Praneeth Pillarisetti and Harsha Vardhan Reddy are at the forefront of a solar panel that can generate electricity and heat water

If you are constructing a house and want to make it energy efficient, one of the things you are likely to do is install solar panels to generate electricity. In addition, you might look at installing a solar water heater. To generate two kilowatts of power and approximately 200 litres of hot water, you will require two sets of solar panels occupying approximately 300 square feet on your terrace.

However, consider the possibility of a two-in-one or duplex solar panel that generates electricity and heats water, occupying only 170 square feet on the terrace, which can leave you with more space for, say, a roof garden.

Praneeth Pillarisetti and Harsha Vardhan Reddy, co-founders of Birds Eye Energy, are making this possible with their innovative duplex solar panels. After developing the product in 2017 and testing it in 2018, they launched it in April 2019. A hotel in Lakdikapul, Nampally railway station, and two villas in Gachibowli are among their first clients.

Their small office in Banjara Hills belies their big dreams. Praneeth and Harsha are eager to develop unique products in the renewable energy sector, in the next five to seven years. They intend to develop products suitable for both Indian and international markets.

Praneeth did his BTech in Aerospace Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, and Masters in Renewable Energy Systems from the University of Florida. He worked in areas concerning green energy technology for a decade, before he turned entrepreneur. Comparatively speaking

  • Praneeth and Harsha state the conventional method of installing two solar systems — to generate one kilowatt power and water heater to generate 300 litres of hot water — would amount to ₹1.3 lakh.
  • Their duplex system for a similar capacity would cost ₹1.1 to 1.2 lakh, bringing down the cost by 10% in addition to saving space on the terrace. “The life of the panels is also much longer,” they assert. They have also tweaked the design and materials to ensure less scaling and hence, easy maintenance of the panels.

Harsha was his batchmate at IIT Madras, studying Bio-technical Engineering before pursuing MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. He worked in the operations, finance and project management sections for 11 years, and then teamed up with Praneeth.

In 2016, Praneeth and Harsha founded Birds Eye Energy along with two other friends. All four were the seed investors. “In the beginning, I was a passive investor and worked like a consultant. In 2018 when the product was developed and we were testing it simultaneously in Chennai and Hyderabad, I quit my job and focused on strengthening this dream,” says Harsha.

In 2017, the co-founders spotted a small proof of concept clay model of the duplex solar panel at IIT Madras. “It was a 10 x 15 cm model designed for academic demonstration. We did further research and development to make the product viable,” recalls Praneeth. Help came in from professors in IIT Madras, CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Chennai) and a few students.

When the product was ready, they tested a prototype for residential use in Tarnaka, Hyderabad, and a prototype for commercial complexes, at IIT Madras. Praneeth and Harsha explain that the plumbing systems are different for residential and commercial varieties. For nearly a year, data was monitored closely to gauge heating capacities and changes in temperatures. The duo is confident that their product can cater to residences, hotels, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals that require both electricity and water heating facility.

Praneeth and Harsha aver that while people are aware of harnessing solar energy, the high cost and maintenance have been limiting factors. “You shouldn’t have to pay a premium to go green,” says Harsha. A break even is likely to happen in seven to eight years in the existing scenario. The two looked at cost effective solution that will allow consumers to break even in three to four years (commercial) and within five years (domestic use).

Praneeth Pillarisetti (left) and Harsha Vardhan Reddy of Birds Eye Energy, demonstrate their duplex solar panel that generates electricity and heats water

Praneeth Pillarisetti (left) and Harsha Vardhan Reddy of Birds Eye Energy, demonstrate their duplex solar panel that generates electricity and heats water
 
| Photo Credit: Nagara Gopal

“We looked at bettering the quality of panels and the heat exchanger such that the panels will last 15 to 20 years and heat exchanger for 25 years, without frequent maintenance or replacement. We give a warranty of 20 years, which is unheard of,” says Praneeth.

The co-founders have applied for three patents for the technology used to develop and design the duplex solar panels.

Looking back at where it all started, Praneeth states that when he worked in the US around eight years ago, he observed that the power sector in countries like US and Europe were more or less established. He felt that India, China and African countries are likely to witness a huge growth in power sector in the next three decades and green energy technologies need to be developed for these markets.

Praneeth and Harsha have plans for further innovations, one of them being incorporating micro concentrators within solar panels, negating the need for large mirrors to focus the sun rays on to the panel, for industrial use. For more on their work, look up http://www.birdseyeenergy.in/

This column celebrates eco-conscious initiatives. If you know an eco-warrior, write in to [email protected]

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