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Generating electricity for millions: Husk Power bolsters Modi’s dream of power to all

Opportunity, they are saying, lies in adversity. Manoj Sinha, CEO of Husk Power Systems, may nicely vouch for this adage when he remembers how he abruptly had to stop his plush job in New York to take over the reins of the corporate he co-founded in 2008.

Gyanesh, the co-founder and the primary protagonist in Husk’s formation, resigned in 2013, shortly after that they had raised cash in 2012. Sinha, working in S&P Global in New York at the moment, selected shifting again to India quickly after his departure.

He appears again on the time with a mixture of aid and trepidation. “Investors pulled back the money since they were not getting the confidence. There were a lot of things that I had to figure out in just 6 months. We were losing close to Rs 50-60 lakh per month,” he avers.

But it was additionally, in his phrases, “the best learning experience” of his life. From 2016 onwards, the corporate’s revenues began seeing a gradual 25-30% year-on-year progress.

This was an concept that had at all times been shut to his coronary heart. Growing up in Bihar, Sinha had been privy to the electricity hassles of the state that had crippled its improvement. Three mates, Manoj, Gyanesh and Ratnesh obtained collectively in 2007 to resolve the problem that that they had been residence to since without end: entry to electricity. The concept primarily being to present electricity through the use of 100% renewable power with the assistance of decentralised mini-grids.

“Gyanesh and I pursued our Masters in Electrical Engineering in US and after working there for 6-7 years, we discussed solving some of the tough issues that people in Bihar faced every day. Lack of access to reliable electricity was pervasive and impacted 70 million people in Bihar. Therefore, it only seemed logical to embark on addressing this problem,” he reminisces.

Sinha was joined by one other of his classmates, Chip Ransler, when he was enrolled on the Darden School of Business within the US to write a marketing strategy for rural electrification. The 4 of them got here collectively as a crew in 2008 to type an organization – Husk Power Systems – as a result of the primary mini-grid put in was powered by rice husk based mostly biomass gasification power plant.

Mini grid, large leap

The complete idea of photo voltaic PV mini-grids in India dates again to the ’90s within the Sunderban delta area of West Bengal and within the forested province of Chhattisgarh.

‘Mini Grid’ implies a system with a Renewable Energy (RE) based mostly electricity generator (with capability of 10KW and above), and supplying electricity to a set set of shoppers by way of a Public Distribution Network (PDN). A ‘Micro Grid’ system is kind of comparable to a mini grid however has a RE based mostly technology capability under 10KW.

India has dedicated that by 2030, 40% of put in power technology capability is to be based mostly on clear sources. It was additionally decided that 175 GW of RE capability can be put in by 2022. This contains 100 GW from photo voltaic, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from bio-power and 5 GW from small hydro power, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) noticed in its 2018 year-end evaluate.

The Share of Renewable Energy in total put in capability within the nation as on 31.10.2018

Filling the gaps

Husk is carrying this imaginative and prescient ahead by means of its total philosophy of renewable power technology. They have tried to deal with the hole felt by the agricultural poor inhabitants in states similar to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and the like.

“Large power providers focused on building 100MW-1GW scale Solar farm, which is great for the country, but it catered mainly to wealthier states. We filled that gap by providing 100% renewable power through the Hybrid mini-grid system. Combining Solar PV, biomass gasification and battery banks, rural households and businesses got access to 24/7 renewable power,” he affirms.

There is extra. The firm claims to be an innovator not simply in its core competencies, but in addition in phrases of enabling sensible options for its prospects. The effort has been in direction of catering to particular person wants with a singular sensible metering expertise.

“We set our tariff scheme to serve customers as per their most critical requirements. For example, if a commercial customer uses power during daytime, we offer them a discount as solar PV is cheaper than battery. We tell them the various ways in which they can use electricity to maximize the benefits. Our commercial customers have reported increasing their net profit by 30-40% within twelve months of connecting to Husk mini-grid,” provides Sinha, the boldness palpable in his tenor.

Investors referred to as it loopy

When the founders introduced their plan of electrifying 10 million individuals in rural elements of India, buyers thought of it extra as a joke and an actual loopy concept that will have been unimaginable to scale. Even their prospects thought couple of kids have returned from the US and have a loopy concept of working a utility enterprise in very distant areas in Bihar.

“When we began our firm with the thought of producing power utilizing mini-power plant of dimension 30 KW and run an area distribution community up to 2km to serve solely rural prospects, most individuals thought of it as a “charity/welfare” project. Nobody believed that customers will actually pay for the electricity service, let alone the company generate any profit,” he states emphatically.

But possibly it is a response that they all had anticipated. Sinha understands the doubts raised again then, questioning why anybody would suppose of beginning a power and utility enterprise serving backside of the pyramid prospects in a closely regulated sector.

However perception lastly discovered its means by means of when excessive danger taking social enterprise funds like Acumen Fund, IFC, LGT Ventures and Bamboo Capital supplied fairness capital in early 2010 to assist them show the enterprise mannequin. “Fast forward that to 2018, there are now 10s of companies like Husk that are trying to provide reliable power to rural parts of Asia and Africa. We were able to add strategic investors like Shell and First Solar in 2015 onwards to help us scale the business in India and East Africa,” provides Sinha as he appears again thoughtfully on their journey.

The whole fairness financing for them until date has been to the tune of US $25 million. They additionally obtained a small quantity of debt financing to the tune of US $1 million.


Pitfalls alongside the way in which

Sinha confronted different challenges alongside the way in which which slowed down Husk’s journey submit 2012. Gyanesh left the corporate in 2013 and this sparked off a spread of points initially. “I came back to India while my wife continued working in New York. Neither the investors were happy nor the people in the team. Gyanesh had been the CEO from the start and there were atleast 300 people in the team at that time who had been handpicked by him. It was very difficult for me to ensure that everyone was able to look up to me as a leader who can take things forward,” he contends.

He remembers that point as being an extremely insurmountable one since he was surrounded with a number of points that had to be urgently handled, which additionally included restoring investor confidence within the agency.

Sinha confronted an uphill job since he had by no means labored in India and had to begin from adapting to the work tradition in his personal nation. He realised inside a span of 6 or eight months that he had to scale back employees power by half. “I had to personally give the bad news to many people and would get calls from anxious spouses of team members who were laid off. It was the worst period in my life but I got the best learning experience during this time. I became more empathetic. I feel I became a better human being after that,” he says candidly.

Eventually, he obtained his head across the points that had been impeding progress for the corporate and by 2016, a wave of revival was in sight.

Future for Husk

Sinha is evident that it is a path that he now desires to lead on his personal. “Efficiency and professionalism is much easier if it is one person at the helm. Dealing with a co-founder is almost like dealing with a spouse. I did not want to deal with more spouses to fix the problems that we were facing,” jokes Sinha.

The highway forward has been mapped out. Husk goals to roll out 400-500 mini-grid websites in rural Bihar and Uttar Pradesh within the subsequent 5 years as it will allow them to serve greater than 100,000 households and companies. Sinha says that this may also assist them to remove 250,000 tons of CO2 beginning 2021. “We aim to impact lives of 10 million people in Asia and Africa over the next 10 years,” he provides confidently.

Currently, the corporate’s distribution community is in India and Tanzania. In 2019, the plan is to embody yet one more nation in Africa.

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About Beverly Hall

Beverly D. Hall writes for Entreprenuers and Leadership sections in AmericaRichest.

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