Freeing Energy from the Grid

As one of the fastest growing free-market democracies in the world, India’s growth rate of 8.2% is likely to continue. With this growth, the gap between energy demand and supply is also widening. While the liberalization and privatization of the 1990s has transformed the Indian economy, its lack of focus on rural electrification is posing to be a huge challenge to India’s development process today. Various studies have shown that access to electricity has direct human and economic benefits. Not only is it a basic human need for quality of life, but it also fuels productivity and employment generation activities in rural areas. Today, more than 40% of the Indian population has little or no access to commercial electricity to carry out their daily routines. Globally, of the 1.4 billion people who do not have access to electricity, 612 million or 42% live in South Asia. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh constitute more than 90% of those lacking access to electricity. It is apparent from the Government’s efforts that the provision of secure, sustainable and affordable energy is a critical economic and human development challenge for the country. The role of renewable energy in India is no longer that of ‘alternate’ energy, but has become a mainstream solution, driven not just by the Government but by local enterprise as well.

In this context, off-grid energy solutions have taken on a larger role in addressing the energy challenge. Rural and remote areas in India are not connected to the national grid. These communities take to manufacturing their own power using a range of local generators including fossil fuels and renewable technologies such as wind, hydro, solar PV. Off-grid electricity often serves a dual purpose of providing affordable renewable power solutions to disconnected areas, as well as generating employment for the local community. In the past, market incentives for profit-seeking companies in rural electrification profits were extremely limited. Dispersed customers, higher cost of supply, geographical remoteness, low consumption and low ability to pay are some of the other barriers that have restricted the entry of private players in this space. However, led by a generation of young entrepreneurs, India is pioneering off-grid energy solutions today. These success stories pave the way for rural development and environment preservation. The uniqueness of these solutions is not just the innovative technology, but also the distribution, ownership and revenue models on which they are based. These stories are freeing energy from the grid, and lighting up the lives of millions of rural poor in India and in other parts of the developing world.

Husk Power Systems has changed the lives of 150,000 people in rural India, impacting 25,000 households and reaching out to 250 villages by installing 60 mini power plants that use discarded rice husks to generate electricity. Further, they have trained and employed more than 300 people to run and manage these power plants. By 2014, Husk Power Systems plans to impact 6,500 villages, save 750,000 tons of CO2, create 7000 local jobs and save over $50MN in cash for over 5MN people by replacing kerosene and diesel with its renewable energy technology. HPS is creating a paradigm shift in social enterprise where it pays the community in cash twice the amount it receives from them. To support HPS in achieving its ambitious targets, Acumen invested $125000 and IFC invested $375000 in them over the past year. [Husk Power Systems is a 2010 Sankalp Alum]

Promethean Power Solution’s prototype of a chilling center is helping farmers in rural India to boost supply by reducing spoilage. The technology is a solar- powered refrigeration system for cold-storage in areas that do not have access to the energy grid. Having won numerous awards, the founders of Promethean started off in a village in Goa and are now looking to expand their services across India. They received $10,000 funding initially, followed by a $1 MN investment. [Promethean Power Solutions is a 2011 Sankalp Alum]

Onergy provides complete renewable energy solutions to BoP customers in rural India by focusing on quality products and servicing and innovative distribution and pricing. Onergy’s main focus is on off-grid solutions through LED lighting, cooking and electrification with the aim of impacting 1 million lives by 2016. Project Zero Kerosene replaces kerosene lighting with off-grid solar LED lamps, Solar home lighting and Solar home electrification. Project Smokeless Village replaces traditional wood-cooking with efficient, affordable and renewable ways of cooking. Finally, the Project Decentralized Generation sets up Biomass Gasifiers of 10 – 100 KWe catering to local energy demands. Onergy is currently looking for investment to scale up operations. [Onergy is a 2011 Sankalp Alum]

D.Light Design is a story founded in inspiration derived from extreme hardship. The experience of using a kerosene lamp for light, inspired the founder to look for an alternative solution. D.Light provides a solar powered LED lantern that’s safe, affordable and bright. Today D.Light has 3 products priced between INR 500 to INR 1600, and sells its products in 30 countries including India. Education on renewable technology and last-mile delivery are the key challenges the company faces. Their long-term ambition is to impact the lives of 100 MN people by 2020. D.light has raised an investment of $5.5 MN from Omidyar. [D.light is a 2010 Sankalp applicant]

Selco enhances the quality of life of underserved households through the provision of sustainable energy solutions. Selco’s success has proved that poor people can afford and maintain sustainable energy technologies and that profitable social enterprise is a viable business model. Since 1995, Selco has serviced and financed 115,000 solar systems increasing human productivity, creating pivotal financial schemes for the poor to access solar technology, generating awareness about solar power, and improving the quality of life of millions. Selco not only customizes its technology to suit customer requirements, but provides high-quality service, as well as secures access to finance for customers. In 2011, the founder of Selco won the Ramon Magsaysay award.

  1. garima said:

    Hi Deepti Chadda

    I write to you on behalf of The Viewspaper ( which is India’s largest youth paper and the 5th largest media company on Facebook.

    We are organizing the World’s Largest Tweet-A-Thon! and would like to invite you as a panelist for the same.

    From American political journalists in the 1950s, to The Economist magazine not so long ago; speculation has run rife about India and whether we will survive as a nation.

    Poverty. Corruption. Terrorism. Disease. Currency woes. We’ve got it all, and more. We’ve been written off, doomsdayed, delegitimized – but we keep coming back! What is the root of this appetite for adversity, this solid resilience?

    It is our nation’s optimism. No matter how much you bring her down, India feels up!

    A first of its kind initiative, the #IFeelUp Tweetathon is a 3-day virtual conference, which delights in the irrepressible state of the nation, in spite of its laundry list of issues. Over 72 hours, we’ll be bringing in 400 panelists for non-stop discussion, and that’s where you come in.

    We would like to invite you as a panelist for a 30 minute session wherein you can participate from any part of the world.

    If you’re interested, kindly email us your contact information so that we could provide you with more details about the event.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Garima Obrah
    The Viewspaper

  2. Deepti said:

    Hi Garima,

    This sounds interesting! Could you send me your email ID please?


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