ONergy - Energizing rural India with clean energy solutions
2/3rd of Indian population, mainly residing in rural India and semi-urban areas, does not receive clean energy. The main source of energy for lighting and electrification purposes still remain kerosene and diesel. ONergy, a renewable energy venture founded in 2009 by Ekta Kothari Jaju, Piyush Jaju and Vinay Jaju is aiming to provide complete energy solution to such areas.
Speaking of his drive to start ONergy and what has kept him motivated over the course of 4 years, Piyush says, “I was and am always attracted to the concept and approach of sustainable living and I wanted to do my bit to help the society achieve the same. There is a critical need of solutions for clean energy to help the environment too. Doing some basic things can create a massive impact. With ONergy, we are trying to contribute these basic things to people’s lives.”ONergy provides solar lanterns, solar electrification, solar water heating system across 500 villages in East India impacting 1 lac lives. For expanding their operations in the near future, they are working:
• with the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) to pilot two solar-powered irrigation pumpsets in two areas of West Bengal. Pumping for agriculture comprises of 6% of India’s overall energy demand and the majority of farmers in West Bengal use diesel and kerosene this purpose.
• in partnership with the Enviu Foundation of the Netherlands for piloting two low-energy highly efficient cold storage units in two districts of West Bengal.
• on pilot testing of solar-powered computer systems and have planned a commercial rollout across Eastern India early next year. ONergy aims to help 1 million rural Indians by providing decentralised renewable energy solutions across India by 2015.
They partner with micro finance organizations and NGOs to train and empower rural entrepreneurs who act at energy solution agents in rural India. In the 4 years of its existence, ONergy team has seen its fair share of social entrepreneurship space.
ROI for impact investments and very slow adoption of crowd funding
ONergy has raised the first round of investment from Halloran Foundation, Rianta Capital, CIIE(IIM Ahmedabad) and Swedish International Development Agency. In the 2nd Round of investment they are looking for an amount of around 3 crores, which they are hopeful to close by the end of the year. Piyush admits that the ROI on social investments are lower and the exits for any investor can only be at a long term and these reasons lead to a lack of capital in social enterprises.He says, “The challenges of social enterprises are very different from startups in other fields. Risk is higher and ROI is lower. Investors need a good understanding of the social space in order to help a social venture.”
Crowd funding can lend a hand for social enterprises but in India it is nascent. Very niche segment of population is comfortable making donations online – the internet savvy people who are aware of the concept of crowd funding. Indians have not adapted to online payments till now (COD is the preferred payment mode of online shopping), people like to pay to a physical entity more than transacting online. Piyush looks forward to the future when crowd funding will pick up and the early stage social ventures will have it a little easier than today. Working at a grass root level and in the remotest of areas comes with its own difficulties and a lack of resources or capital makes it even harder.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs, based on experience
“Social entrepreneurship looks glamorous from the outside, you get media attention, people feel and are vocal about you changing the world. But anybody planning on taking this path should know of the realities,” says Piyush. He also opined that the right kind of motivation, deep understanding of the problem one is trying to address and the knowing the people well who they are trying to serve is of utmost importance. He added, “Your lifestyle will change, you will have to spend time on the field – there is no other option – you must enjoy it. Be ready to gets your hands dirty. Literally.”