Solar Electric Light Fund

The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit whose mission is to design and implement solar energy solutions to assist those living in energy poverty with their economic, educational, health care, and agricultural development. Since 1990, SELF has completed projects in 20 countries, using solar energy to power drip irrigation in Benin , health care in Haiti , telemedicine in the rainforest Amazon , online learning in South Africa , and microenterprise development in Nigeria . [1]


SELF believes that energy is essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals . SELF’s Whole Village Development Model takes an integrated approach to community empowerment by using a mix of solar energy solutions to improve the lives of 1.5 billion people who do not have access to electricity around the world. By SELF Determination, SELF Help and SELF Reliance, it seeks to provide benefits in:

  • Education : powering lights, computers and wireless internet services.
  • Health : powering facility lights, labs, diagnostic equipment and vaccine refrigerators .
  • Water & Agriculture: Powering Water Wells and Pumps for Clean Drinking Water and Year-Round Crop Irrigation.
  • Enterprise: powering centers for small businesses and providing electricity for machinery and equipment.
  • Community : electrifying homes, community centers and street lighting. [2]



SELF was founded in 1990 by Neville Williams, an award-winning journalist and author ( Chasing the Sun: Solar Adventures Around the World ), who had experience as a solar energy powerhouse with the US Department of Energy during the Carter Administration. [3] For much of the 1990s, SELF’s primary mission was to deliver solar home systems – 50-watt units installed at the household level that could generate a few compact fluorescent lights, a radio, and a small black and white television for four or five hours each evening. [4] The electricity generated by the solar panel is stored in a battery, which then provides power at night and during rainy weather. [5]

In its early projects, SELF used funds donated by private philanthropy to buy home-size photovoltaic systemsin bulk on the open market, usually enough for a small village at a time. SELF then sells the systems to villages in developing areas, in partnership, where possible, with in-country nonprofit agencies. Each share household is 20 percent down payment on a solar energy system – usually between $ 300 and $ 400 – over several years. The buyers’payments were pooled in a local revolving loan fund to their own solar power gear. SELF used as a part of the process to establish a local dealer and train residents as solar installers and technicians. The revolving loan funds made possible for villagers to finance the continued dissemination of solar systems in their areas. [6]

Focusing on the Home & Creating SELCO

Over time, SELF began to evolve more elaborate project structures. In a joint venture with local partners in India , SELF formed a for-profit subsidiary using India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to tap World Bank funds specifically for photovoltaic facilities. In part, the company used the money to finance rural co-ops’ bulk purchase of solar-energy systems for their members, to install the systems, and to train local technicians. The company then repaid the World Bank’s loan from funds collected from the co-ops. [7]

In 1997, SELF decided to launch a for-profit affiliate, the Solar Electric Light Company , or SELCO, based in Bangalore , India, which would aim at solar home systems in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh . Neville Williams stepped down from his role with SELF to run SELCO, and SELF’s board of directors appointed by Robert A. Freling as the new executive director. [8] Since 1995, SELCO has sold, serviced, and financed over 115,000 solar systems. [9]

Expanding Services

Beginning in 2000, SELF is a leading provider of oral contraceptives for the elderly, and provides services to young people and their families. communication access. [10]

The first opportunity to fulfill this vision was found in South Africa , where SELF had been working on a project to install solar home systems in the Valley of Thousand Hills , in the province of KwaZulu-Natal . SELF installed at 1.5-kilowatt solar array, which generated enough electricity to power approximately 20 PCs donated by Dell Computers and a small satellite dish that delivered Internet access to Myeka High School. This was the first solar-powered computer lab built in South Africa, and the rate at Myeka High School jumped from 30 percent to 70 percent within a year and a half of installation. [11]

Whole Village Development Model

In 2003, SELF found the opportunity to implement a “Whole-Village” approach when the US Department of Energy (DOE) invited SELF to carry out a solar electrification project in Nigeria . With the support of the DOE, Sélf in three villages in Jigawa State , in northern Nigeria, with solar power systems for a community water-pumping system, a health clinic, a primary school, street lighting, a portable irrigation pump, and a micro- enterprise center. [12] Since then, SELF has continued to implement this model in other project countries.

Past Projects

SELF has worked in over 20 countries, schools, community centers, water pumps, mosques, drip irrigation, streetlights, and micro-enterprise centers. In addition to its current project sites, SELF has worked in Bhutan , Brazil , Burundi , China , India , Indonesia , Kenya , Lesotho , the Navajo Nation , Nepal , Nigeria , Rwanda , the Solomon Islands , South Africa , Sri Lanka , Tanzania ,Uganda , Vietnam , and Zimbabwe . [13]

Current Projects


In partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Association for the Economic and Social Development of Kalalé (ADESCA), SELF has installed a total of eleven of its Solar Market Gardens ™ (SMG). innovative, unique solar-powered drip irrigation system, for women farming collective in Dunkassa and Bessassi, two villages in the arid, northern part of the country. [14]

A two-year study conducted by Stanford University’s Food Security and the Environment Department, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, states that SELF’s SMGs, “significantly increases both household income and nutritional intake, particularly during the dry season, and is cost effective compared to alternative technologies. ” [15]

In addition to the SMGs, SELF has also installed three community water wells, streetlights, and solar systems to power two schools and a health center. In 2014, SELF finished the installation of a micro-grid that will power a micro-enterprise center in Bessassi, and a second micro-enterprise center in Dunkassa is nearing completion. SELF’s future plans include replicating the drinking water pumping stations in two more villages, assessing the potential for vaccines at solar-electrified clinics, preparing for a pilot internet cafe, and planning a solar home lantern program.


