Saral Urja, initiated as a startup by a group of professionals working in the energy sector, was registered in 2013. But the founders only started operations in 2015.
When the country had been facing hours of daily load-shedding, inverter and solar companies flourished to meet the demand for backup energy sources.
But when Kul Man Ghising took over the management of Nepal Electricity Authority in 2016, power cuts became a thing of the past and so did the brisk business of inverter and solar companies.
“We were the happiest at the time as our goal was to become a solar company with a difference,” says Aashish Chalise, CEO of Saral Urja Nepal. “We believe that solar-powered solutions are not necessarily alternative forms of energy. They are mainstream energy sources that need more exploration.”
Just importing and installing solar panels, inverters, and batteries was never part of Saral Urja’s business plan. Instead, the company’s focus is on management, financing, and integration to help households and companies build their sustainability strategy, meet energy efficiency goals, and manage their overall energy requirement.
In rural off-grid areas as well, the company has implemented multiple solar microgrids and solar water pumping projects. Saral Urja’s first project in Dubung village, Tanahun, is an example of its business model. The company built an 18kw micro-grid in 2015, right after the earthquake and during the Indian blockade. It helped bring light to 150 households. The project, implemented under the 5P model (pro-poor, private-public-partnership) was funded by government grants as well investments from the locals as well as Saral Urja.
The company is currently building customized grid-connected systems for its clients. “Energy is being decentralized around the world and we are sure Nepal will catch up,” says Chalise. “We do not provide an alternative to hydroelectricity but we help our clients reduce their electricity bills by owning a system that helps them produce electricity.”
In coordination with the NEA, Saral Urja has also introduced ‘net metering’—a system that allows users to sell the excess electricity created by their solar systems to the authority. “Simply explained, you can install a solar system at home or in an industry, zero down your electricity bill, and also produce enough electricity to sell to the NEA for profit,” says Chalise.
He offers another example to explain the economics of his business. For an average household that gets a monthly bill of around Rs 8,000-Rs10,000, six to seven kilowatts of solar system can help slash the bill considerably. Depending on variables, the installation cost comes to about
Rs 100,000 per watt. So, the household can achieve its break-even point in a few years and enjoy the benefits of renewable energy for decades, thus saving millions. The proposition is even sweater for industries.
Also, for industries and commercial buildings which can’t make a large investment on solar systems upfront, Saral Urja uses the RESCO (Renewable Energy as a Service Company) model, already popular worldwide.
Under this model, if a factory wants to install a solar system, Sara Urja will do it at their own cost and then sign a power purchase agreement through which they will send the industry a monthly bill. The bill will be much less than that of NEA, Chalise explains.
Saral Urja has also managed to raise Rs 350 million in foreign direct investment. This fund will help the company jumpstart its rooftop program and build an approximately 8 MW of rooftop solar distributed in multiple geographic locations within the next 18 months.
“We already have a 25 MW plan, which we will scale to 70MW in the next five years,” Chalise informs. “Eventually, Saral Urja will list as a public company.”