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Synergy Taking Bold Steps To Curb Indoor Air Pollution In North East India

ICCSPL speaks to Bidhan Chandra Loitongbam, founder of Synergy Environment and Engineering Solutions, a Manipur based start-up providing clean energy solutions founded in 2016. Synergy is one of eleven energy enterprises incubated under the ICCSPL-GIZ Clean Energy Program. In a freewheeling chat, Bidhan talks about his venture, what sets it apart from others, being fearless in his pursuit, and why biomass will be a game-changer in the years to come.

a) What made you switch over from your respective career of a high paying job and start your own venture?

I use to read a lot of news of people being impacted by climate change and global warming, but no one really talks about solutions and concrete actions. My state Manipur consumes more than 50 lakhs worth of biomass fuel every day for various purposes that include domestic cooking. Out of this, 25 lakhs is wasted on inefficient combustion and smoke. This creates a huge impact on health, deforestation and becomes a major reason behind the climate change. Therefore, we wanted to come up with an adequate solution to address this issue. We invested a lot of time in convincing people about how we can bring in clean energy solutions coupled with technology to bring in social impact and commercial viability both. That’s when Synergy was born.

b) Tell us more about your products?

Our efficient biomass stoves runs on wood, charcoal and pellets provide alternative solutions; off-grid solar lighting systems also cater to the problem of the masses who do not have access to reliable electricity.

We provide clean cooking cook-stoves to 2,000 households per year. Nearly 1200 pieces are sold every year for institutional cooking in hostels and hospitals. In hostels, the firewood consumption cost was nearly 1 lakh per month, now we have been successful in reducing it by 50%-60%. Additionally, we have been able to introduce the concept of smoke free kitchen and comfort of clean cooking in rural households. We intend to start a pellet manufacturing unit that will make pellets from virtually any form of biomass like sawdust, rice husk, forest wastes, agro wastes etc.

c) Tell us in how many geographies you are operating?

We are currently operating in Manipur and Nagaland. By end of 2018, we will be spreading our operations to few more states including Mizoram, Meghalaya, Assam among others.

d) What sets Synergy apart from other enterprises in the same sector?

We invest a lot of time in researching and developing solutions that meet local demands bringing in the best of technology at affordable costs to enhance customer experience. If you look at our business model, it’s unique. Another thing is the Village Level Entrepreneurship model we have created- providing employment for widowed women, uneducated and unemployed youths, daily wage earners from urban as well as rural areas as well as small scale entrepreneurs.

e) In a state marred with unexpected shutdowns, blockades- how to make sure things run smoothly?

Challenges and opportunities are part and parcel of any enterprise. Sometimes due to blockades and unexpected shutdown cost of supply of the product goes up, that’s an unfortunate thing. But if I compare to when we started Synergy and now, things are evolving and moving in a right direction. Media is doing a lot of work in creating awareness; Government is very responsive to people’s demand and expectations and takes issues pertaining to clean energy access seriously.

f) Tell us about the beneficiaries reached out in the last one year?

We have reached out to 2000+ household level beneficiaries, 3000+ students in hostels by setting up institutional cook-stoves in Manipur providing them with clean cooking solutions. We have also been able to provide 15-30+ jobs ensuring last mile delivery.

g) What are you future plans?

We are working on our dream project called ‘waste to wealth’ initiative where we are actively pursuing opportunities to cut agro waste (such as plant remnant, cow dung etc.) and forest wastes (such as pine needles) to half by starting a pellet and briquette manufacturing cum training unit in Manipur, The aspiration is to provide a whole package of clean energy solutions to the people of North East. Diversifying our work will remain a top priority. We want to start a pellet and briquette manufacturing unit in Manipur, and also set up a cook-stove assembling unit here. The training unit will train a lot of interested professionals who can further replicate the same technical know-how at various regions across the North Eastern States thereby creating lucrative avenues for employment generation. We intend to provide jobs to 1500+ people and create energy from treating 40 tonnes of waste everyday

h) How has been your journey with ICCSPL under this incubation period?

This has been an enriching and fruitful journey where we have gained a lot of learning and knowledge from each other. In fact, it has opened avenues for future prospects. We got financial support worth 1 crore INR (30% grant subsidy amount and 70% funding) from the Manipur Start-Up Scheme. All this will be very helpful as we embark our new journey of starting a pellet and briquettes manufacturing unit and setting up a cook-stove assembling here in Manipur. Some of the technology transfer assignments are also underway.

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