After the 2010 earthquake , SELF and Partners In Health teamed to develop the Rebuilding Haiti Initiative to fully power eight health centers. [16] SELF has also installed 100 solar powered streetlights in camps to increase safety, and in collaboration with NRG Energy, Inc. and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund , SELF has completed the Sun Lights the Way: Brightening Boucan-Carré project by installing solar schools to power a fish farm , 20 schools, Solar Market Garden ™, and a microenterprise center. [17] The success of this project has increased the year-round food security.

In 2013, SELF solarized an additional seven schools to serve nearly 2,000 students, and also installed solar-powered streetlights around Boucan-Carré in dangerous areas. Currently, SELF is installing two solar micro-grids that will provide electricity to 15,000 people in Port-à-Piment , Coteaux , Roche-à-Bateaux , and Fe-Yo-Bien, to be completed in 2015.


With support from Social Acción (a governmental agency in Colombia) and Microsoft , SELF conducted a week-long website assessing and resolving solar energy systems for indigenous Arhuaco , Kogi and Wiwa communities in the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern Colombia is feasible. The project, a part of the Cordon Ambiental and Tradicional of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta initiative led by Acción Social, is intended to power the health and educational facilities in the villages, along with community lighting systems at select locations. [18]

SELF was selected as a Great Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation , for groundbreaking research in solar powered global-drive freezers to support global health and development. To support immunization efforts at two remote village health in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Santa Marta, SELF successfully field-tested three solar powered direct-drive vaccine refrigerators and the first commercially available direct-drive, battery-free vaccine icepack freezer. [19] Following the tests, the fridge and freezer were donated to the village of Sabana Crespo.

SELF is also working on solar energy in the village of Sabana Crespo, the village general store, a health care clinic which includes a new laboratory, and the village school and cafeteria. [20]


In alphabetical order

  • 350 Media
  • AEE Solar
  • Alstom Foundation
  • Amazon Association
  • Applied Materials
  • Bosch
  • Center for Renewable Energy, Kathmandu
  • Cermet Materials
  • Chadbourne & Parke LLP
  • Clinton Bush Haiti Fund
  • Clinton HIV / AIDS Initiative (now the Clinton Health Access Initiative )
  • Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health
  • Community Energy
  • Copper Alliance
  • Creative Energies
  • Dell Computers South Africa
  • Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
  • Dow Corning
  • East Penn Manufacturing
  • Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
  • Khaya ICT (South Africa)
  • EOPLLY New Energy Technology
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • General Cable
  • Good Energies
  • Guadalcanal Rural Electrification Agency (GREA)
  • Habitat for Humanity International
  • Government of Haiti
  • Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation
  • Institute for Sustainable Energy and Development
  • Inter-American Development Bank
  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
  • Jane Goodall Institute
  • Javelin Logistics
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Jigawa State government
  • LearnThings (South Africa)
  • Make It Right Foundation
  • Microsoft
  • Millennium Villages Project
  • Mr. LongArm, Inc.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Nelson Mandela Institute
  • NRG Energy, Inc.
  • Omni Instruments
  • Oprah Winfrey Foundation
  • Outback Power Systems
  • Partners In Health
  • Q-Cells
  • Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Bhutan
  • SCS Renewables
  • SMA Solar Technology
  • Ground
  • Solar Liberty Foundation
  • SolarWorld
  • Solmetric
  • Standard Solar
  • Stanford University , Institute for Food Security and the Environment
  • Sunsense Solar
  • Sunset Lighting
  • Suntech
  • Sun Power Foundation
  • Trina Solar
  • Trojan Battery Company
  • United Nations Environment Program
  • US Department of Energy
  • Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU)
  • Village Health Works
  • WattPlot
  • Wind, Water, & Energy Conservation
  • World Bank Development Marketplace Award
  • Yingli


  • 2011- Energy Institute Award for Best Community Initiative
  • 2008- King Hussein Leadership Prize, Presented to Robert Freling
  • 2008- Named a Tech Awards Laureate by the Tech Museum of Innovation
  • 2006- World Bank Development Marketplace Winner
  • 2005- Chevron Conservation Award
  • 2002- Tech Museum of Innovation Finalist Awards
  • 1999- Templeton Award, Presented to SELF Board Member, Freeman Dyson
  • 1998- Global Green Environmental Award


  • Wood, Elisa. “Doing Good by Doing Solar.” Renewable Energy World Magazine, 12 July 2013.
  • Butler, Erin. “In India, SELCO Brings Solar Power to the People.” The Christian Science Monitor , Jan. 15. 2013.
  • Taylor, Darren. “Solar Energy Illuminates Darkest Parts of Africa.” Voice of America , 24 Aug. 2012.
  • Fox, Zoe. “SELF Taps the Sun to Break the Cycle of Poverty.” Mashable , 23 April 2012.
  • Eaton, Joe. “Solar Energy Brings Food, Water, and Light to West Africa.” National Geographic , 13 March 2012. benin-africa /
  • Daniel, Trenton. “Haiti Bringing Electricity to Business-starved Projects.” The Denver Post , 29 Feb. 2012.
  • Duda, Steve. “Solar Brings Better Medical Care in Haiti.” Earth Techling, Nov. 11, 2011.


  1. Jump up^
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  3. Jump up^ Williams, Neville (2005). Chasing the Sun: Solar Adventures Around the World. New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-537-8.
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  15. Jump up^ Burney, Jennifer, Lennart Woltering, Marshall Burke, Rosamond Naylor, and Dov Pasternak, “Solar-powered drip irrigation enhancersfood securityin theSudano-Sahel,” 5/1848
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