KnowElectricity Teaches Pakistan About Energy Efficiency: Can It Become a Sustainable Business?

by Jazib Zahir, December 12, 2012

Scores of Pakistanis are curious about the potential for solar and wind energy to cut costs in a country where continuous power is at a premium. And the truth is that there is very little credible market information in Pakistan on how to be more energy efficient or how to tap into renewable energy resources.

This is precisely why a web portal called KnowElectricity is such an intriguing idea. KnowElectricity is a social enterprise focused on consumer engagement for energy conservation. It’s targeted at Pakistani consumers who wish to learn about practical energy efficiency practices, offering a comparison of the efficiency of different appliances to reveal the ‘best buys’ in Pakistan (note: they’re Royal, GFC and Pak Fans). It also offers tips on how to install and use appliances for optimal power consumption, and even provides formulas that allow consumers to map out their daily usage.

This enterprise is the brainchild of two young Pakistani professionals: Faizan Rasool, who worked as an Engineering Manager at Philip Morris and is now the Manager of Mobile Applications at an information technology company, and Wardah Inam, a PhD student in electrical engineering and power electronics at MIT. Both have been working to develop this social venture as a side project alongside their present careers.

While the venture has already garnered recognition by the MIT IDEAS competition, MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship and the MIT Public Service Center, it’s too early for either of the founders to make a full-time commitment. If they can continue to be successful and build partnerships, however, focusing exclusively on KnowElectricity could make sense in the future.

For now, the team is focusing mostly on engagement programs in local schools, where they conduct presentations to create awareness of the need for energy efficiency and recruit students to map out campus energy consumption. On Facebook, the site has already gained 1,000 fans by creating multimedia illustrations of the energy crisis.

While this approach is a great way to involve proactive youth in the cause, KnowElectricity is also naturally still grappling with the challenges of scaling up and developing a sustainable business model.

The following are the primary challenges:

Monetization: The current focus remains on developing a footprint and engaging the public. Funds to expand are being sought out from a variety of channels, including grants for social enterprises, competitions and most critically, sponsorship. Several multinationals in Pakistan have shown interest in supporting KnowElectricity through their Corporate Social Responsibility programs, potentially sponsoring both the website and printed literature that the enterprise would distribute to its target population. 

In the absence of active online transactions, however, advertisements remain the most sustainable source of revenue for web portals in Pakistan. Many stakeholders in the energy space will likely be interested in this platform if it succeeds in  drawing a critical mass

Scaling: Ultimately, the portal will only scale up if it relies more on digital engagement than in-person interaction. The team is currently investigating the development of interactive tools that provide input on how you are managing energy. But there are so many more tools that could increase its popularity, from online games that educate about energy to forums that allow individuals and corporations to exchange best practices, to updates on emerging energy products and trends in Pakistan that would create a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and investors looking to understand the energy landscape in Pakistan.

KnowElectricity proves that there is a market niche in Pakistan for portals that deal in the information economy and provide valuable market intelligence. It is too early to judge its sustainability, but if the engagement model succeeds in bringing people in droves, it is likely that sponsorship and affiliate models could transform this into a robust business. 

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Jazib is an adjunct professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, where he teaches soft skills to engineers. He also works as a Business Development Fellow at d.light design in Pakistan, where he helps bring reliable electricity solutions to off-grid populations, and he also serves as the Chief Operations Officer at Tintash, an iOS and Android gaming software company based in Silicon Valley. He lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan, and can be found on his LinkedIn page or at @jazibzahir on Twitter.