India is an energy-deficit country and our growing economy and population needs more energy. While energy from non-renewable sources is shrinking with every passing day, clean energy remains the only option. Unveiling its own bold initiative this year, India pledged that it would derive at least 40 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030. To meet this ambitious goal, India will require support from its citizens alongside effort and initiatives by the government.
So far, we tend to think towards rural or power-absent regions when it comes to generating energy from sun. However, contribution of urban or metro cities is crucial to meet aforementioned amount of energy from clean sources. To equip urban rooftop with Solar PV systems, Pranesh Chaudhary and Sushant Sachan incepted Zunroof.
ZunRoof designs and delivers the right Solar PhotoVoltaic (PV) solution for urban home owners in Delhi (NCR). It installs solar PV systems on rooftops to produce and sell electricity to the grid. “It is a great investment product for urban homeowners; reduces 90 percent of your electricity bill by utilising unused portions of your roof,” says Pranesh. The company also provides elevated structures if you do not want to spare any part of your roof.
The capital investment in installing solar PV system has a payback period of three to four years and with output warranties for 25 years. The yield is easily upwards of of 20 percent per annum for the life of the system (about 30 years).
Germination of the idea
Pranesh and Sushant were friends from their IIT, Kharagpur days. After finishing their engineering, the duo moved onto pursuing corporate careers. Pranesh was managing a consulting engagement for one of the largest banks in the world while Sushant headed technical innovation and product strategy at a Khosla Ventures-backed solar firm. Pranesh recalls,
I called Sushant last year from London one day and told him I got promotion and hike in salary and he joked about how quickly we have all become comfortable with our salaries, lifestyles and how it would have been fun to rather build something from scratch.
That conversation sparked in the duo an obsessive need to quickly pick out a sector to start up in. “We considered about a dozen ideas across verticals, including hyperlocal, app for socialising and several Uber for X models. Ultimately, we identified the potential of rooftop-installed PV panels to change the power landscape of India with the falling prices of PV panels [in 2015, prices came down to a fourth of what they were in 2012],” says Sushant.
How Zunroof works
Launched in April this year - Zunroof has developed proprietary tools, which help it to come up with accurate size and design of the system as well as all techno-economic feasibility metrics of the roof within minutes. “We are able to bring the best prices and the right quality options to our customers through multiple installer partners in Delhi (NCR). But, most importantly, we are not trying to be salesmen – we are engineers and intend to behave like ones; we design the optimum solution for the customer’s requirements and are extremely transparent,” says Pranesh.
The company measures traction through two metrics - how many people are educated about its product through marketing campaigns, and the cumulative size of solar rooftop systems it has assessed and designed. Pranesh says,
So far, we visited over 100 sites with 600kW-plus assessed in last two months, worth Rs 4 crore.
Absence of awareness is the biggest challenge
"In urban areas, the biggest challenge is that 90 percent of people have not even heard of the concept of being able to sell electricity back to the grid, but an even bigger challenge is to make them take that final step even after being explained and shown everything,” says Pranesh.
The company regularly encounters concerns raised about rooftop usage, warranties, monkey menace and lack of after-sales services in India, and future construction plans.
Why ZunRoof isn't focussing on rural markets
Rooftop PV installation rules by DISCOMS/electricity boards are not favourable for rural areas; there is usually a limit on how much electricity production will be incentivised (90 percent of your own annual electricity usage). A rural household will not be able to go for 2kW-plus systems, which is where it starts to become a viable investment product. Sushant claims,
I am willing to bet it is better investment opportunity than even some of the best equity mutual funds while fixed deposits and debt funds don’t even stand a chance.
Not in rush to raise investment
The duo spent the first few months just talking to experienced professionals and academicians in the solar space and realised that there is a need for marketing and technical prowess to educate people as well as to reduce customer acquisition costs through automation. “While we were busy building our tools and talking to the first 500 customers, we were very conscious of being extremely lean and having no cash burn. So, we remained bootstrapped through this phase,” adds Pranesh.
Now, as the company plans to scale operations and develops its applications further, it might need to raise angel funding. Sushant says,
We are in no rush and will only raise if we really need to and the angel is someone we can learn while solving the solar rooftop puzzle for India.