Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gyanesh Pandey tells Husk Power Systems story of Bijli from Bhoosa

I got an opportunity to listen to Gyanesh Pandey, CEO of Husk Power Systems in IIM Bangalore last month. I don’t know why but I find the HPS story of producing Bijli from Bhoosa (electricity from husk) fascinating. And listening to the story from Gyanesh increased my fascination even further. Based out of Bihar, HPS is doing to eradicate needless darkness in rural India what Aravind Eye Hospital has done for eradicating needless blindness. It has so far electrified 450 villages / hamlets (mostly off-grid) in Bihar & UP. I have tried to condense the narrative below by keeping Gyanesh’s language as much as possible. You can find the fuller version of the story here.

I grew up hating my place (in North Bihar). Nothing made sense to me. Every single thing in the village costs you a little more, quality is poorer and people are lethargic. During holidays, I reluctantly came home from the boarding school. I tried to find reasons for not coming home. I could feel the depression all around.

I ended up becoming an engineer and going to the US for higher studies. During my PhD I came home to attend my sister’s wedding. On one of those evenings with the extended family members I was telling them stories of America. Naively I ended up saying, “It’s hard to tell you guys – You can’t even dream of how it is (in the US)”. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. However, an old guy in the room said, “For us, it will always be a dream. Because people like you will always maintain a distance from us.” I don’t know what he meant, but his words resonated somehow somewhere with me. This was 2001.

I automatically assumed that something is not being done because technology for doing it doesn’t exist. This was a big mistake. For the next 5 years, I partnered with Ratnesh Yahav, my best friend from childhood and experimented with several leading edge technologies like polymer solar cells, fuel cells, micro-tidal energy and finally Jatropha based bio-diesel. All of them failed. By 2006 I was back to Bihar from the US and badly depressed after the Jatropha project failure.

At this point, I got an appointment to see a director at the Renewable Energy Development Agency. He asked me, “How are you going to electrify villages?” I said, “I don’t know. I will do something”. He hit a buzzer and called the peon. “Call the guy who just left the room” Then he told me, “Talk to him. He sells gasifiers. Why don’t you use something like that?” I knew biomass gasification was an old technology developed by Hitler for wartime. People don’t use it anymore. The dealer told me that there were 40 gasifiers being used in Bihar. I said, “Wow!” He thought I am an NRI and he was trying to sell gasifiers to me.

The gasifiers were running on rice husk. 40% diesel and 60% gas – what is called dual-fuel mode. I came home after talking to him and worked out the math. I realized that 40% diesel model would not be economical. I started thinking, “Why can’t we use 100% gas?”

I started by finding out all I could on gasification based power generation. I found a paper from IISc and it said you can’t run an engine only on producer gas. Gasification is where you burn a biomass that generates a certain mixture of carbon monoxide and nitrogen and that mixture is combustible and becomes fuel. IIT Delhi had done a project. However, I couldn’t find a single instance where anybody said, “It has worked”. I tried to talk to a professor and he wasn’t even willing to talk to me. I just knew that all these people are wrong. I had no reason why.

At this point a scientist from MNRE, Mr. S K Singh encouraged me. Singh helped getting me hooked with a small engine maker from Agra. This was in June 2007. By August 15, 2007 we had a working system. We had electrified our first village. Soon after this we put out 2 systems electrifying 5 villages. By then we were out of money.

How did Gyanesh-Ratnesh manage to raise money? How does HPS business model work? How did they do the pricing? You can find the full story here.

In photo: Prof. Abhoy Ojha of IIMB (left) along with Gyanesh Pandey.


  1. I like this :-)

    "Nobody cares how they feel about what they see. Everybody cares about what others see."

  2. I like it too. In social psychology literature, this phenomenon is known as "social proof".

    Robert Cialdini, an authority on persuasion and known for his book "Influence" has identified 'social proof' as one of the six principles of persuasion.

  3. The story should be in hindi so more people can read