SUMMARY: Oorja is a for-profit social enterprise based in India, simultaneously addressing the challenges of energy access and reliability, climate change and gender equity. Oorja is a project developer and technology integrator of solar PV and hybrid solar/biogasification smart mini-grids of 10–50 kW in off-grid and underelectrified rural areas. These primarily power irrigation pumps for farmers, low-income households, SMEs in the agricultural value chain (grain mills, cold storages, dairy chilling) and small-scale manufacturing and institutional loads. We specialize in deploying standardized mini-grids designed to fit into a shipping container, which can be deployed within a matter of days.
In the decentralized renewable energy sector, there is a growing realization for powering “productive uses of energy” to increase income, create jobs and stimulate the local economy. Solar irrigation is probably the most mature of mini-grid productive use applications, with huge untapped potential to improve livelihoods by reducing expenditure on diesel irrigation and improving crop yields. We are pioneering a franchise distribution model, whereby Oorja will provide end-to-end project development, training and financing, while local entrepreneurs operate and maintain the mini-grids. This facilitates customer acquisition, frees up our capital and allows rapid scale-up while stimulating the rural economy and creating new jobs.
PROBLEM SPACE: Around 1.5 billion people, or over a fifth of the world's population, have no access to electricity, and a billion more have only unreliable and intermittent supply. 85% of these people live in rural areas, mostly in India and Africa. Lack of energy access is a fundamental barrier to economic development, preventing commercial activity from taking place, women and children from reaching their full potential, and basic health and education services from functioning. In rural India, over 450 million people face these challenges daily. Consequently, they are forced to use kerosene and diesel that are expensive and harmful to health and environment. The incumbent energy generation model is based on centralized gigawatt-scale generation and distribution, but this is expensive, take decades to expand, and typically relies on unburnable resources like coal and gas. Decentralized generation offers a more flexible system of distributed, sustainable power sources that will allow the developing world to leapfrog the centralized model. For it to flourish, operators need the consistent and stable power requirements of an anchor load, typically commercial activities/users. However, in off-grid areas, entrepreneurial opportunities are difficult to come by due to a lack of infrastructure, skills and access to finance for local entrepreneurs.
SOLUTION: Our mission is to rapidly and scalably expand energy access by acting as project developers of decentralized energy systems and enablers of local ecosystems. We use an innovative hybrid generation technology that converts agricultural waste and sunlight into clean electricity, which is distributed to businesses and households via a mini-grid. Smart meters are used to remotely monitor consumption and reduce downtime. We build and install these systems and lease/sell them to local entrepreneurs who own, operate and maintain them. This franchise model allows us to enter the market more easily and scale up rapidly. We act not only as project developers but also help new micro-enterprises set up through entrepreneurial training and education programs, so business owners can acquire machinery/equipment, extend their working hours and create new jobs. This helps us establish an anchor load as businesses have a significant, stable demand for power, enhancing the viability of the mini-grid. Access to clean, reliable and affordable energy from mini-grids will reduce energy costs by up to 40% versus the costs of kerosene and diesel, generate new commercial activity and jobs, and lead to a reduction of ~1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year for every 1000 villages electrified.
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