Smart fans promise a significant reduction in energy consumption, particularly in countries such as India. Neha Dewan explains in an article on the Economic Times of India website.
How can India end up saving 2800 GWh energy per year? Change the fans
He may have got an offer letter from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), but his dreams made him chase the unknown instead. For Manoj Meena, CEO and Founder of Atomberg Technologies, a motor-based home appliance company, starting out on his own with co-founder Sibabrata Das was the space in which he wanted to innovate.
Hailing from a small village, Dausa, in Rajasthan, Meena’s modest background served as motivation enough to resolve the prevailing electricity issues. “As I came from an agricultural family, I knew the significance of irrigation and the impact of the shortage of electricity during the irrigation process. Since my childhood days, I could relate to the struggles of the villagers well enough,” he recalls.
An IIT Mumbai graduate, Meena along with Das founded Atomberg in 2012 at the incubation center of the IIT campus and started looking at varied ideas for energy-efficient devices and home appliances that could be relevant for a smart home clientele.
For the first three years, the company bootstrapped by implementing projects for a range of research institutes with the likes of the IITs, DRDO, ISRO and BARC. Motor controls, software development and hardware design projects dominated during this period.
The scale up
The next turning point came in 2015 when the duo started exploring a more scalable product and eventually shifted their attention to consumer products from B2B.
In the course of time, we understood that many people were interested in smart tech and innovation. We began identifying smart homes as an emerging category with potential for growth and decided to take an existing product smarter, strategically. Understanding the need of the hour, we started focusing on motor-controlled appliances,” he says.
With their educational background, both Meena and Das had an in-depth understanding of motor design and electronics and understood the crucial role that Brushless Direct Current (BLDC) motor home appliances could play in the overall dynamics. “As BLDC motors can save up to 65% electricity, integration of such motors into multiple smart home appliances like smart fans, mixer-grinders, air conditioners or washing machines could be of immense benefit to Indian families. The very fact that most of the home appliances are actually motor controlled encouraged us to establish Atomberg Technologies,” explains Meena.
Atomberg’s first product was smart fans with BLDC technology that can reduce power consumption to 28W, saving up to Rs 1500-Rs 2000 per household per year.
Gorilla gets going
Needless to say, these fans ended up being a boon for a country like India, which relies heavily on air conditioners and air coolers to get respite from the heat. Atomberg Technologies made inroads into the industry in 2015 with the launch of the Gorilla Efficio Ceiling Fan. The differentiator? Energy efficient BLDC that leads to a humongous saving on electricity expenses while also finding an edge in the market vis-a-vis other brands which use induction motors. While it is 75 Watts or regular fans, these boast of consuming a mere 28 Watt.
“BLDC fans generate the same amount of airflow with lesser energy consumption. They can save up to 65 percent electricity in comparison to ordinary induction motor-based fans because they eliminate losses that result from the mechanical friction of the brushes. They also help consumers cut down on their utility bills significantly,” he adds.
Available in three variants, the fans which are priced in the range of Rs 3,500-Rs 6,500 show off fancy designs, sleep and timer modes as well as anti-dust designer blades. These are remote controlled and also compatible with Alexa or Google Home Assistant.
The response has been encouraging enough. The company raised $1 million Pre-Series A funding in 2016 and $10 million in September 2019 led by A91 Partners in Series A. Clientele – which has spanned to 2.5 lakh over the last three years – includes illustrious names such as the Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, ITC, Infosys and the Indian Railways.
Not all rosy
But things were not as picture perfect at the start. Meena remembers how he failed multiple times in his initial experiences and even though he was in extreme debt, the yearning to see his dream to fruition kept him going relentlessly. “I realised that early failure is always better because it would save energy, resources and time,” he avers.
The tide turned when the idea of energy efficient ceiling fans clicked. Meena implemented all his technological learning in the idea and recreated a business model. Before working on the product, he first decided to meet 10 to 15 people, including retailers, distributors and the customers. “I explained the idea to them and tried to get that idea validated. I got good responses and critical feedback too. Even before I launched the product, I had 1500 pre-orders in hand, which was my first achievement in the last four years. After discussions with many investors, they finally believed in the strength of this idea,” he reveals.
They started a manufacturing plant with a small team of five people, which has now expanded to 300 in resource strength. “Along with my co-founder Sibabrat Das, we laid the foundation of a company with a turnover of nearly Rs 100 crore and selling 4 lakh units, solving the energy efficiency issue of the nation,” beams Meena.
Where does India stand?
Meena points out some facts which put energy saving in perspective. The total consumption of power by the ceiling fans alone, he says, amounts to 6 per cent, recording a higher margin than the combined usage of televisions and fridge. “Over 30 million units of ceiling fans are sold every year, contributing to the base of 250 million units. Fans are part of the reason for India being at the forefront of energy consumption. However, by broad estimates, if every new ceiling fan sold makes use of BLDC technology, India could end up saving 2800 GWh energy per year,” he states
With a growing population of 1.37 billion, India accounts for about 25% of the global energy demand. Smart grid solutions and energy efficient alternatives have been garnering interest to mitigate the global energy crisis.
“India finds itself at crossroads between its energy development goals and the environmental challenges that spring up from large scale power generation projects. Moreover, barriers such as high initial costs of equipment, and risk-averse consumers who lack awareness are yet to be surmounted thereby encouraging energy efficiency as a smart stop-gap strategy until renewable energy becomes more accessible,” asserts Meena.
He cites the case study of Triloki Greenfields in Kolkata which deals in long-term cold storage of potatoes. Atomberg designed fans to meet the requirements of the cold storage, which had high power consumption with regular induction fans earlier. Electricity bill saw a reduction of Rs 4.7 lakh per year with more than 600 fans replaced with the Gorilla Ceiling Fan.
Meena and Das plan to up the ante in the coming time. They are looking at expanding their home appliance portfolio ahead to mixer grinders and air coolers as well. “Such devices produce a lot of noise and vibration. By leveraging motor technology, we aim to bring more stability because the motor is low in noise and vibration. The BLDC motors are basically electrically controlled motors which can have very good application for mixer grinders,” he reasons.
Besides this product diversification, they will also branch out to bigger segments such as ACs and washing machines in the next few months.
As far as Research & Development (R&D) is concerned, the focus will be more on the R&D of motor to encompass the broad range of home appliances more effectively. “Motor is the heart of all our appliances. We want to set up new laboratories and infrastructure. This, in turn, will further enhance the R&D vertical for Atomberg,” he highlights.
The future is carved out for the company which traversed through its own journey of changing mindsets and encouraging businesses in the country to be more energy efficient. With the acceptance of the idea and the accolades received, the duo knows that they are on the right path and reminisce the days of struggle fondly as well. “I always dreamed of being a successful person and giving back to society. I wanted to open a tech company to solve the problem of electricity in India on a larger scale. During all these years the line that has inspired me the most is, ‘When you really desire something from the heart and soul, the whole universe conspires you to achieve it,” he says signing off.