India’s Solar Path-The Firms, Individuals and Organisations That Will Matter

Highlights :

In an informal survey of over 200 industry professionals, we asked a simple open ended question. Who are the individuals and organisations that will make a real impact for India’s solar ambitions in the coming decade? Here is the shortlist of the top 10 names that kept coming up.

2021 has marked a return to bump up in capacity addition in solar, after the last peak in 2017-18 when the country added close to 9.5 GW taking solar to the top among all energy options for capacity added. With this year likely to see over 11 GW of fresh capacity addition, it says something for our ambitious targets that even this impressive number will need to double and more, in 2022 to put the country on a path to 350 GW of solar by 2030. While the volatile market events of the past few months make that a matter of conjecture for now, there is no doubt that solar has decisively moved to the next level.

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Solar Pulse of India

That is obvious from the number, and more importantly, quality of the new players entering the sector. Be it Reliance with its multi billion dollar splash out, or the JSW group which has won in the solar PLI scheme, or the massive expansions underway at incumbents ranging from Adani Group to Waaree and more. So even as strong brand name Chinese majors across modules and inverters continue to have a major say, there is no doubt that Indian firms will finally have their moment in the sun too. Over the past two months, across our interactions with industry professionals, we asked each about this one question. Who did they feel will be the best indicator of how the sector is doing? We collected a variety of answers as you can imagine, and this shortlist of 10 is an outcome of that. Many other key names, be it SECI, the team of bureaucrats at MNRE, the IEX,or smaller manufacturers across the country were mentioned, but these 10 earned their place by sheer consistency. So let’s dive in to discover just who, and why these names matter. Names are in no particular order.

Renew Power, Founded by Sumant SinhaRenew Power, Founded by Sumant Sinha, has not just been one of the most striking success stories in the Indian renewable space. From its strong backers initially, that included Goldman Sachs, to its recent listing at NASDAQ, the firm has consistently moved fast, and early, to grab opportunities as they have emerged. With a balanced portfolio of solar + wind, and some Hydro assets it has acquitted recently, Renew Power understands operating in the Indian market like few others. Which explains why the firm is confident of higher returns in acquisitions going ahead. At 7 GW, it has the largest operational portfolio of renewable assets, expected to reach 8.2 GW by March 2022. Not only that, the firm is stretching for an 18 GW portfolio by 2025, along with its own module manufacturing line of at least 2 GW possibly. If past record is any indication, the firm should get there and much more, depending on how it sees opportunities in the market. On its sights: A 25 GW opportunity that Sinha sees in the corporate PPA market, besides delivering on both existing RTC projects it won, and many more Hybrid projects it expects to add going forward.

Indian Renewable Energy Development AgencyIREDA: The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), after a relatively low profile and benign presence till March 2020, has come into its own this year. Besides becoming the implementing agency for the PLI (Performance Linked Incentive) scheme for solar manufacturing, set to be expanded to over $4 billion, IREDA is moving ahead on initiatives that could make a real difference soon. It is in the process of setting up a debt fund (Fund) in the form of an Alternate Investment Fund (AIF) to tap large Institutional Investors to help in financing new projects of those borrowers who are nearing the exposure limit. The company is also planning to do Asset-Based Securitization (ABS) by issuance of Pass-Through Certificates. A Rs 1500 crore equity infusion by the government will improve its capital adequacy ratio, enabling faster expansion of the loan book soon.

P K Das, the current Chairman, has announced plans to grow the loan book five-fold, from ~`28,000 Crore ending March 2021 to `1.35 Lakh Crore ending March 2026. IREDA’s success with its plans matter simply because it is close to many of the important players in the business today, and can move faster on financing now. So much so that it found it worthwhile to trumpet the 45 day turnaround time for a Rs 1100 crore loan it provided to a private sector player recently. Change in this case is certainly good for the sector.

