“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing that you have made a difference to someone with what you have done,” says Subhag Jain, CEO of Kaho India. “It is a feeling we get when we see people who have never had access to power getting electricity in their homes in some of the remotest locations of the country.”

From the early days when he set up the company to make a difference, Kaho India has come a long way bagging a mandate to power 7,000 households in the Naxalite-affected Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. Nearly half of the ₹40-crore project has been completed, despite the tough local challenges.

Thus far, the start-up, which decided to take the route of lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, as against lead acid batteries, has made rapid strides providing off-grid solar powered solutions, including products such asrefrigerators, televisions, high masts, and back up systems.

It is now awaiting the outcome of the recent tender floated to offer development of decentralised distributed generation systems under the government’s Saubhagya scheme. New tenders have been floated as part of a new ₹16,320-crore scheme to supply electricity to all households by December 2018. This entails providing free connections to the poor and at a low cost to others.

“As a start up we began our journey in 2012 with the plan to address last-mile energy access through compact solar modules,” recalls Jain. “We imported the first batch from China and within days they were sold out. But the feedback we received changed our business plan.”

Thinking differently

The company began to receive some complaints about the battery installed with the system. “We realised that the lead acid batteries were responsible for such problems,” he says. “There was so much demand for such a product, but it did not have great reliability. So, if we provide reliability, we could make a difference.”

“We then decided to approach various Li-ion manufacturers in the world and connected with Samsung in Korea, who were by then supplying to Tesla,” explains Jain. “They were surprised to see an Indian start-up approaching them for technology. We decided to make the batteries in India from a small set-up in Noida. From then on the company has not only been making batteries for internal consumption of the systems it sets up, but has also developed products such as refrigerators, TVs and high masts that can operate on Li-ion batteries,” he adds. Soon Kaho managed to develop and strengthen its manufacturing capability, and now has a yearly capacity of 30 megawatt-hour. It is not only deploying these in locations where off-grid units are being set up, but has also begun to supply to the Railways. Next, it is looking to offer its services to the defence sector.

All this activity, however, entails an expansion of manufacturing capability, which the company is planning as a new plant in greater Noida at an outlay of ₹70-100 crore. “The Chhattisgarh project has had several challenges because of accessibility and now more than 3,500 units have been set up,” says Jain. “We look forward to completing them. However, there have been some issues with the State over project implementation.” Kaho is the largest contractor of Rural Electrification Corporation for solar off-grid systems. “Apart from Chhattisgarh, projects have been awarded in Goa and Arunachal Pradesh and we are in the process of awaiting contracts under the new scheme,” he informs.

The company, apart from offering a range of solar products under the brand name Jagriti, for both rural and urban markets, using its own Li-ion batteries, is betting big on the upcoming opportunities in the Decentralised Distributed Generation (DDG) space.

“It won’t be long before Railways and defence take to Li-ion batteries and we expect to make inroads into that space,” he says.