Dr. Harish Hande is the co-founder of Selco, a rural sustainable energy company which has over 80,000 installations and 25 retail sales and service centers all over Karnataka, a state in Southern India. Among its many accomplishments, Selco has created India’s first rural solar financing program using regional banks. I recently talked with Harish about the development of Selco and his journey as a remarkably committed social entrepreneur.
SM: Tell us about your childhood, where you grew up, and what kind of education you had. This will help us put the interview in context. HH: I grew up in a steel town in Orissa, a state on the east coast of India. I did all of my schooling up to 12th grade there, and then I went to IIT for undergraduate work in energy engineering. I did my master’s and PhD at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, also in energy engineering.
SM: All of your educational background is in energy engineering? HH: Yes. I concentrated on one discipline and have all of my training there.
SM: What did you do after you finished your master’ss, did you work anywhere? HH: No, I have not worked anywhere else. Selco Is my first job, and hopefully it is my last.
SM: Did you just decide to pick up the pieces, leave Massachusetts and go to India to start Selco? HH: It did not happen exactly like that. My PhD revolved around rural electrification, and during my fieldwork I looked at Sri Lanka and India. However, while I was doing my Master’s I also focused on rural electrification, I was looking at the Dominican Republic. I had gone there for a brief visit.
The person installing solar panels there later on became my friend. It was at that moment that I realized solar power was such a viable energy solution. When I came back to the United States, and I prepared for my field work in Sri Lanka and India, the questions about what was a reliable solution for rural electrification which was also feasible, emerged. There were various solutions which seemed could be applied, but while I was doing the actual solution design work, I came upon the solution that became Selco. I also met my cofounder then.
SM: What year was this? HH: Sometime between 1992 and 1993.
SM: Can we then say that you started Selco in 1993? HH: As a concept, that is correct. As a formal company we started it in 1995.