Change Makers

Oorja makes electricity affordable through biomass and solar power in rural India

‘What if we could use some of the 200 million tons of crop waste and 2700 hours of sunshine available each year in India to light 1 million people’s lives while also enhancing food security, reducing carbon emissions and accelerating local economic development?’ asks Amit Saraogi & Clementine Chambon, the two young social entrepreneurs who co-founded Oorja as an answer to the same.

Oorja is a social enterprise that aims to provide clean energy access to 450 million under electrified people in rural communities in India. The biomass and solar-powered miniature power stations set up by Oorja aim to provide reliable and affordable electricity to those underdeveloped communities in the country.

According to the founders, “Central to the idea is franchising the ownership and operation of plants to local micro-entrepreneurs and women’s cooperatives. This is not only a feasible path to universal energy access but also a model that fosters local economic development and has significant potential to mitigate carbon emissions.”

The beginning

Oorja was founded in 2015 by Clementine Chambon, now a final-year PhD student at Imperial College London, and Amit Saraogi, an Indian social entrepreneur.

Amit has over 15 years of diverse professional experience in strategy and business consulting, investment banking and finance and development practice. He holds a master’s degree in International Development from Columbia University, New York, a bachelor’s degree in Accountancy and Financial Management from Mumbai University, Mumbai and a Professional Certification in Social Entrepreneurship from Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Clementine Chambon, co-founder and CTO of Oorja, is responsible for product development and is a chemical engineer completing a PhD in bioenergy from agricultural waste at Imperial College London. She was recognized as Social Innovator of the Year by MIT Technology Review in France. She has considerable technical experience with biomass gasification systems and knowledge of the deployment of viable emerging decentralized energy solutions.

 “I met my co-founder Amit Saraogi, an Indian social entrepreneur specialized in development and poverty alleviation, in August 2014 during a Climate-KIC workshop. Amit and I promptly embarked upon building a solution to address the challenges of access to energy and climate change” says Clementine Chambon.

Thereafter, they conducted field research to better understand the pain points and needs of their end consumers, grasp the demographics, the political, economic, social and cultural context in which they would have to operate and evaluate the demand, affordability and willingness to pay for modern energy services, to develop a viable and innovative solution. They then went on to build a robust business plan and distribution model that was vetted by climate scientists and industry experts.

The mission

team in solar pv

The founders of Oorja believe that access to energy is fundamental to human and economic development. They explain, “We are deploying hybrid biomass and solar-powered mini-grids that will provide reliable and affordable electricity for commercial use and household lighting.  To make the proposition financially sustainable and scalable, Oorja’s commercial focus will be on powering local micro-enterprises and cottage industries, which have a higher requirement for reliable electricity that can constitute an ‘anchor load’ for the micro-grid systems. This enables us to cross-subsidize low-income households in nearby villages so that everyone can benefit from clean energy access.”

On a future note they continue “Oorja’s hope is to change mindsets not just on the local level – as energy access unlocks economic opportunities, increases income and even drives improvements in gender equity – but also on a global level, in transforming the vision of off-grid rural communities from passive beneficiaries or subsidized customers, to franchisees and producers of their own energy, empowering them to power their homes and businesses with locally-generated, sustainable electricity.”