Electricity from the Sun for the "Bottom of the Pyramid"
Interview with Robert Freling, Executive Director, Solar Electric Light Fund
on June 15, 2011
One thing gratifying about hosting Essinova interviews is the opportunity to speak with interesting people. Robert Freiling is definitely one of the most interesting so far. He is fluent in six widely-diverse languages - Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Indonesian; and he has been stewarding solar energy projects in rural villages around the world since 1997, as the Executive Director of Solar Electric Light Fund ("SELF"), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people in developing countries to rise from poverty using energy from the sun. 1997! That's when I had just graduated from business school, and I thought the most exciting thing was investment banking! I hardly began to think about solar until 10 years later. Solar for Third World countries? I didn't know it existed until this very interview!
I did the interview at Intersolar in San Francisco last summer. It took Bob six months to give me some SELF video clips to use in it, but he's too charming for me to get mad at him. Plus, how can I blame him? He's too busy lighting up schools, homes and hospitals in poor countries. My own backlog and shortage of resources contributed to another six-month delay. This interview is now nearly a year-old, with a new Intersolar tradeshow already around the corner. However I'm still inspired every time I come back to editing the video. I live vicariously through Bob a little bit, going to those remote, exotic places, bringing significantly positive changes to people's lives and smiles on their faces. I also can't help but notice and, ponder, both the human poverty in the foreground, and, simultaneously, the beautiful natural environment of many of these places in the background, unspoilt by industrialization. I do not know what to think of it. What seems clear, though, is that the solar panels are improving the former without degrading the latter, and Bob's point about financing is something even the developed markets can learn from.
- BeiBei Song
Tags: Robert Freiling, Solar Electric Light Fund, SELF, Intersolar, developing markets