London, May 30 : The world's leading green energy prize has been awarded to the Aryavart Gramin Bank (AGB) in Uttar Pradesh.
The bank will receive prizes of up to 20,000 pounds, with an overall Energy Champion winning up to 40,000 pounds. The winners will be revealed at a ceremony in London in June.
AGB, a rural bank in one of India's poorest states, is helping customers to buy solar home systems (SHS) in an ambitious small loans programme rolled out through its 289 branches which is already benefiting over 40,000 people. The bank has a target of 25,000 SHS this year, and is promoting the idea of its SHS loan scheme to other rural banks. Demand is growing as word spreads of the cleaner, brighter light that solar electricity brings, and 1,000 or more customers sign up at each of AGB's regular 'credit camps' in villages to promote the scheme.
Successful installation of solar photovoltaics (PV) for back-up power when the electric mains failed at five of the AGB's branches in 2006 prompted N.K. Joshi, the bank's chairman, to set up a bulk supply and installation agreement for SHS with international company Tata-BP. Small loans offered to its credit-worthy customers have been enthusiastically taken up: to date 10,103 customers have signed up for SHS loans, and 8,007 systems are already installed, bringing their owners the benefits of safer, brighter lighting, phone-charging, radio, TV and fans.
Local businesses are reaping the profits as PV lengthens the working day and provides a cheaper, cleaner power supply. The main cottage industry in the area is fine embroidery (Chikan work), for which bright light is a real benefit. One family of nine female tailors and embroiderers has seen their earnings increase by about IRs 450 () per month each, as a result of the PV lighting. PV power has also enabled small IT-based businesses to grow.
Barjesh Singh of Bauli village, who runs a photo-shop, says: "I have two solar systems and run four lights, my computer, two photo-printers and a photocopier. My gross income has doubled from about Rs. 200 a day to Rs. 400."