The DOEN Foundation supports pioneers who use an entrepreneurial approach to come up with solutions for a better world. Read the story of Rajnish Jain, co-founder of Avani. One of the main components of Avani’s program is a pine-needle-fueled power station, with local women and men gathering and delivering all the pine needles and other materials needed to create energy for rural communities in Central Himalaya.
A crazy idea
Living here in the middle of the pine forest, we witness forest fires every year. This made me decide to start exploring the possibilities to harness this energy. We started dreaming about doing something with the pine needles. This way our villagers can also benefit from it, instead of the energy only causing destruction. It was really interesting when we started collecting the pine needles. I overheard people talking about the reason why. “what will they do with this stuff?” Other, “this guy (pointing towards Rajnish) says he’ll make electricity with this!” “Poor fellow”, quipped the earlier one, “he seems to have lost it, will have to send him to a mental asylum!” “What is it to us” said the other, “we are getting our money back!”
Hearing these conversations was a really important moment. It made me realize it’s a big responsibility to make people believe in your idea. They don’t know what technology we have, they don’t know what is possible, they only know pine needles can burn and create forest fires. Now we found a way to harvest the destructive energy in pine needles, which gives it an economic value, and reduce forest fire at the same time. People need to see something realized before they believe in a new idea, and I knew the potential of these needles.
Tears of joy
I remember the moment when our first power plant was running. I cried tears of joy because I really felt like we found a solution for a worldwide problem, a technical solution to say at least. By creating low-cost cooking charcoal and energy for light and heat. A very proud and emotional moment. It also makes me very proud that we are able to train people from rural communities to work in our power plants. To make them part of our story. To make everyone part of it. To even solve conflicts between foresters and villagers about the use of the forest. Now the foresters are happy because we remove all the pine needles and the people are happy because we provide them with clean energy. Our work even influenced our government policy. We have been pushing the government for years, and recently they finally came out with a coherent policy. It’s a milestone in our work to know foresters, communities and even the government support our technology.
Support from all sides
You need many factors to have success. An idea, the technology, the financial support and of course the support of the community. The DOEN Foundation was more then just a financial factor. Originally DOEN gave us money to start a 120KW power plant and we failed. We even changed the idea of our project twice and DOEN stayed with us. Without this support at that time the whole project could have stayed a big failure. It’s really important to feel DOEN trusts the innovator! At the moment I really feel supported from all sides. It was a long, uphill struggle, but now we feel there is a big potential in our technology. Not only to save the environment, but also by creating jobs and stop young people from migrating to bigger cities. Thanks to the support of all parties we are now ready to take off!
Authors: Indra Heerken & Thijs Looijenga
DOEN is helping to combat further climate change by directing its attention to reducing CO2 emissions. To achieve this, DOEN will over the next few years be supporting initiatives in the area of sustainable energy. Within this area, DOEN focuses on frontrunners with a business model. Within the Netherlands we are looking for pioneers in the field of sustainable energy and energy saving; moreover we finance initiatives that focus on access to sustainable energy in Africa and Asia. With this programme, DOEN shows that solutions can be practical, efficient and payable.