Work

Light and shine

Rashmi Pratap | Updated on September 12, 2014 Published on January 31, 2014

Every day is a sun day: Skyshade lights at the South Central Railway officein Secunderabad.

A bright spot: In factories with high ceilings, multiple systems of light pipes are used.

Room for more: Sunny days and nights at sprawling warehouses.

Low-cost offerings: Fibre optic light pipes can direct sunlight to canteens and other spaces not on the top floor

A place in the sun: Sekhar Nori, Managing Director of Skyshades, Hyderabad, with skyshelf panels that redirect daylight Photo: PV Sivakumar

A quirky business in Hyderabad uses the sun to light up offices

Office spaces around the world seemingly have one obsession—to get rid of sunlight. A small Hyderabad company wants to do the opposite. Sekhar Nori’s Skyshade Lighting builds special pipes that use sunlight to light up buildings. Not just the top floor, but right down to the basement. And what’s even more surprising is that while the pipes channelize the light of the sun, they also do a good job of keeping its heat out.

The whole idea of tapping the sun for light without converting it into solar energy came about after his first venture, Phoenix Solar Engineering, failed to take off. “We used to manufacture solar heaters. But costs (of converting sunlight to electric energy and reconversion of that energy to power solar heaters) were very high. We were incurring losses and there wasn’t much awareness about the product in the market,” Nori says.

He had already set up a factory for solar heaters at Cherlapally, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, and he had taken huge bank loans to fund it. He couldn’t simply write this off as a bad idea. After burning their fingers and losing money for nearly seven years, Nori, and his wife Anantha, founded Skyshade Lighting to use sunlight itself, without any conversion.

“We could cut down all the conversion costs by using sunlight directly to light up warehouses, factories and offices,” says Nori. By 2008, Lightpipes, Skyshade’s flagship product, was ready. Today, the company has three more products in its growing portfolio—fibre optic light pipes, Skyshelves which redirect daylight into various spaces while eliminating glare, and TensiShade fabric structures that offer shading solutions.

Methodology

The greatest demand he sees is for light pipes, which collect sunlight from rooftop and transmit it to any part of the building. “The collector can be installed on any wall or rooftop. Through pipes, light is taken inside the buildings and can even go to basements,” says Anantha. Inside the structures, diffusers spread the sunlight evenly. These light pipes don’t stand out, merging with false ceilings to look just like bulbs.

Light pipes come in four sizes of varying diameters, with the biggest 750mm costing ₹27,000. It is enough to light up an area of 1,000 sq ft, which would otherwise require 12 bulbs and tube lights of 40watt each. Each light pipe saves about 2,000 units annually, a saving of ₹16,000 per pipe at the commercial electricity rate of ₹8. Any establishment installing 20 pipes will save over ₹3.2 lakh annually on electricity bills.

Light pipes ensure sunlight for up to 10 hours per day. They have panels that vary the transmission of solar radiation during the day, not allowing heat to be transmitted along with light.

Light pipes can transport light up to 15 metres, which is sufficient for a five-storey building. “In the case of high ceiling industrial sheds, we use multiple systems to cover them,” adds Anantha.

When light pipes were developed in 2008, the company decided to focus on the corporate sector for sales. “Electricity is a huge cost for them. And ‘going green’ is also high on their priority list,” she says.

One of Skyshade’s biggest installations is at the factory of Amara Raja Batteries in Tirupati. The 10,000 sq ft area gets natural light during the day, saving ₹1 crore annually. “The payback period for them is two years. Since there is no outage, there is saving on diesel generators that cost ₹10 a unit,” says Nori.

Wide base

Not surprisingly, Skyshade’s clients include the who’s who of India Inc, including Infosys, the Tata group, Larsen & Toubro, Coca Cola, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Hyundai, Toyota, ITC, HP, Dr Reddy’s and the Indian Navy among others. Skyshade’s biggest win this year is an order from the Rail Coach factory in Rae Bareli to install 700 pipes for them.

Skyshade’s light pipes have a life of 15 years. “On an average, we install about 1,800 pipes annually,” says Nori. Of the ₹10 crore they earned in the last fiscal, nearly half came from the popular light pipes.

Since anyone installing light pipes will not need another one for the next 15 years, repeat business could be an issue for the company. But for now, the Noris are not worried. “There is no dearth of business at all. There is a huge requirement from not only new buildings but also older buildings. And the product can be installed almost anywhere,” says Anantha.

Skyshade has a network of dealers and channel partners for selling their entire range of products. “Some of them are dealing with residential requirements as well,” says Nori. However, given the size of the industrial market, the Noris are yet to focus on the residential segment. They hope to close this fiscal with revenues of ₹18 crore.

For now, expanding scale does not seem to be a worry for them. “Day lighting is a growing market. We can easily scale up to ₹100 crore in terms of revenue in the next few years,” Nori says. That does not seem like an impossible target, given that they have no competition at all.

Know how

Moreover, their biggest strength is the knowledge of light collection systems. “A standardised system does not work,” he says. Customising light collection to a region depending on the sun’s angles and seasonal variations requires considerable experience and knowledge. And Noris have that.

However, funding could become a challenge for them. “As we increase in size and bring in new products, we will need more capital,” says Nori.

They have already been approached by a couple of private equity investors for selling a slice of Skyshade Lighting. “We are passionate about the concept of being ‘green’. We need as a partner someone who is equally passionate about this,” says Anantha. Till they find that partner, the duo is happy about making the most of the sun for lighting the dark.



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Published on January 31, 2014
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