India’s population of 1.24 billion comprises 247 million households, 68 per cent of which are in rural areas. According to the 2011 Census, 45 per cent or 75 million of these rural households have no electricity. Of the urban households, about 8 per cent or 6 million do not have electricity. Therefore, in total, roughly one-third of the population lacks electricity access.
India has abundant wind energy resources and ranks fourth amongst the world’s top 10 wind energy producers. The growth of this market is mainly attributed to the rise in demand for renewable energy. The potential for wind energy at the 80 metre level is around 102,788 MW, while, according to the World Institute of Sustainable Energy, the estimated micro-generation potential from small wind turbines in India stands at about 83 GW. Other studies suggest that the estimated potential is about 100 GW. In other words, there is a potential to set up about 50 million small wind turbines of sizes ranging from 500 W to 10 kW.
In January 2015, two brothers, Arun and Anoop George, founded Avant Garde Innovations. Their small wind turbine model attracted large traction worldwide before it was commercially launched recently as AVATAR-1 in India. Reports showed that most of the existing small wind turbines were prohibitively costly and prone to failure. The uniqueness of Avant Garde’s product is in its motor. This is particularly important as motors do the mechanical work with the energy generated by the turbines. Their innovation simplified the design and rectified the issues in existing products by developing a core-less design to avoid energy losses from the system, if any, which also helps in removing “cogging torque” at the start. In addition, strong neodymium magnets have been used. The compact design enables the system to run for a long period without incurring costs on frequent maintenance and to produces the most optimal power efficiency. The patent-pending Gyroscopic Axial Flux Turbine (GAFT) is designed for low-cost electrification applications. This helps in reducing manufacturing costs. Accordingly, the turbine is targeted at being made available at a price of around Rs 60,000.
What makes this innovation particularly notable is the small-sized wind turbine. As one magazine puts it, “It is around the size of a ceiling fan and costs about the same as a new Apple iPhone.” Despite its small size, this wind turbine can generate enough power for a home or small office (around 3-5 kWh). Arun points out that given the low initial investment, it will literally be free electricity for the user for the next 15-20 years.
Product market status
As per a July 2015 report by Europe-based Research and Markets, the global small-wind power market was valued at $776.8 million in 2014 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19.5 per cent from 2014 to 2019, to reach a market size of $1,895 million. With affordable, small wind turbines, these numbers are bound to go up further. The Avant Garde’s founders shared that they have product bookings from over 100 countries and from every continent, except Antarctica, as of now.
The brothers also feel that the GAFT design can be applied to all smaller systems used for energy production, such as hydro turbines and tidal turbines.
The company is targeting segments such as houses and apartments, offices, small and medium enterprises, commercial/non-commercial institutions, corporate enterprises and industries, the agricultural sector, street lighting, mobile towers, rural electrification and government power projects. The start-up has received over 11,000 residential product bookings and over 2,800 commercial product bookings. It has also received over 4,800 distribution/franchise applications from across the world. Actual sales are expected to begin by December 2017. As per Arun, for an Indian company to attract such a large global demand for a “Made in India” renewable energy product is a milestone.
Reflecting on his own experiences, Arun extends the following advice to entrepreneurs, “Whenever you are thinking of making a new product or solution, instead of focusing on the quickest profit with the least effort, think of what could sustainably solve some of the most pressing challenges in our society that demand our attention and support. As a developing economy, cleantech enterprises can contribute much more to the nation than any other sector, and solve its decades-long challenges in electricity, water, waste management, mobility, pollution, housing, etc. In these challenges lie our biggest opportunities too.”
Based on inputs from Arun George, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Avant Garde Innovations