Friday 31 December 2021

Swaraj Amrit Mahotsav : IIT Kharagpur Grads Help 1 Lakh Homes Cut Power Bills by 40%

IIT Kharagpur graduates Pranesh Chaudhary and Sushant Sachan are the founders of Zunpulse, a sustainable startup that helps 1 lakh households save energy through smart utilisation of electrical appliances.

When Pranesh Chaudhary and Sushant Sachan were growing up during the 1990s in Muzaffarpur and Kanpur, respectively, discussions at home were dominated by the lack of regular electricity supply and long power cuts. But this didn't deter the two from obtaining admission into the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur in 2005. (Above image of Sushant Sachan on the left and Pranesh Chaudhary on the right: They're helping homes cut their power bills.)

Their journey as IITians marked the start of their 16-year friendship. After graduating, they pursued their respective corporate careers until Pranesh decided to leave his job in London and return home.

Before long the duo reconciled and in June 2016 they incorporated their startup Zunpulse, which today helps 1 lakh households save energy through smart utilisation of electrical appliances. They also established ZunRoof Solar Systems, which provides solar energy and Internet of Things (IoT) smart energy solutions.

"As we made our way through the corporate world, other friends of ours were establishing their startups. When we got together to contemplate running a startup, we realised that electricity is a sector which we feel very strongly about. Besides regular access, we believe that electricity supply and consumption are things households shouldn't have to worry about. For example, if you're an upper-middle-class resident living in Bengaluru, Gurugram or Mumbai, you don't even think about these issues. But we need to fix the supply and consumption of electricity in Indian homes. It can't just be about supply, but consumption as well," Pranesh tells The Better India.

Once households have a dependable supply of electricity, it's imperative to ensure that it's consumed in the right and smart way and not wasted away. That is where smart energy monitoring and smart electrical appliances became Zunpulse's focus areas. Although they have a range of products in this line, Pranesh suggests a couple of smart appliances which operate utilising the IoT and machine learning to save on your power bill.

"All told if you get your hands on our smart energy monitor, smart fan and smart plugs for your geyser and air-conditioner, you will start seeing a reduction of 40% to 50% in your electricity bills straight away with a one-time purchase of less than Rs 10,000," he claims.

Saving Energy At Your Fingertips

Zunpulse divides its smart appliances into four categories. What binds them is that they all operate through the Zunpulse app and require a regular Wi-Fi internet connection.

Lighting: They have smart bulbs, smart downlights and smart strip lights, where along with having the ability to remotely switch on and off, consumers also have the ability to change their colours (approximately 16 million colour options) and offer mood lighting depending on the occasion whether it's a party with friends or reading a book.

"We've attached these lifestyle elements to these devices because you can't force-feed energy efficiency to people. It's imperative to cater to their needs. If you've forgotten to switch off the lights, all you need to do is get on the app and switch them off. You can also schedule these appliances to switch on or off automatically at a given time through the app," says Sushant.

Control is the most important category in the Indian context. These are smart plugs and smart remotes, which allow consumers to convert their older appliances into smart ones. After all, it's sometimes not practical to get rid of your old appliances and go all in on an IoT-based smart system. You would want a way to convert these old appliances into smart ones as well.

These are retrofit products for Indian homes for a lack of a better word. This is where Zunpulse's smart plug and remote come into play. The smart plug looks like any normal three-pin plug that any of us use. You take the smart plug, insert it into the socket and attach your geyser or AC plug to it. The smart plug pairs with the Zunpulse app, and then it gives you all the control over the geyser. You can remotely switch the geyser on and off through our app or you can schedule it to switch on at a given time. For example, you can schedule your geyser to run from 8 am to 8.10 am every morning, following which it automatically switches off.

You don't have to think about manually doing them. Besides energy savings, the task at hand is already done for you. Similarly, their smart remote allows you to control your AC or TVs.

With regards to ACs, for example, through the app, you can schedule it to run at a certain temperature for a given period of time, following which it runs at a higher temperature or switches off altogether. Another product under their 'Control' category is the smart brushless DC (BLDC) fan. By the very fact that it uses a brushless DC motor, it consumes 40% less electricity than conventional fans. Once again, you can use the app to control the speed of the fan. Three weeks ago, they launched our smart water heaters in the Delhi-NCR region.

"That completes our home portfolio. We have a smart doorbell, camera, lock and security sensor, which addresses security requirements," says Pranesh.

The smart energy monitor, which is installed next to your electricity meter, reads your appliance level energy consumption every 30 seconds. For example, if you consume 5.7 kWh of power in a day, it will tell you how much your AC in your parent's bedroom is consuming. This was the first IoT-based product Sushant and Pranesh made.

"Starting out, we installed this smart monitoring system for free in about 30 apartments in Gurugram to train our software and keep the costs low. Instead of reading the metre every millisecond, we decided to go with a 30-second interval to lower the cost of sensors and data transfer. In this experiment, we wrote machine learning algorithms to find out appliance level power consumption. Our product was not initially met with great fanfare because not everybody wakes up each day thinking about their bill. We will have to find use cases that will impress the homeowner/end user and then save electricity in the back end," says Pranesh.

Today, this product is accepted widely by small hotels, residential homes, paying guest accommodation owners and electric vehicle startups. They also have smart air purifiers and smart water purifiers in the product list as well which work on the same principle as the rest.

Besides the smart lock, the rest of Zunpulse's products are plug and play devices. Among the plethora of products, what does a household need to save on their power bills?

"For an Indian middle-class household to attain some electricity saving, they need to start with the smart energy monitor. Each home only needs one such monitor. Research by a couple of startups in the United States and Germany suggests that if you closely monitor electricity consumption using smart energy monitoring, your power bill comes down by about 20%. Next is our smart fan, which we are on the cusp of launching in January 2022. Finally, I would go with the smart plug and remote for your geyser and AC. These appliances are the biggest energy guzzlers in Indian homes since most don't have dishwashers or use microwaves/ovens for a long time. If required, you can add more products to the list," claims Pranesh.

Raising Funds & Running a Business

Thus far, Zunpulse has raised four rounds of funding. The first two were angel rounds, while the other two were institutional. The first angel round of funding came from Pranesh and Sushant's IIT-KGP seniors, which is a great network to leverage when starting up.

The next angel round of funding came courtesy Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N or I-cube-N), a global network of impact investors, led by Pradeep Tharakan, the Principal Energy Specialist (Climate Change) at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Gaurav Gupta, Dalberg's Regional Director for Asia, and Ramakant Sharma, founder of Livespace.

These angel investors and their cohort of friends funded Zunpulse from 2016 to 2018. In 2019 and 2020, they raised two follow-on rounds from Godrej Family Fund led by Pirojsha Godrej, Executive Chairman, Godrej Properties.

"In these two rounds combined, they've put in close to USD 4 million of equity into our venture. Since our inception, we have raised about USD 5 million in equity funding. Business, meanwhile, is on a solid footing. In our last financial year, we did about Rs 41crore in revenue, and this year we will look to close on a very strong footing," claims Pranesh.
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