This startup has focused its efforts on providing a range of innovative solutions in solar power.
--BY MANISHA BALAMI
Policymakers and governments in many countries around the world have begun to adopt and implement policies to dramatically shift conventional sources of power including oil, coal, and natural gas to wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources to mitigate the risks in terms of climate change and energy security. In Nepal, the government is yet to announce bold moves in this respect like the countries in the western hemisphere. However, there have been some initiatives by the private sector to come up with sustainable energy solutions.
Sunbridge Solar Nepal is among the few companies working in the area of alternative energy resources. The company which was established in June 2016 by Jeevan Baidya and his two friends, is a subsidiary of Sunbridge Solar LLC USA.
Jeevan Baidya Santosh Basnet and Sarbagya RatnaTuladhar formed the company three years ago. While working at ‘Gham Power’, a solar energy company, the trio thought they could connect and work together. Basnet says that they have the opportunity to create employment and opportunities with the establishment of the company.
“There are times when we get frustrated and disappointed. Clear communication and transparency is the key to moving forward”, he claims. “Besides, honesty and discipline are other factors that build team connection”, he adds.
Products and Services
Working in the alternative energy sector, the leading service they provide to their customers is through their products such as solar panel, battery, inverter, water lifting pump and solar bulb. They have introduced low cost but high-performance water pump technology which is broadly used for drinking water and irrigation systems.
Basnet says the lack of frequent power cut, commonly known as ‘load-shedding,’ has been a boon for their business. They have been working on water lifting projects. “We have been in this field for three years now, and we have already worked on more than 300 water pumping projects nationwide”, he claims. Moreover, he says that they are trying to work on ways to uplift the economic standard of farmers and people from other sectors with the use of water lifting. Additionally, he says that in a couple of years they can work in many different fields through alternative sources of energy.
Further, they also install solar power systems in urban regions, backing up the regular power supply and reducing the cost of electricity. “Till date, we have completed more than 400kWp Solar PV installations. Likewise, we have managed to cover more than 35 districts”, he adds.
The price of the products differs according to the project site and design of the pump. The price of the solar panel depends on their wattage - AC pump is expensive than DC pump.
As their products are electronic devices, it requires skill and knowledge to operate them properly. So they also give three to four days of operator training to the people. Their manual operation training helps the customers to handle the device with care.
Sunbridge Solar has branches in five provinces where technicians and supervisors are available. Through them, they try to give services to their customers. However, there is a problem of human resource. “As most of the youths migrate abroad for employment, the lack of skilled manpower can be found in every sector”, he says. Realising the problem, they have hired local youths of the area who are interested and dedicated to work.
Currently, they have 13 staff working inside Kathmandu, whereas they have 26 full time and part-time staff outside the valley.
“Arizona State University, our coordinator and partner organisation from the United States of America, asked us to develop a few projects at Nawalparasi. So we have also developed a project ourselves”, says Basnet. Additionally, they also have tender based projects. They participate in projects that have been selected by the government. As the country has shifted to a federal system, they also get offers from rural municipalities to work in their community. “The high-level officials and ministers also ask us to work in particular areas. Moreover, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre has a list of small farmers around the nation. They cannot do all the work alone. So they also coordinate with us to take our product to those farmers in the market,” he adds
“We also reach our customers through I/NGOs. They have programmes for specific villages. They also coordinate with us and start working after doing a feasibility study in the area”, he adds.
Challenges and Opportunities
The trio registered the company in a partnership, with the salary they saved from the previous job. However, they still required funds for operating the project. Solar Sunbridge LLC provided $30,000, whereby they started the project.
Basnet says that the significant challenge for any startup company is getting the funding. Despite having the skills and a project in hand, banks do not trust startup companies. “The banks do not feel secure in giving loans to a startup company as they do not trust them. The bank did not trust us even we were ready to give our land as a lien”, he says, adding “So it was difficult for us to collect the fund. We were so frustrated at the time that we thought of giving up on the project”.
Nevertheless, he says that people will eventually trust them once they see the work. Regarding this, he gives the example of NMB bank, which has now given a loan of Rs 2.45cr to them. Before this, they were hesitant to finance them. “Goodwill has been made. However, startups still face this problem”, he says.
Today, the challenge lies in completing the project on time. He explains, “We do not have to stress about not having any projects, but today we sometimes feel a bit doubtful if we can complete our work in time and satisfy the customers or not”.
In the context of Nepal, there are very few who are working in this sector.
“People are still not so aware of alternative energy sources. Many people are startled when we inform them about the ways of alternative energy source”, he expresses.
Basnet refers to this as a challenge as well as an opportunity. “The challenge is that we have difficulty in explaining our work to people and they may not trust us easily. Similarly, it is also an opportunity that we still have many areas where we can work on”, he expresses.
The company aims to empower energy-deprived communities to develop sustainable livelihoods through an alternative energy system. Basnet believes that they have been able to fulfil this objective to some extent.
Being a for-profit company, he says that their annual turnover is also increasing. “In the first year, our annual turnover was 2.4 crores which grew to 4.4 crores the next year. Likewise, this year it’s more than 7 crores”, he claims. “Looking at this growth rate, I think we are growing well”, he added. However, Basnet says that since they belong to a purely technical field, they sometimes face problems in accounting and finance.
Through their networks, they have been able to develop links with different agriculture zones such as Apple zone in Jumla and Junar zone in Sindhuli. Recently they have received an inquiry from Mugu. He informs that working in places where there is a lack of proper infrastructure is difficult, but the satisfaction they get after accomplishing the task is incomparable.
Support from government
Basnet believes that without the support from the government, a startup company cannot grow. “Government should bring policies that help startups grow”, he says, adding, “We work for the government, but there are times when the government itself has discouraged startups like us”. He explains how the government puts their payment on hold for more than a year. Moreover, at a time when they require finance, such activities lead towards the closure of the company.
Sunbridge Solar Nepal is looking to grow and diversify. “We plan to run our company in Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for which we are searching for a site and investors as well”, Basnet expresses.