Clean Tech Entrepreneurs are Changing the Life of India's Rural Poor

A billion people on solar in India (Faul/Flickr)

By Lisa Fleming

While cash-strapped U.S and European governments are placing clean tech investments under more scrutiny, China and India are pushing ahead with strong government support. Western investors and companies are following suit. On April 24 representatives from major companies, such as Applied Solar Technologies, and key investors including Khosla Ventures, Siemens, and Deloitte,came together at the AAMA’s (Asia America MultiTechnologyAssociation) Accelerating Clean Tech Innovation Through Global Partnerships Conference to discuss how the sector will be turning away from West and will look towards China and India in the coming years. With their transitioning and growing populations, and with their strong need to become more energy efficient, China and India are ripe for innovative thoughts and ideas.

Dr. Vinod K. Agarwal, Managing Director of Applied SolarTechnologies, one of the featured speakers at the conference spoke about his company’s innovative low-cost and socially conscious business model which has “created local entrepreneurs, cut electricity costs, and provided power to hundreds of millions people”, demonstrating that companies can “still make money while still doing good”.

Agarwal, spoke on his company’s innovative approach for supplying electricity to the poorest states in India. While many in U.S. tend to think clean technology is a luxury for the rich, Agarwal focused on how to it can serve the poor. With falling costs in solar panels, LED lights, coupled with growing improvements in batteries, Applied Solar has been able to set up thousands of micro solar power grids across the two poorest states in India, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Rather than setting up company storefronts, they have built up their company around already existing social infrastructure. And instead of displacing existing local energy suppliers, Applied Solar is hiring them on to maintain and monitor electricity distribution to the nearby villages from the new micro solar grids. Maintaining this traditional village economic structure has created a faster adoption rate of the new technology.

In a country where 400 million residents currently lack access to electricity Agarwal noted that this innovative new approach could change the life of the rural poor as we know it.

This event was sponsored by Deloitte, Cooley, and Silicon Valley Bank.