Good Businesses 2016

Sunny-Side Up

Claro Energy is increasing the farmland under irrigation with its solar-powered pumps

Vishal Koul

The results of a year-long study of 160 farmers with access to cheap irrigation from solar-powered pump-sets in Bihar revealed that despite a poor monsoon, all the farmers grew paddy in their land during the Kharif season (monsoon) in 2013. More importantly, farmers with access to cheaper irrigation from solar pumps could water their crops more frequently managed to save money on irrigation, reaped higher yields of both paddy and wheat, and were able to plant rice in 90% of their land in a drought year. The findings by the International Food Policy Research Institute in its 2014 report not only ended up endorsing the virtues of solar energy but also came as a shot in the arm for Delhi-based start-up Claro Energy, whose solar-powered pump sets were the ones that the farmers had used.

Only 35% farms in the country are suitably irrigated; few have a power connection and dependency on diesel pumps is immense. Though potential for ground water irrigation is very high in Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, and the Godavari and Krishna plains, these geographies still have the lowest tubewell density. But now, these very states are proving to be a fertile hunting ground for Claro. Set up in 2010 by Kartik Wahi, Gaurav Kumar, and Soumitra Mishra, Claro initially started off as a renewable energy company but, eventually, found its holy grail in solar energy.

Bright start
“Like most undergrads we harboured the ambition of starting an enterprise but never discussed it with each other during engineering,” laughs Wahi who had co-founder Kumar as his batchmate at Bharti Vidyapeeth Engineering College, Pune. Mishra, the third co-founder met Wahi during his MBA at Kellogg School of Management, Illinois and by the end of their term, Wahi and Mishra started toying with the idea of doing something on their own. “Cleantech was big in the US. We landed in California to explore something in waste management. A three-week trip to California expanded to three months and we set up a company there. We tried to work as an advisory firm,” reveals Wahi. 

It was in 2010 when the National Solar Mission was launched in India. “I thought we were probably sitting on a goldmine and we decided to go back to India to gauge the ground situation,” says Wahi. In January 2011, Kumar,

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