NGO Brings Lighting Services to Poor Households in India

The World Clean Energy Awards, announced in Basel, Switzerland, on June 15, recognize innovative, practical projects that move renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions into the mainstream. Developed by the independent transatlantic21 Association, the awards are intended to create benchmarks for clean energy in seven categories: construction; transport and mobility; products; services, trade, and marketing; finance and investment; policy and lawmaking; and NGOs and initiatives. The Worldwatch Institute was one of eight organizations invited to participate in the nomination and jury process. Eye on Earth will run a weekly feature on each of the nine winners.

LED lanterns in a market
Fruit, vegetable, garland vendors with access to improved and reliable lighting at lower costs.

A new nongovernmental organization is forming a critical link between poor communities, renewable energy providers, and local banks in southern India. Over the past three years, the Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund, Inc. (S3IDF) has implemented 35 low-investment renewable lighting projects for urban and rural communities, benefiting about 5,500 people. “Increasing evolution of technology and materials is driving small-scale solutions to be much more cost effective in poor areas,” explains Dr. Russell deLucia, founder and president of S3IDF.

The S3IDF Lighting Initiative acts as an interface between modern energy supply chains and unconnected poor communities, implementing financing options for residents and extending their access to infrastructural know-how. The ultimate goal, according to deLucia, is to improve the quality of life of poor households and small rural enterprises that have unreliable connections to energy grids. “The poor represent a significant market for modern, clean-energy services because they spend a high proportion of their incomes on inefficient sources such as firewood, candles, batteries and kerosene,” deLucia explains. The world’s working-poor are in critical need of infrastructure services and are willing to pay for them if these are designed to meet their priorities, he says.

S3IDF uses a variety of mechanisms to mainstream clean energy. First, it identifies entrepreneurs and nongovernmental groups to provide a supply of appropriate, small-scale lighting solutions, from solar panels and lanterns to compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) powered by solar, biogas, or grid-based uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems. Second, the initiative arranges for partial equities on behalf of the poor to induce local banks to finance small-scale projects that would otherwise be considered non-bankable. Third, S3IDF builds business models that link clean lighting services to end-users, creating employment and reducing the need for intermediaries. Lastly, the initiative promotes sustainable financing to make clean energy services cost-effective for poor communities and comparable to their existing expenditure on lighting (such as kerosene).

In June, the S3IDF Lighting Initiative received a World Clean Energy Award (WCEA) in the category of “NGOs and Initiatives.” On receiving this recognition, Dr. de Lucia commented that, “the award is vitally important as it is an independent set of prestigious, experienced people validating our approach that will help with our dissemination and will help to raise funds for furthering our vision.” In the coming years, S3IDF aims to implement 50 more lighting projects that will benefit 1,500 to 3,000 families. In addition, the organization is able to provide the transaction expertise to promote a scaling-up of its approach, targeting 5,000 to 10,000 households through more than 100 additional projects.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.