Union Minister of State for Power, Piyush Goyal, recently disclosed the Load Generation and Balance Report (LGBR) 2016-17 of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). It states, ‘India is likely to experience the energy surplus of 1.1%in 2016-17’.
But, still there lie more than 300 Mn people in India who do not have access to electricity from the grid.
This includes people usually belonging to below poverty line (BPL), who have to rely on sources like kerosene lights, oil lamps, candles, AAA batteries, and rented bulbs. Not only are these expensive, but are also polluting and inefficient.
Mumbai-based Bhushan Trivedi, an alumni of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies and Salford University, Manchester, refers to this as ‘the Problem of Energy Poverty.’ According to him, this severely hampers the daily lives of several households and curtails the ability of micro-enterprises to conduct economic activities, thus stifling their socio-economic development.
Thus, he incepted Piconergy in January 2015 and developed a solar product – Helios. Currently working with a team of two and several volunteers, Piconergy has sold more than 50 units of Helios in underserved pockets of Borivali and Kandivali (Western suburbs of Mumbai) and a village in Rajasthan. The startup has also been a part of ‘Haywards 5000 Hauslay Ki Udaan’, India’s first startup reality TV Show.
From Mechanical Engineering Student To An Entrepreneur
Bhushan first realised the challenges faced by poor people due to lack of electricity during his stay in a rural area near Mumbai for his mechanical engineering course. After completing his engineering, he joined a solar energy company where he got some experience of working in a solar business. As he shared with Misfits, “My first real exposure to social impact came when I started working with Orbis Development Partners in October 2012 on their solar projects in Myanmar. It was during this stint that I witnessed the potential of a market-led approach to solve social challenges.”
With the thought of Piconergy in mind, in 2014 he started meeting several street vendors and communities, understanding their problems, designing possible solutions and convincing his target audience – all by himself for the next one year. In early 2015, he made his first sale. He further added, “After selling three-four units of my product, I posted some photos on Facebook and soon people started showing interest in working with me. That’s how I build my first team of volunteers.”
Helios: A Hope Of Light On The Door Of Poor
Bhushan reveals, “After three iterations to the original product design based on extensive end-user surveys and discussions with more than 50 households, we came up with Helios.”
Helios is a solar PV-powered lighting and mobile phone charging solution. It offers basic lightning to the poor in a clean and affordable manner. The families using the product are also provided with a sturdy battery box so that it can be easily mounted anywhere.
(Bhushan with Patil family. Helios bulbs light up their modest dwelling.)
At present, Piconergy offers different lighting options to different segments of customers depending on their end uses. “Also, we offer them protection plan that allows them a maintenance service on-demand thus helping them get maximum value on their purchase,” added Bhushan.
In next few months, Piconergy plans to expand throughout Mumbai and partner with distributors in different parts of the city. “We are looking to select people from the urban bottom of the pyramid and train them in business skills to make them micro-entrepreneurs in their neighbourhood. We are particularly keen to work with women from marginalised sections,” said Bhushan. In the next five years Piconergy plans to offer its product to remote rural areas of Maharashtra where the problem of energy poverty is even more acute.
Indeed, Piconergy is on a mission of having a great impact on India’s socio-economic ecosystem. And Minister Piyush sums it accurately when he says-
“India is a surplus power nation, unlike in the past. India is the largest market and now it’s the industry, investors and entrepreneurs, who have to take the call. Indian entrepreneurs have to move fast.”