- Ecosteem Co-Founder Balachandran Ramesh on empowering the nation with renewable energy
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Sri Lankans have had no choice but to adapt to the worsening situation in the country, but continuing power cuts severely affect our daily life and productivity. Due to this, the interest in renewable energy, especially solar power, has been rising.
Ecosteem is among the companies providing renewable energy services in the country and its Co-Founder Balachandran Ramesh shared the story of the company with The Morning Brunch.
According to Ramesh, Ecosteem began with a vision to empower energy freedom in the community using renewable energy. He recalled that neither him nor his wife Rathypriya Ramesh had electricity in their region during their childhood, and in 2010, they began experiencing frequent power cuts.
This resulted in a demand for alternative energy and many turned to fossil-fuel generators. “But we thought it was not sustainable. We receive enough solar radiation in our country, which is not utilised. We strongly believe we can achieve energy freedom with solar energy harvesting,” he said.
This is when they decided to find a solution by themselves. Their success with solar energy led them to provide a service to the community.
In 2011, Ramesh and his wife Rathypriya Ramesh launched Ecosteem as a startup. Over time, the company grew to a team of 20. Ecosteem was established in Jaffna, but eventually, its coverage extended up to the Western Province.
Ecosteem has completed over 500 projects providing on-grid solar rooftop systems for residential and commercial buildings as well as Government institutions ranging from 1kW to 500kW solutions. They have also carried out many off-grid solutions and have provided solar water pump solutions for farmers.
“We also installed more than 2,000 solar street lights. We make our own solar street light products and have been selling them since 2017. We also came up with a new product last year – solar roof tiles called Roofsteem,” Ramesh said.
He explained that Roofsteem is a roof tile that harvests electricity from the sun, eliminating the cost of roofing material. “We wanted to make solar panels that preserve the aesthetic beauty of a home so we came up with this design and developed it in our workshop. We now make it in our workshop in Jaffna.”
Their solar panel manufacturing began in 2017, with solar street lights, and this experience helped them develop the concept and design for the roof tiles. Ramesh said more designs will be released in the coming months.
Given their experience in the industry, we asked Ramesh about the importance of solar power in current times, given the Government’s failure to procure sufficient funds to purchase fuel.
He said: “It is important to have feasible and sustainable solutions for energy, like adopting renewable energy to eliminate the dependence on fossil fuel. There are many solutions and technology can be utilised to solve energy crises with renewable energy. I think every sector in this country has to come together to implement solutions that will liberate us from this energy crisis.”
“I can say one thing: The current situation has made everyone realise the importance of solar energy, the way I realised it when we started Ecosteem years ago,” Ramesh added.
Fortunately, more people are realising the benefits of off-grid solar systems. Ramesh explained that during the initial years of Ecosteem, they were faced with the task of educating people about solar energy.
“We worked hard to increase awareness gradually. With the introduction of the solar rooftop programme by the Government called ‘Soorya Bala Sangramaya’ it was possible to increase awareness rapidly,” he said.
There has been an increase in demand for solar power and Ecosteem strives to provide solutions for their customers. However, Ramesh said a lack of supply due to import restrictions adds to the duration taken to provide these solutions.
Ramesh explained that the industry faces many challenges, but the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority is helping them to find solutions.
He added: “If our country wants to have energy independence, I strongly believe renewable energy adaptation is the only solution. We have enough source of renewable energy and it is a matter of system design and deployment.”
Investing in solar power: Tips and myths
If you are interested in investing in solar power, there are a few things to be aware of before installing panels. Firstly, one must know their daily energy demand and maximum usage.
“We can help them gather these details if they find it difficult,” Ecosteem Co-Founder Balachandran Ramesh said, adding that, secondly, it is necessary to eliminate energy waste and instead think of efficient ways of using electricity. This is especially important when using grid supply. One must then choose a reliable system.
Ramesh also stressed that most people compare the investment with their present electricity cost. “However, one should keep in mind that the present electricity price is subsidised by the Government, and comparing this cost is not realistic,” he said, adding that his suggestion was to opt for the best and most suitable system to meet your requirements and achieve peace of mind by generating your own energy.
Speaking about the myths about solar power, Ramesh said there are various inaccurate beliefs about radiation, durability, and fire risks. However, he explained that there is no radiation from solar panels.
“Solar panels are durable for over 25 years. It is all about quality and following installation standards will help with safe and reliable systems. It is accepted all over the world as the future source of energy,” he said.