[Startup Bharat] How Jaipur-based Gram Power is using smart grid technology to help utilities reduce losses
Power loss is a major concern for the power sector in India. According to the Economic Survey for 2020-21, transmission and distribution (T&D) losses in the Indian power sector are higher than other countries, which means electricity is generated but is not reaching the consumers.
Jaipur-based Gram Power is looking to solve this problem by digitising the power distribution infrastructure in India. Founded in 2012 by Yashraj Khaitan along with his then University of California batchmate Jacob Dickinson, the startup is building a smart electricity metering system to manage electricity consumption and avoid power losses. Jacob, however, exited the company in 2016 and is now working at SpaceX.
Yashraj tells YourStory that the company initially began to ensure electricity using its smart solar microgrids for areas that were not connected to national power grids. In 2016, Gram Power pivoted its business to solely focus on managing power distribution.
“Our first product was smart solar microgrids. These were self-contained powerplants that provide energy to communities that are not connected to the national grid. Our core innovation in that system was managing the distribution of the power. We had developed an entire power distribution management platform that fundamentally comprised of smart prepaid meters and technology to manage this grid remotely,” he says.
Gram Power is a part of the fourth cohort of Google for Startups Accelerator India.
Early Journey and the pivot
Yashraj explains that Gram Power began its journey with the launch of smart solar microgrids and claims to have deployed around 30 smart microgrids across Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Yashraj Khaitan, Founder and CEO, Gram Power (Image Credit: LinkedIn]
However, he says that they realised the challenges in scaling up the business because India lacked clear-cut policies on how a micro grid solution could co-exist with the national grid.
“One of the private utilities in the country had approached us after looking at our work on micro-grids. They told us that if we could subtract out all the power generation and bring in the smart prepaid power management system to the national grid and check if they could help the utility companies save on power loses,” he says.
Post this, the startup pivoted in 2016 to focus on power distribution management and digitisation of the infrastructure.
“We have developed an integrated platform for smart metering - right from the metering hardware to the communications technology to the entire software platform to manage and operate these meters at scale. We provide all these services under one roof to power distribution companies,” Yashraj adds.
Smart electricity metering system
Yashraj explains that a smart meter is a normal meter along with the capability to remotely turn on and turn off the power and also automatically take readings.
According to him, the startup's main target customers are state electricity boards who are incurring huge losses. He explains that while the power generation and transmission infrastructure is good in India, the major problem lies in the power distribution, which is the last-mile infrastructure.
He explains that the utilities are majorly losing power in the distribution segment via several channels. “For example, bill reading is currently done manually and there is actually a person who visits home and office units and takes the reading. If the reading is incorrect, the utility incurs losses as the wrong bill is generated. This is one of the major areas of losses,” he adds.
Apart from this, factors such as power theft also adds to the burden. “Our objective is to help the utilities reduce its losses,” he says.
Illustration: YS Design
Yashraj explains that higher losses incurred by the utility company indirectly result in a higher price of electricity per unit. Thus, by helping utilities save losses, the price for the end customer also reduces.
“The thing that makes the metering system really smart is the software platform, which connects and uses all this data. For example, the entire billing process is automated and it is prepaid billing in the cloud. This allows the users to monitor their consumption, bill, and set a budget if needed. The system will alert the user in case they are about to cross the set budget, allowing them to control their power expenses. Apart from this, utilities can also identify location and quantum of power theft using the system. It also allows the companies to control and manage demands for power,” he adds.
Business and more
The co-founder reveals that Gram Power is working in 25 cities across the country. It also manages power distribution for many startups such as OYO Life and Stanza Living, among others.
Speaking about the business model, Yashraj explains that the startup operates on a metering-as-a-service model. “Utility companies don’t invest CAPEX in the meters but pay us a per-meter-per-month subscription fee for contract periods between 7.5 to 10 years, during which we supply, operate, and manage these metering systems for state electricity boards,” he adds.
Image Credit: Gram Power
The Series A stage company has raised $2.6 million to date from Blum Capital and Vestergaard. It is now in the process of closing its Series B funding round. Other notable players such as Techno Meters, HPL India, Itron India Pvt Ltd, among others, are also operating in the energy meter segment.
According to India Energy Outlook 2021 report, India is the world’s third-largest energy-consuming country, thanks to rising incomes and improving standards of living.
The report reveals that prior to the pandemic, India’s energy demand was projected to increase by almost 50 percent between 2019 and 2030, but now growth over this period is closer to 35 percent in the Stated Policies Scenario and 25 percent in the Delayed Recovery Scenario.
Speaking about future plans, the founder reveals that the startup is looking to launch products for the private sector. For instance, a smart meter for end customers to provide appliance level analytics to the users. In the next five years, the startup is looking to expand its share in the market and have about 10 million meters deployed.