Gram Oorja Makes Hay While the 'Sun Shines'

Sameer Nair worked on rural electrification as this was the need of the hour, learns Rajeshwari Swaminathan.
Gram Oorja Makes Hay While the 'Sun Shines'

It was not the urge to promote a social cause that led Sameer Nair to bring light to several households. It was the pressing need for a sustainable lifestyle in the villages skirting Maharashtra that led this investment banker from Globus Capital to launch Gram Oorja, an organisation that helps set up solar, biogas, micro-hydro based systems, in villages. These inventions make life easier for villagers by providing them with electricity, cooking gas and drinking water.

“Gram Oorja was co-founded with two of my former colleagues Anshuman Lath and Prasad Kulkarni. Anshuman and I have known each other from our IIM-Bangalore days but such an initiative was never part of our wildest plans. It was during Anshuman’s brief association with an NGO working in this rural belt that he was exposed to the energy issues, and this is when we decided to get involved in the social business sector,” he adds.   

Advances in wind and solar power over the years has seen major improvements to off grid technology – it’s now cheaper and more efficient than ever.

He says, “We work closely with NGO partners to identify villages, assess the needs and raise funds from potential donors to create renewable energy-based systems that can cater to the needs of the rural communities. We create off grid systems (also called micro-grids) that have the ability to provide electricity beyond basic lighting. Typical appliances like drinking water pumps, flour mills, televisions, fans, refrigerators, run on this energy.”

Their first project was in 2012, a mico-grid of 9.4 kWp capacity, which was set up in Darewadi, Pune. Though they have come a long way since, all of this did not come easily to them.

Looking back, he remembers, “In the initial stages, we were neither conversant with our market (rural India) nor were we experts in renewable energy. We had to spend the first 2/3 years understanding both before taking the plunge.”

“Our projects in Maharashtra are in areas like Jawhar and Nandurbar, where the areas while affected by the poor monsoon are not in as grim a situation like parts of Marathwada,” Sameer fills in and adds that India is a vast country and the energy usage patterns can vary even from district to district.

He feels that a centralised planning process that decides on the type and quantum of energy to be provided without taking into account the opinion of the end consumers (rural households) will not succeed in the long run.

How it works

1. Sun shines on the solar panels or wind turns wind turbine blades, generating DC electricity

2. The DC electricity is fed into a regulator which controls the amount of charge. Deep cycle batteries are charged

3. 12 volt appliances can be run directly off the batteries or the current routed through an  inverter which converts it to 240V 50Hz AC electricity

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