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Promoting appropriate technology and conservation-based livelihood opportunities



Headquarters: Pithagorath, Uttarakhand, India
Established: 1997
Impact Areas: India
Type: Nonprofit
Energy Sectors: Power Source: Solar Power,Biomass Power
Power Use: Off-Grid Lighting and ElectricityCleaner Cooking
Business Model Types: Product Sourcing:Outsource Design, Local ManufactureUniform Product
Distribution: Community Based Implementation
Affordability: Partner Financing, Subsidization 
Organization Financing:Grants and Donations
Scaling:New Products
Social Impact: Depth Focused
Staff Size: 28, 120 volunteers
Annual Budget: $362,360
Major Funders: Ford Foundation, Volkart Foundation, Acumen Fund
Awards: 2007: Ashden Awards Honorary Mention,
2010: Santa Clara Global Social Benefit Incubator


AVANI is a non-profit community development organization which has developed innovative models for distributing solar lanterns and panels in villages.

AVANI is currently developing a model with strong profit potential for gasifying pine needles to generate power for village use and grid sale.


Energy Products/Services

Target Market

  • Off-grid communities in rural Himalayan India near invasive pine forests



Revenue Streams

  • Sale of solar home lighting systems to villagers and ongoing maintenance fees (revenue to villages)
  • Future sale of gasifier power to grid
  • Non-energy projects (fairtrade crafts)
  • Grants and donations

Value Proposition

  • AVANI sells its solar panels and lanterns through a payment model generating revenue to cover maintenance and future purchase finance.
  • AVANI’s gasifier project heats pine needles to generate combustible gases that currently produce 9 kW of electricity, which power their center.
  • AVANI is now working with Acumen Fund to implement larger gasifiers which will produce 120kW of electricity, each of which can power 5 villages and create excess power which can profitably be sold to the grid.  They plan to build 2.4 MW total capacity over the next 5 years.
  • Unlike most bioenergy projects, this one uses a feedstock (pine needles) that is harmful to the environment if it is not harvested.
  • The project also addresses the most energy intensive and vital household process – cooking –  by producing inexpensive charcoal as a by-product of the gasification. Families can buy charcoal either in cash or by collecting pine needles.

Problem Addressed

  • Over 7 million people in the Central Himalayan Region live close to large tracts of pine forests with diminishing access to fuel wood, water, and other life support systems, because fires caused by the pine needles destroy the ecosystem.
  • These people also lack reliable electricity access and clean cooking fuel.

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • 25 villages electrified and a thriving business built that produces solar energy and employs rural youth
  • Over 500 artisans and farmers earning income from silk and wool textile enterprise
  • Team of 30 rural youth trained in-house to run the enterprise
  • Almost 50% of the management team are women
  • 30,000 people have benefited from AVANI’s work by having modern lighting, increased livelihood opportunities and better health


  • 1997: AVANI founded
  • 1999: Rural poor started paying for solar technology services
  • 2003: Electrified 9 villages with EU Funding
  • 2005: Ford Foundation grant to start wild silk cultivation project
  • 2006: Pine needle gasifier started generating electricity used for various activities at AVANI center
  • 2009: Wild silk cultivation and processing business became a profitable artisan’s cooperative

Growth Plan

  • 2011: 120 Kw gasifier system in operation meeting needs of 8,000 people.
  • 2013: Three gasifier systems in operation meeting the needs of 24,000 people and generating enough profits to fund expansion.
  • 2014: Self-sustainable with $360k cash positive to further expand operations
  • 2016: 2.4 MW total capacity

How They Deliver

Product Sourcing

  • Solar Panels and Lanterns:
    • AVANI buys its solar panels on the open market and its solar systems are assembled by rural technicians trained at AVANI.
  • Pine Needle Gasifier
    • AVANI uses a gasifier developed by an external manufacturer, but had to experiment to get the required density of pine needles (grinding raised the density from 70kg/cubic meter to 200kg/cubic meter).


  • Solar Panels and Lanterns
    • Donor subsidized lanterns and panels are sold through village committees in 25 villages for an up-front charge and an ongoing monthly fee until they are paid off.
    • AVANI initially set up a rental system where the ongoing payment was a rental fee and AVANI continued to own the lanterns (and be responsible for maintenance)
    • Then AVANI realized that people preferred to buy and own the lanterns, and that the investment was enough incentive to get them to do maintenance themselves.
  • Pine Needle Gasifier:
    • The pine needle gasifiers will be set up to each power 5-6 villages with 120kw.  They can generate power 24 hours a day, but the villages only need power 3 hours a day.
    • The rest of the power will be sold to the local power utility for US$.08/kwh
    • The pine needles will be collected by villagers, who will be paid with funds generated from the sale of power, and with the cooking charcoal made from the pine needle residue.
    • Each gasifier will supply electricity to 5 villages and replace fuelwood for 1.


