More than 300 million people in India don’t have access to electricity. (Photo credit AFP/Getty Images)
India is aiming to make annual savings of $8.9 billion in energy costs by adopting new energy-saving technologies. As half of country’s energy is consumed by commercial sector, businesses have long been challenged to improve their low carbon credentials and energy efficiency. Now, data-driven smart energy startups have taken it upon themselves to come up with innovative solutions.
“Increases in electricity generation over the years have not been able to keep up with increasing demand. Our research has shown that commercial buildings typically waste more than 30% of electricity, so we are focusing on operational energy efficiency using technology and advanced data analytics,” says Vishal Bansal, who teamed up with Rahul Bhalla and Amarjeet Singh to found Zenatix, an energy efficiency startup, in 2013.
Its advancedmodel, driven by machine learning, is called WattMan. It’s designed to help big businesses, such as retail chains and banks, reduce their electricity consumption by up to 30%.
Its energy-saving technology also offers predictive and preventive maintenance of electrical assets. “Imagine if the air conditioning stops working at a supermarket,” Bansal says. “It means potential loss of business… We use machine learning tools to track the performance of each air conditioning unit and predict if an unit will break down in the near future, saving precious downtime.”
Zenatix, whose key clients include Mother Dairy, Vodafone, Domino’s Pizza, State Bank of India and Aviva Life Insurance, has raised around $1.7 million from IoT-focused early-stage venture funds such as pi Ventures and Blume Ventures. “WattMan is currently installed at more than 600 locations across India,” says Bansal. “We aim to increase our installation base to 5000 locations over next 12 months.”
Smart Joules, founded by Arjun Gupta and Ujjal Majumdar in 2015, is another startup that aims to optimize energy consumption for businesses, and thereby free up energy resources for those who do not have access to it. In India, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies where the need for power increases daily, around 300 million people lack access altogether.
“From smartphone assistants to driverless cars, machine learning is increasingly helping us in our everyday lives. It can also help us in making energy more widely available and more affordable, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Gupta.
“[Energy saving] can be [achieved] by switching the common energy-intensive processes such as heating, cooling and drying to automatic and continuous data-based optimization,” he adds.
But while efforts are consistently being made to retrofit old and inefficient technologies with new higher efficiency models, there’s been little real progress made in eliminating wastage due to sub-optimal operations of various appliances and systems across the country.
Smart Joules’ technology, a combination of innovative embedded systems infrastructure and machine learning algorithms, is a pay-as-you-save model. “We believe charging a portion of reduced recurring energy costs that businesses can physically verify, rather than for complex technology that they find hard to understand, will enable faster adoption,” says Gupta. Its technology, he claims, guarantee a minimum of 15% energy savings, and is currently being used in more than 10 hospitals across India.
“Our focus is on large hospitals since they consume and waste energy 24/7, and their unit electricity costs are very high. This target market can help us generate energy savings of more than $30 million annually,” says Gupta, adding that Smart Joules is “singularly focused” on saving energy equivalent to the annual consumption of one million Indian households by 2022.
“In the coming years, we plan to configure our core technology to serve other types of commercial buildings such as hotels, airports and office buildings,” adds Gupta. Smart Joules is supported by David & Lucile Packard Foundation and Tata Cleantech Capital.
Undoubtedly, tapping wasted energy from inefficient businesses is equivalent to discovering a hidden energy reserve that will help India improve its energy security. “The government has rolled out energy efficiency programs, but technological advancements in IoT and big data targeting operational energy savings, in addition to retrofitting the inefficient appliances, will result in significant energy efficiency cost savings,” says Bansal.
“Together with a focus on renewable energy generation, this three-pronged strategy can provide energy efficiency as well as environmental sustainability. Globally, the operational energy efficiency opportunity is worth more than $120 billion,” adds Bansal.
Clearly, the emphasis laid by the government on renewable energy and energy efficiency has opened the floodgates for private players in the field of energy conservation. The other startups in energy efficiency sector are REConnect Energy, Energyly, Tessol, iGren Energi and Atomberg Technologies. “But renewable energy options often tend to outshine energy efficiency and become the default choice of action for energy consumers,” says Gupta.
Although, both IoT and machine learning are changing the way how customers consume energy, Bansal says, “Our biggest challenge is the rate of adoption of our cutting edge product by businesses. While they clearly see the benefits of our product, there is an adoption curve for any new technology.”