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It’s simple to see what’s motivating India’s rising ecosystem of sustainable know-how startups with a look out the window from the workplace of Sangam Ventures in Gurugram, simply outdoors of Delhi.

A number of flooring under the agency’s balcony, energy traces crisscross over piles of rubbish, a fleet of rickshaws and cow patties on a rooftop, being dried for cooking gas. Above all of it lies a blanket of yellowish smog. 

“What we try to do as a fund is outline what local weather change entrepreneurship must seem like,” Karthik Chandrasekar, the founding father of early stage cleantech enterprise capital agency Sangam, mentioned in an interview at his workplace early final 12 months.

“I don’t assume you may simply deploy photo voltaic and remedy all the pieces,” he mentioned. “I believe photo voltaic is a giant part of it and helpful a part of it due to the size and pricing it has reached […] however I believe you want large-scale sustainable consumption alternative adjustments for all of this to work.”

Fast progress in India’s renewable vitality sector is driving demand for brand spanking new applied sciences to modernize the nation’s energy sector. On the identical time, there’s a rising have to develop and deploy a broader suite of options aimed toward decreasing air pollution.

In response, a vibrant ecosystem of sustainability-oriented startups, traders and incubators is taking form in India as we speak.

“I believe we’re simply on the cusp of an actual transformation of our startup ecosystem and seeing the cleantech startup ecosystem actually blossom this 12 months,” mentioned Pratap Raju, founding accomplice of The Local weather Collective Community, a non-profit targeted on constructing the ecosystem for local weather entrepreneurship in South Asia.

Public concern about environmental points has steadily elevated over the previous decade. This has moved these points up the political precedence record and bolstered a large effort to diversify India’s financial system away from coal and different polluting applied sciences and practices. The coronavirus pandemic dealt a blow to India’s financial system, however the need for a better high quality of life continues to maneuver India’s startup ecosystem ahead, in keeping with Raju.

“Offers are persevering with to shut,” he mentioned. “Buyers are recognizing that there are quick time period hiccups and disruption from COVID, however the progress prospects are robust.”

The community of cleantech startups that exists in India as we speak solely emerged in a significant method inside the previous few years. Consultants say the sector was held again as a result of key stakeholders had been working in silos. Universities, incubators, traders and the general public sector weren’t aligned on find out how to incentivize innovation, uncover entrepreneurs and assist researchers construct a enterprise. However that’s altering. India’s monumental expertise pool is now being tapped to sort out among the nation’s biggest challenges.

Demand for versatile, clear energy spurs startup exercise

Because the share of renewable vitality on India’s electrical energy grid continues to rise and the smog continues to worsen, the necessity for versatile, clear energy is rising. That is attracting extra entrepreneurs and traders to India’s cleantech sector. Renewable vitality initiatives coupled with vitality storage will “change the sport” for India’s energy grid, Raju mentioned, by eliminating arguments that coal and gasoline are wanted to supply baseload energy. 

“The precise variety of self-described cleantech startups in India is sort of low,” he mentioned. “However whenever you look underneath the hood on the portfolio of startups and incubators and accelerators, there are massive numbers of startups making an attempt to unravel our vitality effectivity issues [and] our transition to renewable vitality.”

In keeping with Raju, an estimated 20 % of all startups in incubators in India are targeted on some facet of sustainability. As we speak, a rising variety of them are targeted on clear electrical energy.

“That is being pushed, particularly, by the persevering with success of India’s renewable vitality transition,” he mentioned. “That’s driving demand for brand spanking new options to assist stabilize the grid and to increase the facility of renewables to the massive quantity of people that do not have entry to electrical energy in any significant method.”

India has witnessed one of many quickest progress charges in renewables of all of the main economies. When Raju joined the renewable vitality sector in 2009, the quantity of photo voltaic put in on the grid in India was roughly three megawatts. As we speak, it’s round 36,000 megawatts. Regardless of current setbacks attributable to the pandemic, the quantity of each photo voltaic and wind on India’s grid is predicted to develop exponentially over the subsequent decade. 

A examine by The Power and Sources Institute finds that energy system flexibility would be the greatest problem for India’s goal to deploy 450 gigawatts of renewable vitality by 2030.

Final 12 months, the Indian authorities concluded two artistic renewable vitality tenders — one for peak energy and the opposite for around-the-clock renewable energy — to construct the marketplace for versatile renewables. The auctions signify a brand new period in India’s vitality transition. Merely deploying wind and photo voltaic at scale is not ample. The rise of renewables is forcing utilities and different vitality stakeholders to make the grid smarter, extra resilient and environment friendly.

