Rural and semi-urban areas in India are still facing an acute power shortage. Even though state utilities have made several attempts to supply power to such areas through the conventional grid, progress on this front has remained slow due to the high cost of grid extension to remote parts. As a result, decentralised renewable energy solutions have garnered attention to enhance energy access specifically in rural areas. This has led to the involvement of several private sector players with innovative technical solutions and models.
One such private player is ONergy Solar, which is a social enterprise established in 2009. The company provides decentralised energy solutions to underserved households and institutions in the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country. It provides an entire range of solar solutions like solar lanterns, solar home systems, solar water heating systems, solar inverters, solar street lighting, cookstoves, and kW-scale installations for households and institutions. Besides manufacturing solar products, the company also offers after-sales services, facilitates consumer financing for solar systems, and develops the ecosystem for sustainable development and rural empowerment. ONergy has also launched new and innovative products such as solar televisions, solar computers, solar microgrids and solar irrigation systems. Merely three years after its inception, the company achieved profitability and since then its average annual growth has been in excess of 100 per cent.
ONergy’s business model focuses on three core areas – technology, energy infrastructure and financing. In the technology sector, the company manufactures and distributes a proprietary line of solar-powered products. It has provided solar solutions to around 0.5 million people through service distribution infrastructure by establishing renewable energy centres (RECs), also known as Shakti Kendras. The RECs provide a complete energy infrastructure to deliver custom-driven solutions to its clients. In order to make solutions affordable, ONergy facilitates financing by collaborating with both banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs). In addition, with the support of international organisations, the company has facilitated low-cost credit for rural entrepreneurs.
In this way, the company operates through a network of trained rural entrepreneurs and leverages the existing networks of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), self-help groups and MFIs. The company partners with MFIs and NGOs to train and empower rural entrepreneurs who act as energy solution agents in rural India. ONergy entered into a partnership with Netherlands-based Enviu Foundation for piloting two low-energy highly efficient cold storage projects in two districts of West Bengal. It had also teamed up with milaap.org, a microlending social enterprise, to provide solar lights to more than 1,500 rural households in West Bengal. In January 2016, the company collaborated with Belghoria Janakalyan Samity, a renowned NGO and MFI, to promote solar as a clean and affordable source of energy, and provide an additional source of livelihood.
In April 2016, the company raised a syndicated round of funding through IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship. Bajaj Electricals Limited contributed to the fund, as a part of its corporate social responsibility initiative, to support the start-up through strategic engagement. For expanding its operations, the company has also worked with the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) to pilot two solar-powered irrigation pump sets in West Bengal. While the company currently operates in West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, it plans to create 50 new RECs in other eastern and north-eastern states as a part of its expansion plans.
ONergy has joined the Business Call to Action, a global initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme and other international organisations that encourage companies to fight poverty through innovative business models. To this end, the company has pledged to scale up its product distribution network in order to bring reliable solar-powered products to India’s poorest and underserved regions. The expansion is expected to provide solar energy to one million people by 2017 and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 0.1 million tonnes.
With the country’s growing population and electricity demand, the company offers a great solution to meet the energy demand of people living in remote and off-grid areas. It has the potential to create a sustainable and healthy future for underserved people by reducing their dependence on harmful and inefficient sources of light and electricity.