Solar-powered energy centers power more than Bangalore's slum households

Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 2 January 2015

Darkness reigned over nights in the Tubrahalli slum in Bangalore until Selco's Urban Community Lab stepped in. Tubrahalli's 200-strong migrant community had few options for lighting up their community past sunset except to spend disproportionate amounts of its income on kerosene for cooking and electrical needs. In 2012, SELCO, an organization that has been working to bring its solar technology to rural areas for years, made its foray into urban India by launching a new concept in Bangalore, Integrated Energy Centers (IECs). The IECs provide solar lights on rent to local households, saving money and expanding productive time for income-generating activities, play, study and domestic chores. In addition, the centers have become hubs of activity. Tubrahalli's IEC hosts a weekly health clinic, a community television, and even powers the school next door.

Selco's urban model centers around one key question: How can communities be inspired to take the initiative to solve their own local community problems or improve their situation? The IECs go beyond providing electricity — they aim to be "everything the under-served urban communities need it to be — right from facilitators, connectors, solution catalyzers, incubators or simply bridging a gap in an existing ecosystem." The IECs are owned and operated by the communities they are in and adapted to meet the specific needs of the particular area and residents.

In Thannissandra, for example, residents of this tented community in Bangalore survive in some of the harshest circumstances. Families live on dirt patches with plastic tarpaulins held up by bamboo poles for their homes. The nomadic community has been moving around India for centuries, keeping alive their 500-year-old artisanal tradition of selling hand-carved wooden drums. Selco adapted the IEC to meet the needs of this migratory community by creating a solar-powered energy pack-n-go cart — still owned and operated by the community once they pay off the initial capital costs — that rents individual solar lamps to households and provides mobile charging. The cart can be brought with them wherever they go and whenever they go.

Selco's Urban Community Lab has launched over 15 Integrated Energy Centers of all shapes and sizes in the last two years. Each one responds to the unique needs of the local residents, but all go beyond simply providing clean, reliable, and affordable electricity. In Thannissandra, UCL has helped the drum makers to reach new urban markets and also helped them to adapt the drum designs to modern consumer interests. Their latest product has the base of the drum converted into a lamp base, part of a new furniture line the craftsmen are creating with the assistance of the UCL. The IECs demonstrate the highly interwoven needs of the urban poor and provide a model for how to begin providing more holistic approaches to the complex situations of these communities.

Photo credit: Selco Foundation's Urban Community Lab

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