Those of you who read the Times of India may have seen a full page ad quoting "Free electricity is coming" and "Billions in Change," in the recent past. I saw the ad several times in the newspaper and wrongfuly dismissed it as a PR campaign for some billionaire known as Manoj Bhargava (the ad actually sates his designation as Billionare, Philanthropist). Well, I was both wrong and right. Yes, Bhargava is a billionaire and is the CEO of Innovation Ventures, the company behind the '5-Hour Energy' drink, but, the ad was not just a publicity stunt. Bhargava actually means business when he claims that "Free electricity is coming."
On Friday, New Delhi saw what Bhargava and his team have been working on for the past two years. It's called Free Electric, a stationary bicycle which can fully charge an attached battery in an hour, and subsequently provide electricity to a rural household for 24 hours. After pedalling and charging the battery for an hour, it can power light bulbs, a fan, a cellphone, and even a low wattage TV. The Free Electric bicycle also comes with a reclining seat, so the person pedalling can do so with ease. Free Electric will cost somewhere between Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 15,000 and will be available in the market starting March 2016. Surprisingly, Bhargava is not looking towards NGOs or the Government for support in terms of distribution and retail of the bicycle. Explaining the reason for this exclusion, he said,“Non-profits are horribly inefficient. Though they are not as bad as governments.”
The Free Electric bike will be manufactured both in India and in the US. Bhargava says that he has pledged 99% of his wealth, which is estimated to be around $4 billion, to combat energy, water and healthcare problems for the poor, around the world (hello Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark!). He has set up an invention shop known as Stage 2 Innovations, which produced the Free Electric bike. Stage 2 Innovations is also working on an artery enlargening device for Angina patients as well as a water purifier called 'Rainmaker', which will make saltwater drinkable.
India has seen increased efforts towards rural electrification in the recent past. Infact, because of rural electrification, poverty in India has fallen from 21% in 2012 to 12.4% in 2015. According to the World Bank, “Rural electrification in India has caused changes in consumption and earnings." As per official figures, 69% of rural houses are still deprived of electricity. So, an innovation like the Free Electric bicycle is sure to raise optimism when it comes to electrifying rural households. One might say that the Rs. 12,000 - Rs. 15,000 price bracket may make the bicycle unaffordable for rural households, but, as Bhargava explained, each houselhold does not need to have the bike and an enterprenuer can act as a utility provider, purchase the bike, and power several batteries at the same time.
Here's a trailer of the Billions in Change film, showing Bhargava and all the progress made by Stage 2 Innovations.