After four hours of bumpy drive into the hilly areas near Visakhapatnam, India, we reached our destination – an isolated village which was inaccessible by road until two years ago, and remains disconnected to grid power. Yet, utility poles with LED street lights, together with a solar system, are prominently placed across the village of 12 families. We were warmly invited by the village chief to visit his house. Surrounded by a group of villagers, he switched on the television and started describing the changes this solar energy system brought to the village.
“Before the installation of the microgrid, we faced much difficulty because it becomes completely dark at night. Not only did we have to rely on kerosene lamps to visit each other’s houses, the women also had to use kerosene lamps to cook. Now, we have set our kerosene lamps aside and women can cook with ease. Moreover, our children have more time to complete their school work even after it gets dark,” says the village chief.
As one of the 50 odd villages that experienced access to electricity for the first time through a solar microgrid system installed by Freyr Energy, an Impact Enterprise (IE) based out of Hyderabad, India, the experience of this village is not unique. IIX had the opportunity to visit both Freyr’s Hyderabad headquarters, and their operations in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to understand its impact in changing the electrification narrative in India.
Since 2014, through the support of public and private funding, Freyr commenced installation of solar microgrid systems among off-grid villages across India, providing over 8,000 tribals/villagers access to electricity and opportunities for an improved standard of living. Each system has an installed capacity ranging 3-11 kilowatts (kW), providing sufficient power for lighting between 6-10pm and 4-6am for the entire village of up to 60 households. Moreover, some communities are able to collectively purchase a television set for communal entertainment – a luxury previously denied to them due to the lack of electricity access.
Of the world’s 1.3 billion people who live without access to electricity, a quarter — about 300 million — live in rural India. Additionally, millions more live with spotty supplies of electricity from the country’s unreliable power grid. With calls for access to reliable energy on the rise, and to achieve the nation’s aim of 100 percent electrification by May 2018, the Indian government asserts that it must depend on fossil fuels. However, if India’s carbon emissions continue to escalate, the International Energy Agency estimates that India will overtake the United States as the world’s second-highest emitter by 2040, behind only China. As such, there is a growing recognition that a substantial increase in renewable energy production is required in India to meet the growing demand and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Prior to Freyr’s entry into the solar energy space, there were solar companies that were serving the market ranging below 1 kW and above 200 kW. However, there was no service provider catering to consumers in the middle. Recognizing this market gap, Freyr was founded by Saurabh Marda and Radhika Choudary to help homeowners and businesses make smart solar energy investments and contribute to a cleaner planet. Freyr’s foray into the solar energy market thus started with a government tender to electrify rural villages in 2014.
Following its success with rural electrification and to capitalize on the increasing demand for clean energy, Freyr has rapidly expanded their reach to focus more on the urban market. Freyr’s product line has now expanded to include rooftop systems, petrol pumps, and solar water pumps to cater to both off-grid and on-grid consumers. As a full-service solar solutions provider, the company has completed more than 750 rooftop installations across 10 states, engaging 80 plus channel partners in India and Ghana.
Through the provision of Freyr’s high-quality solar products, customers are able to generate solar energy to supplement their consumption needs, in the process generating substantial cost savings. For example, an effluent treatment plant in Hyderabad was able to produce 30% of its overall electricity consumption through the rooftop systems, with a rate of return on investment of over 20%.
As commented by Radhika Choudary, co-founder of Freyr, “Clients in these segments are seeking 20-30 percent savings. Sectors such as residential, education as well as hospitals, petrol pumps are going for solar now.”
Freyr has demonstrated the potential that market-based solutions possess to supplement governmental efforts in accelerating to both the sustainable development and green agenda. In seeking to maximize its profits and revenue streams, Freyr is not only able to satisfy the demand for cheap energy, but also resolve electricity supply issues, mismanagement, and an underdeveloped energy infrastructure in India. Already a profitable business, Freyr is planning to establish a presence in 25 countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, in the next three years. To do so, the Impact Enterprise has enlisted the services of IIX Impact Partners – the largest and first equity crowdfunding platform in Asia – to facilitate its capital raise. . IIX will look for the right investors to introduce to Freyr in order to grow its work. Investors interested in finding out more about Freyr can sign up for IIX Impact Partners.
Matilda Leong, Impact Assessment & Business Development
Zen Bin, Corporate Finance