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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

Last updated on: November 25, 2010 09:34 IST

ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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A solar revolution is empowering villagers across 50 villages in West Bengal. Villages engulfed by darkness have a ray of hope with ONergy offering poor villagers with a complete range of solar products to cater to lighting as well as cooking needs.

Villagers who spend their hard earned saving on kerosene lamps, now have access to a financial scheme, which helps them buy solar lamps easily. With their villages and homes lit up, these villagers are able to spend more time at work and children are able to devote more time to studies.

"Two thirds of India does not have access to reliable clean energy, be it a clean cooking fuel or electricity. It affects over 800 million people in India, who are deprived of basic needs and living in hazardous conditions," says Vinay Jaju, co-founder, ONergy.

With the target of deploying solar electricity products to 200,000 households in the next 5 years, Vinay Jaju, alongwith brother Piyush Jaju and wife Ekta Kothari are working on an ambitious mission.

Click NEXT to read how Vinay Jaju is bringing light to the lives thousands of poor people...


Image: Vinay Jaju (R) with Piyush Jaju and Ekta.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

We chose to be entrepreneurs as we enjoy the freedom to follow our passion and make an impression in whatever we do.

Sustainability and equity is something that all three co-founders feel very strongly about. We founded an advocacy project Switch ON in 2007, focused on climate change and sustainable living, followed by a policy advocacy campaign focused on India's energy security and simultaneously starting an environment news portal.

ONergy is an extension to this journey to put in practice issues we are committed about.

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Image: Children with solar lights.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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What kind of constraints did you face initially?

We took too long to start and spent much time with different technologies and ideas and finally came back to start with our initial idea of deploying decentralised energy solutions in rural india.

Also reaching out to the rural markets was a challenge, especially since the markets has been distorted with no proper service for renewable energy products, and almost non-existent training infrastructure. It's always a struggle to find financing for a start up.

We got our seed capital from our mother, personal savings and eventually Barefoot angel fund, now we are in the process of raising growth capital and talking to investors.

What are the different products you offer?

We offer Solar LED lamps and home lighting systems (1.5-10 watt). We have solar home electrification stand alone systems (20-120 watt). We aim to start providing cooking and community electrification solutions using bio-energy technologies.

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Image: Hope for villagers.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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How do you make solar lighting, solar products affordable?

We have an innovative financing scheme where people can pay back over a period. We bridge the financing gap by partnering with social investors and banks.

We also arrange finance for MFIs which give these products as energy loans that can be paid back over a period of time.

How do you approach villagers?

For lighting and cooking, we follow a 3-tier structure in order to efficiently penetrate into remote areas.

We provide products to the Renewable Energy Centres (REC) - which are setup in partnership with Micro Finance Organisation MFIs and NGOs (jointly managed by ourselves and MFIs).

The REC will sell the products through multiple channels such as self help groups, micro-entrepreneurs, farmer clubs, existing staff and loan officers. Finally, the rural consumer buys the product.

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Image: Vinay, Piyush and Ekta with villagers.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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What kind of support services does ONergy offer? How durable are solar products?

After understanding customer needs and pain points, we provide the solar lighting or electricity solution. We offer training (to end consumer and entrepreneurs) and offer other services through the renewable energy centre infrastructure in rural areas.

Different products and components come with different warranty period. The small lights last for 2-3 years while the bigger home lighting systems last for 6-8 years. The solar panels last for over 20 years.

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Image: Rural centre for solar lights.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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How cost effective is the power generation compared to a conventional power supply?

Conventional power system is definitely more robust but not reliable. In most cases of our area of operation, it's non existent. So we are really trying to replace kerosene or diesel used for lighting and electricity.

A rural household spends Rs 150-250 every month on kerosene, battery charging and/or diesel to meet its energy requirements.

This portion can be diverted towards purchase of renewable energy products and electricity generated. The rural clean energy market is growing at $2.11 billion annually in India (IFMR study).

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Image: Vinay Jaju with villagers.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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How many villages are using ONergy's solar devices? What kind of positive changes have come about in these villages?

We have a network in over 50 villages and have partnered with 5 NGOs/MFIs. The solar lighting is 3-5 times brighter than kerosene lamps. We have been able to promote micro-entrepreneurs and enhance their income generation.

We have also been successful in promoting micro-enterprises. In many cases the family is able to work for longer hours and generate income. Most importantly, children are able to study properly.

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Image: Children smile seeing the solar lights.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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What kind of challenges do you face now?

We face issues of default in payment as most of our customers are poor. We are planning to prevent this using pre-paid meter technology while selling electricity.

Banks, MFIs and NGOs bear the risk of repayment when it comes to product sales.

The banks/MFIs extend financing and loan collection to rural households. We maintain dedicated collection officers and a proper background check is done.

We also face issues related to technology failure and misuse. We can overcome this by first doing pilot projects while introducing new technology.

We focus on educating the customer to effectively use the technology and back it up by prompt servicing.

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Image: A child studies using a solar lamp.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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How do you see India's power crisis?

Two thirds of India does not have access to reliable clean energy, be it a clean cooking fuel or electricity.

It affects over 800 million people in India, who are deprived of basic needs and living in hazardous conditions.

We have worked extensively at grass-root level and travelled along the coal belt of India and documented it.

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Image: ONergy team.

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ONergy: A crusade to light up India's villages

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What is the potential of solar powered lighting and devices? What role can ONergy play in solving India's power woes?

We aim to provide complete energy solutions lighting, cooking and electrification - to the bottom of the pyramid using appropriate renewable technologies.

Our efforts will be to offer appropriate technology and innovative financing and create renewable energy centres in partnership with MFIs/NGOs and deploy lighting and cooking products through a network of rural entrepreneurs and subsequently electrify villages.

We also stimulate rural employment and entrepreneurship by providing opportunities and create linkages between energy and income generation. Our consumers are rural households living in off-grid areas where electricity supply is very poor.

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Image: Vinay Jaju.

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When will you break even? What's your target in terms of providing electricity to villages?

We hope to break even in the next 2 years.

We are looking deploying solar electricity products to 200,000 households in the next 5 years, and also plan to set up 100 mini grids and connect them to biomass gasifier and solar power systems in eastern India over the next 5 years.

What are your company's future plans?

Over the next 5 years, we aim to set up over 50 Renewable Energy Centres across India that would provide energy solutions to over 1 million people.


Image: A villager installs a solar panel on the roof.

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