Billions in Change: Who is Manoj Bhargava and just how is 'free electricity' coming?
Whether you caught a glimpse of it while flicking through the morning papers, walking past the newsstand, or while looking over at a fellow commuter on the train with his/her head buried in the newspaper, it’s unlikely you missed this advertisement today.
Emblazoned with the words ‘Free electricity is coming’, the ad refers to a film on philanthropist Manoj Bhargava’s project Billions in Change — more specifically, a film about the project that is to be aired across television news channels this week.
But who is Bhargava? And why does the copy on the promotion call him an ‘unconventional billionaire’?
Let's get the easy part out the way first. It calls him a billionare, because he is one.
How did he become one?
It's a long story.
The Lucknow-born Bhargava moved to Philadelphia with his parents during the 1960s and went on to complete his schooling and a year of undergraduate education at Princeton, before dropping out to return to India. After spending 12 years at Hanslok ashram in Delhi, he returned to the US to help his parents with their plastics company. After acquiring some regional plants and turning them around, Bhargava turned his focus from plastics to chemicals, and soon found himself entering a new space altogether.
He founded the consumer products firm Living Essentials LLC, which would go on to unleash '5-hour Energy' upon the US. This beverage with the $1.25 billion annual sales, Bhargava would contend was no mere energy drink. “5-Hour Energy is not an energy drink, it’s a focus drink,” he told Forbes, “But we can’t say that. The FDA doesn’t like the word ‘focus.’ I have no idea why.”
Now, with an estimated net worth of $4 billion, Bhargava wants to put 99 percent of his wealth into solutions to help the world. This is where the 'unconventional' part comes in. Apart from putting a chunk of his fortune into Stage 2 Innovations, an 'investment fund established to accelerate the large-scale commercialisation of innovative, patentable technologies in the global market', one of Bhargava's latest projects is to manufacture 10,000 units of 'Free Electric', electricity-producing stationary bicycles in India by March next year, according to Business Standard. These will then be distributed across villages in India. Bhagava's areas of focus are simple: Water, energy and health.
In line with these areas is Limitless Energy — graphene cables that can conduct heat from the Earth's core 'to the surface of the Earth to run turbines and generate electricity'.
Ahead of the national screening of the film that elaborates further on Bhargava's vision, he tweeted:
— Manoj Bhargava (@Manoj_Bhargava) November 19, 2015
If you find you can't wait till then, here's the film in full:
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