  • It used to be challenging to market solar systems, but now everyone knows them and wants them.
  • It is still challenging to market microfinance loans, because people are afraid of debt, and are often unaware of many of the benefits banks offer, such as subsidized interest rates for energy product loans and free life insurance

Revenue & Affordability

  • Solar Panels and Lanterns
    • AVANI’s model was initially a way of giving away government- and donor-supplied lanterns and solar panels.  They began charging for them as a means of increasing ownership and funding maintenance.
    • Initially, charging was very controversial, but fees are put back into a village fund, which has to date reached a total of over US$90,000 in 25 villages.
    • AVANI is now using this funding to help finance purchases of new solar products by villagers, through guarantees on loans from microfinance banks (as the supply of donated solar products is far from matching demand).
    • Working with microfinance banks has proved challenging because their rules for loans are often overly strict.
      • Customers are required to prove ability to pay, when they are generally already spending more than their monthly loan payment amount on kerosene.
      • Customers have to get certificates of no debt from 4 area banks, which requires expensive and time-consuming travel
    • AVANI is trying to help reform the banks’ regulations and to reduce barriers through the loan guarantees.
  • Pine Needle Gasifier
    • AVANI is expecting the gasifier to cover its own costs from sale of power to the grid, allowing villagers to fund their own power generation by supplying pine needles.


  • AVANI’s solar panels and lanterns have been financed by donor projects, and now by the money collected from users.
  • The large scale gasifier is still seeking funding, and a potential deal with Acumen Fund is underway for a grant and then investment.
  • One 120kw village gasifier costs approximately US$170,000, and is expected to have a 4.5 year payback period.
  • AVANI is also exploring carbon credit financing once it scales up, as the project both saves .89kg of carbon for every kw/h of power generated, and produces charcoal that reduces the need for fuelwood.


Avani Solar Home Lighting System

Avani’s systems are custom assembled based on customer needs, and consist of a solar panel, a battery, and several lights.  The systems are built by local community members using the Barefoot College solar technician training methodology.

How It’s Used:
AVANI’s systems are used for lighting and powering the homes of customers with unreliable power.

Product Type:
Solar Home System


Technical Data

Lumens/Watt:  50
Average Lamp Power and type:  20W Panel, 9 1W LEDs in 3 lamps
Battery Capacity and type: 2000mAh 12v lead acid battery
Hours Runtime/Charge:  18
Charging Hours from Flat:  8
Lumens:  450
Lumen-hours/year@4hr/day:  657,000
Service Delivered (lm.hr/$): 22,485
Kerosene Service Delivered (lm.hr/$):  872


Cost Data

Number of Households Served  1
Upfront Cost
Estimated Retail Price:  $127
Recurring Costs
 Replaceable Products Life(years) Replacement Costs
Battery  8-9  $30
Lights  4  $0.42
5-year Replacement Costs $19
5-year Ownership Cost $146



The AVANI lantern includes a mobile phone charger and a built-in solar panel.  It is assembled by local community members using the Barefoot College solar technician training methodology.

How It’s Used: 

The AVANI lantern is used for task and ambient lighting by households and small shops.

Product Type:
Solar Portable

Technical Data

Lumens/Watt:  10
Average Lamp Power and type:  12 .25W LEDs
Battery Capacity and type:  4500mAh 6V sealed maintenance-free battery
Hours Runtime/Charge:  14
Charging Hours from Flat: 6
Lumens:  30
Lumen-hours/year@4hr/day:  43,800
Service Delivered (lm.hr/$):  3,679
Kerosene Service Delivered (lm.hr/$):  872


Cost Data

Number of Households Served 1
Upfront Cost
Estimated Retail Price:  $40
Recurring Costs
 Replaceable Products Life(years) Replacement Costs
Battery  1.5  $2.86
LEDs  1  $2.00
5-year Replacement Costs  $19.53
5-year Ownership Cost  $59.53





Other PRoducts

  • AVANI has a developed a pine-needle biomass gasifier.

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

PO Tripuradevi
via Berinag
Dist. Pithoragarh
Kumaon 262531

(+91 941 209 2982
* rajnish@avani-kumaon.org