Harnessing the sun: startups who are lighting the way ahead for India’s renewable energy sector
The discourse over climate change is finally getting its much-deserved time under the limelight and as the media focuses on the ills of using fossil fuels, renewable energy is finding a stronger foothold. And it’s not just a fad some developed countries are implementing, but developing nations like India have been pursuing renewable energy especially solar energy with serious intent. Among the various mediums of renewable energy sources, solar is the widely and easily available power source. In fact, for most of the country, the sun shines for a large part of the year thanks to its place on the globe.
According to the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the country’s renewable capacity including solar, wind, biomass, and small hydro grew by 11.2 GW in 2017. India also increased its new solar capacity by 83% in 2017, up to 5,526 MW. It is not surprising - given the changemakers of Indian business ecosystem in the last few years - that a large part of this change is being led by startups and entrepreneurs. Given the market opportunity and environment need, it is only natural that renewable energy is consistently at the forefront of funding wars clocking in mega-deals worth $100M+ according to market reports.
Given the scope the field of solar energy has, we focus on startups – based on their unique ideas, potential social and/or economic impact, funding and more – that have a promising future in this space.
Founded in 2015 by Dev Arora, Anuj Gupta, and Arjun Srihari, 8Minutes’ core mission was to accelerate India’s transition to clean energy. A significant component of this was to make solar energy more accessible – both in terms of pricing and awareness – to the average Indian consumer. They also cater to the commercial sector including educations institutions, industries, and corporates.
The Delhi-based company analyses the feasibility for a user to go solar. If the results are positive then the team designs and builds the solar panel, even completes the required documentation work to instal the panel. In less than three years, the company already has 26 MW of solar assets in deployment, 39 Million kWh of energy produced annually, and over 29,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions offset.
Bengaluru-based Orb Energy provides solar energy systems with over 1,50,000 systems sold in India in nearly a decade. The company manufactures its own solar photovoltaic modules and solar water heating systems. With financing options for SMEs already in place, the company is now growing its unique in-house platform for financing and solar rooftop ownership.
Earlier in January, Orb raised over $15 million in debt and equity funding, a part of which it will use to expand into Kenya.
ReNew Power Ventures
Founded just about six years ago by Sumant Sinha and backed by marquee investors like Goldman Sachs, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Asian Development Bank, and Global Environment Fund, ReNew Power Ventures is a rare unicorn in the cleantech space in India.
The company entered the solar space with a 57.6 MW project in 2014,. With strong EPC capabilities in place, ReNew Power Ventures has adopted and adapted to the developments in the solar space including thin film to multi crystalline technologies, fixed tilt structures, single axis trackers, and more. The company is capable of executing end-to-end Engineering-Procurement-Construction life cycle of solar projects.
One of the bigger names in the solar energy sphere, Delhi-based Ostro plans to build 1,000 MW of renewable energy projects by 2019. Backed by Actis with an investment of US$280 million, the company has over 460 MW of wind and solar projects under construction in Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Telangana. with a large pipeline and strong intent exclusively in the solar space.
IIT Bombay alumni Roli Gupta and Gautam Das in November 2014, founded Oorjan – as part of the Top-10 Technology Startups led by women in India by the Anita Borg Foundation and Government of India. It is a rooftop solar platform system that brings clean energy to homes and businesses. Oorjan also provides lifetime performance monitoring and data using an IoT platform.
With flexible design options as well as financing, Oorjan is on a mission to make solar energy more accessible to households and small businesses.
Founded by Himamsu Popuri in 2011, Nuevosol Energy is a major B2B player in the solar energy space. It builds solar mounting systems and structures for energy companies. But other than systems, the company also provides consulting to encourage mounting over laying panels on the field. The company takes on turnkey contracts from infrastructure companies – projects that last anywhere between three to five months.
Thanks to Himansu’s foresight on solar energy and its capabilities, Neuvosol crossed Rs 180 crore in annual revenue in its first five years of business.
Founded by Chetan Maini, the inventor of Reva (now Mahindra Reva), Sun Mobility is solving the very reason Reva (or any other electric vehicle) couldn’t take off without the backing of an empire like Mahindra – the lack of battery management systems, prohibitive pricing for the average consumer, and the absence of a customer support ecosystem. Sun Mobility is reinventing the way batteries are distributed and energy is stored. And solar energy is at the core of this revolution. The company plans to buy solar power from plants, store it in batteries, and distribute it through a battery network (similar to petrol pumps). The company is in talks with with OEMs to integrate its solutions to a wide range of electric vehicles including cars, buses, rickshaws, scooters etc.
Sun Mobility is currently operating on a joint venture between Virya Mobility and Sun New Energy Systems, the investment arm of the Sun Group. It has the financial and policy backing and could be a bold idea whose time has come. Though, the way ahead is till is fraught with risk the reward it promises are great too. Sun Mobility could be at the forefront of a turnaround in environmental issues as well as electric vehicle pricing and adoption.
Delhi-based IndiaGoSolar is bringing the wonders of e-commerce to the nascent solar market. It is an online solar marketplace founded in 2014 and offers information and advisory on solar product technology, market suppliers, price comparison, benefits, products, delivery as well as installations. The core mission of IndiaGoSolar is to consumerize solar adoption and to make adoption convenient and transparent.
Reasonably ahead of its times in a market like India where solar conversations have only just started, IndiaGoSolar was bootstrapped with a seed capital of Rs 6 lakh. But thanks to its focus on enrolling only quality suppliers – EPC and O&M players that follow service standards and are prescribed by the MNRE. In just over three years, the company has been able to rope in clients like Sukam, Schneider, Optimal Power Solution, Power One, and Southern Batteries among others.
Founded in 2011, Delhi-based Claro Energy manufactures and distributes solar-powered water pumping solutions to meet agricultural needs like irrigation, aeration, fisheries, as well as drinking water requirements in off-grid areas. Founded by Kellogs graduates Kartik Wahi and Soumitra Mishra, Claro is eliminating the prohibitive cost of operating and unreliability of diesel pump sets.
In just five years, the company has expanded to 14 Indian states with over 2,200 pump sets installed.
Mera Gao Power
Mera Gao Power, a microgrid startup, was co-founded by Sandeep Pandey, Brian Shaad, and Nikhil Jaisinghani. It operates primarily in UP and has already served more than 1,50,000 individuals in 1,600 off-grid villages in the state.
The company provides these villages with high-quality, reliable lighting and mobile charging solutions in less than $1000 per village. The result is not only noble but also laudable – Mera Gao Power is the first commercially viable microgrid for rural India and the underprivileged.
Fewer power cuts, more electrified villages, and better climate – the benefits of a solar-led future are immense. These and other startups and social enterprises including Boond Engineering, Cygni Energy, EAI among others are leading the way. Hopefully, many others will come forward to bolster the space and ensure a brighter and renewed future.