When Gyanesh Pandey was growing up in Bihar, India’s poorest state, electricity was rare – but rice husks were not. And as it turned out, rice husks could be turned into power at affordable rates, using a small-scale village model called ‘mini-grid’.
Founded in 2008, Husk Power Systems now is the leading net-zero energy company serving rural Asia and Africa, and owns and operates more than 200 community solar minigrids in Nigeria and India. But it is not just about electricity – it is about what electricity makes possible.
“For us the bottom line is development benefits,” Pandey says. “We are not just sellers of electricity; we are a powerhouse of rural development. Husk Power is committed to what we call a ‘2x return’ to the community: for every $1 we take out in revenue to Husk Power, we give an equivalent of $2 back through economic and social benefits.”
Three of its founders (Gyanesh Pandey, Ratnesh Yadav and Manoj Sinha) come from Bihar, Charles Ransler comes from the USA.
Pandey was enjoying a good life in the US when he felt the need to go home to Bihar to help people there live well, too. Back in India, he and his friend Ratnesh Yadav were exploring business ideas to serve the poor when a chance meeting with a gasifier salesman led them to think about using rice husks to generate power. As much as 1.8 billion kilograms (4 billion pounds) of husks are left over from rice processing in Bihar each year, causing increased methane as they rot.
Pandey and Yadav developed an electric distribution system that could burn 50 kilograms of rice husk per hour and produce 32 kilowatts of power – enough for about 500 village households. The system went live with a pilot plant in Tamkuha village on August 15, 2007, the anniversary of India’s independence.
Africa Sunshot Initiative
This fall, Husk Power Systems announced its “Africa Sunshot” initiative to fast track climate-resilient economic growth in rural Sub-Saharan Africa by having 2,500 net-zero minigrids operating in off-grid and weak-grid communities within five years. Husk expects to mobilize $500 million in equity and debt to finance the Sunshot.
Announced as part of the inaugural Africa Climate Summit, Husk’s goals include:
- 1 million new connections directly impacting 7.7 million people
- 225,000 micro small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) connected
- 150MW installed of rooftop solar commercial and industrial (C&I)
- 2.1 megatons of CO2 avoided by displacing diesel generation
The Africa Sunshot identifies country-specific targets, including 1,000 minigrids in Nigeria, 500 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and 250 each in four additional countries still to be identified. Earlier this year, Husk put forward a new public-private partnership (PPP) framework to mobilize financing to build hundreds of minigrids in Africa if the right conditions are in place.
Providing power to 380 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 will require building more than 160,000 minigrids at a total cost of $91 billion, says the World Bank. But without increasing the industry’s deployment rate dramatically, achieving universal energy access – the seventh of the Sustainable Development Goals – will not be achieved by 2030.
“Now is the time to support a 10-fold increase in the minigrid industry and supercharge low carbon and climate resilient growth in rural Africa,” says Olu Aruike, Husk’s Nigeria country director. “We’re already doing it at scale today in Nigeria, the world’s largest off-grid market, and it’s time to roll out that scale across the continent.”
Case study: Husk Power Systems. Alliance Magazine, Jun. 1, 2011
A light in India. New York Times, Jan. 10, 2011
Husk Power system energizes Bihar. Ecoideaz.
Husk Power Systems – 21st century living arrives in Bihar. Ashden Awards,
“Africa Sunshot” initiative launched by Husk Power at the Africa Climate Summit, targeting 2,500 solar minigrids over 5 years to supercharge low-carbon economic growth in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Husk Power Systems, Sep. 5, 2023
Cover image: Setting up engine in Tamkuha plant. Ashden Awards