The view from Sangam Ventures. Photograph credit score: Julia Pyper

In 2020, Local weather Collective partnered with the U.S.-based startup accelerator New Power Nexus and the worldwide non-profit Regulatory Help Venture to launch a startup program known as ElectronVibe. Its purpose is to develop new enterprise fashions for India’s distribution utilities (DISCOMS). Program candidates had been requested to pitch concepts that may create further income streams for the nation’s severely indebted utilities or assist enhance grid resilience.

Submissions may embrace options on the shopper aspect of the meter, together with rooftop photo voltaic, demand response and battery vitality storage. Individuals had been additionally inspired to contemplate public-private and public-private-civil society partnerships to make sure end-use effectivity in electrical energy consumption and better stage of renewable vitality penetration.

Winners of the primary program spherical included Mumbai-based POWEReasy, which creates units to watch and handle electrical points on the grid, and Bhopal-based Drmz System Improvements, which gives a low-cost wi-fi communication module as an alternative choice to current good meters. Different members embrace startups engaged on microgrid options, electrical automobile fast-charging and creating digital twins of the grid for higher administration. Winners obtain help with growing their enterprise fashions and the chance to do a pilot venture with an DISCOM.

ElectronVibe permits India’s struggling utility sector to crowdsource innovation, whereas offering entrepreneurs with a technique to interact with the facility corporations. This sort of artistic partnership is a important piece of the clear vitality revolution happening in India as we speak, in keeping with Kartikeya Singh, deputy program director on the SED Fund and senior affiliate with the India coverage division on the Heart for Strategic and Worldwide Research.

“Indian utilities are the linchpin to India’s vitality transition and serving to India be a local weather chief, however they want assist in navigating the vitality transition,” he mentioned. “They’re underneath great political and financial strain to function with enterprise fashions which might be loss-making and don’t have the wherewithal to develop into the utilities of the long run that India wants them to be.”

A maturing startup ecosystem to serve the world

Over the previous few years, nationwide and state governments in India have efficiently expanded the facility grid to villages within the countryside. And but, lots of of thousands and thousands of individuals in India nonetheless don’t have entry to reasonably priced and dependable energy.

On the identical time, whereas skies in Delhi briefly cleared this 12 months amid coronavirus lockdowns, India stays dwelling to 22 of the 30 most polluted cities on the planet. In the meantime, the pandemic has put 400 million Indians liable to falling deeper into poverty, intensifying the necessity for reasonably priced vitality.

These components usually are not solely driving demand for dependable, clear energy on the grid, but additionally for electrical automobiles, extra environment friendly buildings and distributed vitality options to serve distant areas.

In March, New Delhi-based clear vitality investor cKers Finance raised $5 million from New Power Nexus to spice up the event of recent distributed photo voltaic in India. The funds will probably be used to assist each residential and business photo voltaic, in addition to photo voltaic water pumps, floating photo voltaic and solar-powered refrigeration, marking one other step ahead for India’s cleantech startup ecosystem. 

This week, cKers introduced it had partnered with India’s OTO Capital in a first-of-a-kind initiative to finance two-wheeler electrical automobile purchases. Talking of India’s broader cleantech ecosystem, Pawan Mehra, cKers director, mentioned that profitable services and products sometimes do not come from know-how breakthroughs. As a substitute, they are usually pushed by enturepreneurs discovering methods to package deal current applied sciences to fulfill particular market wants.

“It is a deployment and enterprise mannequin query,” he mentioned in an interview. “It isn’t a know-how query.”

India’s cleantech startup ecosystem continues to be in its early levels. However rising curiosity and funding within the house isn’t solely constructive for the nation’s personal vitality transition, however gives the potential of international impression. Communities in India share traits with communities throughout Southeast Asia and Africa, which implies that options developed in a single market may gain advantage one other.

“India has the issues of Sub-Saharan Africa and the brains of Silicon Valley,” sShailesh Vikram Singh, angel investor on the GoMassive Earth Community, a Noida-based incubator supporting the progress of early-stage local weather tech startups, mentioned throughout an interview final 12 months in Delhi. GoMassive launched in 2018 with $150 million in funding from Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founding father of the favored Indian cost platform Paytm. The group continues to mobilize angel traders to again inexperienced vitality entrepreneurship. 

India has the power to unravel native air pollution and local weather change challenges, whereas fostering financial improvement on the identical time, Singh mentioned.

“And if we will remedy it, we gained’t simply remedy it for India,” he mentioned. “We’ll remedy it for the entire World South.”


Journey to India for parts of this story was supported by SED Fund, which helps a spread of actions associated to sustainability. All content material is editorially impartial, with no affect or enter from the philanthropy. The views expressed on this article don’t essentially replicate the views of SED Fund or any of its associates.

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