Orb Energy Pte Ltd, which provides solar energy systems to off-grid households, has raised $1.1 million in equity funding from non-profit venture firm Acumen Fund. The funding will be used by Orb to extend its household lighting systems to rural customers and scale its manufacturing, besides developing new products.

Existing investors in Orb Energy include London-based Zouk Ventures (which manages $100 million across two venture funds) and the Singh family, who founded UK-based retailer New Look (and took it private with Apax and Permira in a $1 billion deal in 2004).

Orb sells, installs and services a full range of systems including solar photovoltaic systems for lighting and back-up power, solar thermal for hot water, solar street lighting for security, as well as energy-efficient lights, fans and other appliances. Over the last four years, Orb has installed approximately 25,000 solar systems. It currently operates 90 branches across four states – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra. The company directly markets its products and employs more than 500 people for solar equipment sales, installation and service.

With this new round of funding, Orb plans to double the number of branches and employees over the next two years. The Bangalore and Singapore-based firm will also expand the capacity of monthly sales and installations from 1,000 to 2,000 systems.

India’s rural Base of the Pyramid (BoP) population includes 114 million households, 45 per cent of which do not have reliable access to electricity and rely on kerosene for lighting.

Several companies are trying to tap this demand. There is d.light, backed by the likes of Omidyar Network and Mahindra group, which provides affordable energy and lighting solutions based on solar and LED technology.

Then, there are other players like Patna-based Husk Power Systems that converts rice husk into electricity by using biomass gasification technology and has mini power plants located across off-grid areas.

Acumen India, which has invested over $22 million in the country since 2001, has backed companies like Kochi-based ayurvedic chain Ayur Vaid Hospitals, Hyderabad-based LifeSpring Hospitals, Mumbai-based ambulance start-up service Dial 1298 For Ambulance and Drishtee, a rural communications company.

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