Bengaluru startup ThingsCloud plans to solve India's power crisis with smart solar inverters for homes
That India is faced with a power crisis, both in residential and industrial markets, is common knowledge. Not only are we deficient, with large swathes of our population starved of uninterrupted power supply, but we are also disadvantaged by the rising cost of fuel.
Hence, it is imperative for us to look for affordable, alternative sources of energy like solar power.
The good news is, we are.
Solar power is a rapidly growing industry in India, with our installed capacity reaching 28.18 GW as of March 31, 2019, surpassing the government’s initial target of 20 GW, four years ahead of schedule.
The domestic market for distributed solar products (which include lanterns, motors, pump sets, and other home appliances) is poised to grow more than 2.5x to Rs 10,117 crore by 2023, according to GOGLA, a global association of the solar power industry.
Hence, for startups like ThingsCloud that harnesses solar power to build clean, connected, and intelligent home devices, it is time to make hay while the sun shines (quite literally).
ThingsCloud was founded in 2015 by NIT Surat and University of Texas alumnus Amruth Puttappa. After working with energy companies in the US for seven years, Amruth returned to India and started up to solve the energy crisis in the residential market.
He was later joined by Co-founder & CTO, Anusheel Nahar (a University of Wisconsin-Madison grad in electronics and control systems). In 2016, Bengaluru-based ThingsCloud was incubated under NASSCOM’s 10000 Startups initiative. Earlier in 2019, it was recognised as the ‘Emerging IoT Startup of the Year’ by TiE.
AI-powered cleantech solution
ThingsCloud offers solar inverter solutions for residential energy systems. Its inverters allow residential societies to monitor their energy consumption, conserve 20-30 percent excess energy, and store backup power for utilisation during grid outages - a rather common occurrence in most parts of India.
Additionally, the startup offers Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT)-led data insights that can predict the demand, supply, and flow of power through households. Algorithms within the inverters help detect usage patterns, and provide regular insights to customers via the ThingsCloud mobile app.
Founder-CEO Amruth explains,
“A part of the AI algorithm rests inside the inverter, and a part of it is in the cloud. It gets customised with your usage. If there are more power cuts in your area, the inverter starts storing energy more efficiently. Utilisation is customised. The machine understands when and how you use it. Hence, both energy and costs can be saved to a great extent.”
ThingsCloud claims that its AI-powered solar inverters are 20-30 percent more energy-efficient than regular inverters and can save up to 50 percent in costs required to run a residential energy system. Its inverters understand India’s grid inefficiencies better than foreign machines too.
India is a country that experiences daily power cuts ranging from 30 minutes to three hours (depending on your location). “It is impossible for developed market inverter solutions to understand these gaps,” Amruth says, “There is a major pain point in the residential market. A lot of potential energy that can be saved is being wasted.”
Hence, homegrown solutions like ThingsCloud.
Journey by the numbers
After three years of R&D, the startup finally began servicing orders in 2018. It already claims to have registered a growth of 400 percent, having sold 1,000 solar inverters, and generated revenues of Rs 3 crore. Its hybrid inverters are currently on sale in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.
ThingsCloud expects its revenue to go up to Rs 14 crore by the end of 2019 as it embarks on a pan-India expansion, starting with the top 14 cities. The startup further claims that it is “sitting on an order book of 35,000,” which it expects to fulfil by 2020. It has also filed for 20 IP patents for its innovative solution.
“We did a lot of R&D before bringing the product to the market. We realised that customers were ready to buy it. The 'product-market fit’ always existed, and we have been sitting on orders right from Day 1. We need a certain production capacity and deep tech to fulfil them. By 2021, we aim to capture 25-30 percent of the solar inverter market."
The company plans to produce 5,000 units of inverters in six months. It takes about six to eight weeks to complete one production cycle.
For now, the inverters are being designed and developed by ThingsCloud itself, while a contract manufacturer brings them to life. “As of now, there are no plans of setting up our own manufacturing facility,” Amruth reveals.
Challenges and market landscape
When ThingsCloud started in 2015, most Indian states did not allow net metering (a billing mechanism that credits owners of solar energy systems for the electricity they add to the grid).
“Most states were non-compliant, which posed a huge entry barrier. But, a lot has changed since then. Now, 23 states are compliant with net metering," says Amruth.
The co-founder says while the ecosystem is supportive of solar energy companies, ThingsCloud doesn’t directly lobby with the government. And, that could slow down a few processes. “We are still trying to optimise our solutions,” he says.
The potential of India’s solar energy market has already been established. Given it is a sunrise sector, there are several players jostling for attention.
ThingsCloud faces direct or indirect competition from the likes of Ostro Energy, Sun Mobility, ReNew Power Ventures, Zunroof, etc.
But, the company asserts that its unique mix of hardware and software solutions will fuel its vision of - as Amruth puts it - “becoming one of India’s top two to three innovative power conversion companies by 2021.”