First Energy is an alternative energy business, catering to consumers in rural and suburban India through an affordable cooking offer branded “OORJA” consisting of a biomass stove and a fuel – made from pelletized agri-residue. The stove uses biomass gasification technology, developed and patented with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The fuel is made from compacted agri-residue. Both come together to form an affordable cooking offer – making a meal for a family of 5 for less than Rs 5/6 per meal. The key advantages of the stove – pellet combination are:
• Fuel efficiency – uses less fuel than conventional sources of energy like wood, coal etc. for the same amount of cooking, due to controlled combustion – over 300% increase in efficiency over traditional stoves
• Smokeless – reduces indoor air pollution through reduction of oxides of carbon and sulphur emitted in conventional fuels. It also reduces suspended particulate matter in the air, thus creating a cleaner environment for the home – reduction in CO & SPM by over 70%
• Reduces deforestation because it helps reduce use of wood and agri biomass that were inefficiently burned in “chulhas”
• Helps environment/climate change in a positive way by reducing the “brown cloud” – carbon neutral to carbon positive
Overall, the vision is to provide cleaner, safer and sustainable energy solutions to emerging consumers who are caught in an “energy divide” and therefore, lack affordable and accessible sources of energy.
Today First Energy has reached over 445,000 homes. This has been through a route to market channel of 3000 village level entrepreneurs/dealers (several of whom are women) who sell the stove and fuel in the villages. This direct, intensive channel has helped supply over 445,000 stoves and about 32,000 tons of fuel to date.
First Energy aims to build this into a commercially sustainable business in developing countries. The business will target growth in sales of its cooking solution (cooking stove and biomass fuel) initially through deepening its presence in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Over time it will expand to cover additional states in India and beyond. The goal is to reach 1 million households in 3 years.
Our Experience And Interest In The Four PCIA Central Focus Areas
1. Economic barrier - subsidies on LPG on the one hand, and perceived lack of cost of wood/biomass collection on the other
2. While the consumers want the offer to get as near to LPG as possible in terms of a benchmark, they also have affordability constraints
3. While women and children are most affected by IAP and health issues, the purchasing decision rests with men who don't see this need all the time
1. Requires awareness building on an ongoing basis and also clear messages on convenience and benefits
2. All aspects of marketing need to be deployed to raise awareness, but the most critical challenge is to convert awareness to trial to adoption
We clearly feel that a cooking solution based on a "gasifier" stove that uses an engineered/"solid fuel," based on agricultural residues in the form of high density pellets, takes the performance (in terms of efficiency and emissions) to a higher level than has been seen to date. Several aspects of the stove design and the fuel of Oorja that First Energy has commercialised result in very high utilization efficiency as well as low emissions as a consequence of the generation of near-constant throughput of gaseous fuel due to gasification and a correct air-to-fuel ratio used for combustion of the gases.
An important aspect, we feel based on experience and tests, is that while free convection based stoves may be appropriate in totally unelectrified areas, forced convection stoves may be the only way to a future of improving the quality of the environment around the stove, apart from higher efficiency.
There appears to be rising demand for this class of stoves in the rural user groups that do not lack availability of biomass fuel, as well as the urban users who have difficulty in sourcing any kind of fuel in an affordable manner. This demand is traced to a clear desire of the user to own something that operates in a manner close to what LPG stove does, which is the aspirational benchmark.
Lab tests have become better and now are becoming easier to compare between different methodologies. However, we need to move towards standards and ISO certification mechanisms to make steps towards change in quality and performance.
Our experience with field testing is that it is needed but has to evolve given the number of variables that one has to encounter. Yet consistent field testing can be developed after standardising the lab testing/protocols and standards.
Relevant Publications or Studies
Our Contribution to the Partnership
1. Share learning
2. Invite others to field visits in areas of operation
3. Broader alliances with supply partners, technology partners
4. Development of a sustainable financial framework for the industry to develop and sustain - can play a critical part in developing and championing this agenda, since this is most critical for the cooking solution agenda to have any meaningful or sustainable development.