ONergy’s Mission to Light 1 Million Lives by 2016
Recently I had a chance to meet up with the team of ONergy, a renewable energy venture started in 2009 by Vinay Jaju, Ekta Jaju and Piyush Jaju. The company is dedicated to providing quality and affordable sustainable energy technologies through the proprietary model of Renewable Energy Centres (Shakti Kendras) and micro entrepreneurs.
The startup sources products from Barefoot Power. In addition to the founders, ONergy’s staff includes 10 technical officers and a handful of managerial staff for data entry. For now, the venture is self-funded, and publicized that it has reached about 100 villages.
During my field visit, I had a chance to interact with some ONergy’s customers, who include shop owners and micro entrepreneurs of varying industries. It was really amazing to talk to them and see how invested they are in installing solar devices in their homes, despite the relatively high cost of solar technology.
I interviewed ONergy’s co-founder Ekta Jaju, who shared insights on the company’s start, the products and the market:
NextBillion.net: What was the motivation to start ONergy?
Jaju: We have been working in the environment space for over three years now, Vinay, Ekta and myself got together in early 2008, quit international jobs, to start climate awareness and advocacy campaigns. We had a lot of success but realized that there was only so much you can achieve through advocacy. We started focusing on policy action. We cycled over a 1,000 miles, travelling through the coal belt, meeting with communities directly impacted by coal mining, climate experts, activists, and policy makers. This was made into a documentary film and also showcased at COP15 in Copenhagen. We started to realize that there is a very strong co-relation between environment, sustainability and energy, and unless we cannot solve the energy problem in a sustainable and equitable manner, we cannot solve the climate problem. With that as our focus, we started ONergy two years back to provide last mile access for renewable energy technologies in rural India.
NextBillion.net: Considering it was rural villages, how did you manage into tap into the rural market and get into the rural mindset?
Jaju: While we were travelling, we spent a lot of time with poor communities understanding their needs and the gaps that existed in the system to build a sound understanding of the rural markets. We got in touch with grass-root NGOs and MFIs, did detailed survey and analysis of local needs and resources, to understand appropriate solutions. We setup our first renewable energy in partnership with a grass-root MFI, Vivekananda Sevakendra-O-Sishu Uddyan (www.vssu.in) in Jan 2010.
NextBillion.net: How many villages have you covered and what’s the plan for next five years?
Jaju: ONergy has a triple bottom line impact by focusing on social, environment and economic sustainability.
Social: We provide access to clean energy to rural poor, assist in children’s education and provide health benefits.
Economic: Our products have a positive cash flow impact by increasing both savings from reduction in use of fossil fuel and increase in income from longer working hours and improved productivity. We provide livelihood to our network of trained rural entrepreneurs and self-help groups who market products and provide technical services for Solar and improved cooking to the rural households.
Environment: We reduce the use of fossil fuels and cut down on carbon emissions.
ONergy aims to impact 1 million rural lives by 2016 by providing complete energy solutions.
NextBillion.net: Can you tell us a little more about your renewable energy centers?
Jaju: Renewable energy centers provide an energy distribution channel through a network of trained rural entrepreneurs in a sustainable (also financially viable), decentralized and scalable manner. RECs are setup in partnership with grassroot partners (MFIs and NGOs). The distribution and service network is managed by ONergy leveraging the network, infrastructure and local knowledge/goodwill of the partner.
NextBillion.net: What kind of solutions are you providing in rural India and what kind of technologies?
Small Solar Light Products (0.5W-10W)
Basic and potable low-cost solar lighting products
Satisfies the need for affordable and reliable solar lighting solutions
Solar Home Electrification Systems (20-120W+)
Generate sufficient power for 10-20 hours of light per day to power multiple lights and electrical applications (fans, TVs etc.)
Systems offered through loans extended by Rural Banks and MFIs
Smokeless Cook Stoves – (promoted by TIDE)
Smokeless, compact, and compatible with a wide range of solid biomass.
More efficient, conserving 25-30% of wood
New products under development
Solar Water Heating Systems, Solar TV and Computers, Water Purification
NextBillion.net: What kind of payment mechanism do you offer your clients?
Jaju: By partnering with both banks and microfinance institutions (MFI), we are able offer solutions to all of our customers, regardless of their financial situation. Our innovative financing structure enables us to provide options tailored with their best interests in mind.
Systems between 0.5 W – 5 W – Sold for cash or loan extended through MFI
Systems 5 W and above – Systems offered through loans extended by Rural Banks and MFIs