NETHERLANDS – Feeling the power of reliable electricity

Over a billion people globally still have no access to energy. We are looking at companies that can provide reliable and affordable energy to communities across the developing world. Husk Power Systems is one.

Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice President – New Energies at Shell

AIWA! NO!//During a recent trip to India, I met local printshop owner Mr Sushant in Tamkuhi Raj, a village in the state of Uttah Pradesh. He told me how businesses like his used to be heavily reliant on unpredictable electricity from the grid.

Villagers were lucky to get even a few hours of continuous electricity. Blackouts could last more than a day. Businesses suffered.

Listening to his challenges reminded me how easy it is for those with frequent, reliable access to energy to take it for granted. Yet for millions around the world, it is a very different story.

Fortunately, thanks to a mini-grid company called Husk Power Systems, this businessman’s reality is changing. Mr Sushant now controls his working hours. Business is picking up. Customers are encouraged by the reliability of his copiers and printers, and earnings are steady and consistent.

Electricity from Husk Power Systems costs less than half of what many families previously paid for kerosene lamps, and has far fewer environmental and health hazards.

For me, this example shows how access to reliable energy is not just about achieving a better quality of life. It is about giving people the means for income-generating opportunities that can improve livelihoods.

Behind the technology

So, what is the technology powering that print shop? Husk is a mini-grid company which uses a hybrid system that generates renewable power 24 hours a day. The system synchronises solar panels with biomass gasification power plants, supported by battery storage. The costs can be higher – but so is reliability.

Husk Power Systems sees electricity as a critical element in addressing poverty. “Access to better lighting improves people’s lives”, says Sinha. Photo credit: flickr/Acumen Fund

Husk has certainly improved the livelihood of this printshop owner. And it is my hope that this model could be replicated all over India and across the developing world.

Strategic investments

Earlier this year Shell was among those that announced a collective $20 million investment into Husk. The money will come from our New Energies business, which is focused on commercial ways to provide reliable and affordable electricity.

We were attracted to Husk because we see the firm as a leader in providing reliable and affordable energy to communities with no or unreliable electricity. They have a very credible business model.

This followed our investments in SolarNow BV, which provides decentralised solar energy to communities in East Africa, and SteamaCo, a British off-grid smart metering company. So far, these three companies have raised a total of about $30m in the most recent funding rounds, including money from Shell.

Each of them brings experience and expertise in energy access which, when combined with Shell’s capabilities and global presence, we believe will help these firms to grow.

Pitching in

But firms can’t do everything alone. We need a stable regulatory environment, an integrated vision from governments and support from multilateral institutions.

In India, where hundreds of millions of people lack access to reliable energy for example, the government has already laid out targets for electrification. Efforts must be combined.

Having seen the positive difference reliable power makes to lives, it’s clear to me why people desperately craving it are willing to pay more.

My hope is that through Shell investments in firms such as Husk, reliable power will change the lives of millions.

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