by the poor. The prices have been based on large solar installations, completely neglecting the after-sale services and sustainability of small and medium enterprises. It is the small and medium enterprises that create sustainable supply chains with solid after-sale services. The solar mission in its present design is a document on how to discourage small enterprises and supply the poor with low-quality systems.
Again, for many of us who have day in and day out worked hard to create sustainable businesses in the rural areas, the solar mission feels like hangman’s noose. In 2005, subsidies in the German market had a near disastrous affect on the systems targeted towards the poor. But never did we realize that the climate flagship programme of India – the solar mission – would be so chilling.
I can understand the big players not speaking up, as the profits are in the on-grid part of the mission. But who will be the voice for the off-grid? As usual, for us who cater to the poor, we are left powerless in this wonderful democracy of ours.
Harish Hande, Managing Director, SELCO Solar Light (P) Limited, India
Social Entrepreneur; Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum
SELCO Solar Light provides sustainable energy solutions and services to under-served households and businesses in India.
Disclaimer: the views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship