Selling Solar Power in India’s Slums

The country is fast outgrowing its electric grid. Are small-scale solar projects the solution?
Honza Soukup/Flickr

Honza Soukup/Flickr

Bangalore, INDIA — It’s a little after sundown, and Arun Kumar is hawking his wares in the neighborhood for the first time. He’s selling a light, just a small half-circle tied to a three-inch wide solar panel. An older man tests it in his home, a tiny hut of tarp and tin built like the 30 others in this far north side slum settlement. A kerosene lamp flickers inside.

At a second home, Arun wields his 1,600 rupee ($29.48) gizmo for a woman seated with nine children. He points out the small cell phone charger in the light’s rear. The woman turns inside, pulling out her phone to consult her husband.

She is one of millions in India and worldwide in a surreal contemporary fix: she owns a cell phone, but her home has no toilet or power line. The country’s mobile users mushroomed in a few short years, reaching some 900 million. Cheap phones have not suddenly lifted owners out of poverty. But they have given them access to resources and economic ladders once unreachable.

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