isaISA: The International Solar Alliance (ISA) comes with a huge baggage of expectations. As a pet project of Prime Minister Modi, the six year old ISA is easily the largest ever multilateral initiative from India ever, in association with France. That is reflected in its Headquarters at Gurugram, as well as the key role it has played in using Solar power as a soft power to bring developing countries across the world on the same page as India. With a stated ambition to raise a trillion dollars for solar by 2030, and help drive down prices for its member countries to adopt solar faster, the ISA played its role to the hilt at COP26, where the US joined it as member no. 101. With no China membership till date, the ISA also seeks to balance out the heavy influence of China in the global Solar market, by supporting innovations and even manufacturing in other markets. Led by the hugely experienced Dr. Ajay Mathur as Director General, the ISA has the tough job of ‘simplifying’ solar adoption across the developing world, and ensure the developed North directs its support where it is most needed. With the tide turning fast in favour of solar power, expect the organisation to play a key role going ahead in areas including Green Hydrogen.

Gautam Adani, Adani Group:Gautam Adani, Adani Group: The Adani Group’s high stakes in the energy sector are no secret, with group firms Adani Power, Adani Green Energy, Adani Transmission, Adani Solar and Adani Total Gas being the more visible faces of the effort. But even as the multi billion dollar group straddles the energy sector, group Chairman Gautam Adani has made no secret of his plans in the renewable energy space. Be it a target to be the largest renewable energy developer worldwide (through Adani Green Energy Limited) , to one of the key manufacturers (through Adani Solar), the group’s plans will always impact not just its own numbers, but industry numbers. A target of 45 GW by 2030 is impressive by any standard. With a group market cap nudging $125 billion, the Adani group, along with Reliance, Renew Power and Tatas remains one of the best placed to access funding at a price that is a huge competitive advantage over other players. The partnership with Total Energies in its’s Gas firm, as well as AGEL, will only help matters. With an existing module manufacturing capacity of 1.5 GW, set to increase to 3.5 GW before 2021 ends, the Adani group has much to do, to ensure it stays at the top of the pile in manufacturing too. It’s 8 GW manufacturing linked tender from SECI is finally moving, as are its plans to go for a fully integrated manufacturing set up in the very near future. Experience, and presence across the transmission, distribution ends means the firm has inherent advantages that are hard to beat in India. One firm you would never bet against when it comes to renewable energy now.

Power and MNRE Minister R.K. SinghR.K. Singh: Power and MNRE Minister R.K. Singh, who was elevated to Cabinet rank in the July 2021 reshuffle, has earned his stripes the hard way. While seeking to balance out the frequently conflicting demands of the thermal heavy Power Ministry with the Renewable Energy Ministry, the minister has managed to do the impossible and keep both in relatively good humour. And more importantly, ensure that the sector remains attractive enough for investors to keep the growth story going. For it is no secret that private sector investment will drive overall renewable energy growth, whatever the PSU majors might do. To ensure that happens, Minister Singh has transformed into a reformer and salesman supreme, consistently pitching the Indian story to investors, and doing extra time to clear out the many issues that dog the sector. Be it regulatory logjams, to state governments that seek to renegotiate signed contracts, or forcing discoms to cough up their outstanding dues faster, Singh has been in the middle of it all, making efforts that all have rated as sincere, at least. Even as over $70 billion has been invested in the RE sector since 2014, a significant share has been FDI, a testimony to Singh’s work at the ministry. India’s 175 GW target for 2022, and especially the larger 500 GW target for 2030 declared at COP26 recently, are as much a vote of confidence in Singh’s abilities to make it happen, than anything else.

PSU Energy FirmsPSU Energy Firms: Collectively, the leading public sector energy firms are aiming to add renewable energy capacity of anything between 80-85 GW by 2030. While NTPC has the lions share with a 60 GW share, other PSU’s like NHPC (6 GW) and Coal India Limited (3 GW) have also made real progress in a sign of their intent. With Coal India even planning to enter manufacturing, besides a JV with another Coal firm, NLC for renewable energy development. For the government, the PSU firms provide a sort of insurance for its renewable energy targets, with their ready access to funds, experience with the regulatory environment, and lower chances of ending in political confrontations. The high PSU presence and role also indicates the heavy regulatory overhang and strategic role of the energy sector, and as the share of renewable energy goes up, it is only natural that the government will encourage the public sector to maintain a high share.

Mukesh Ambani, Reliance IndustriesMukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries: In many ways, the announcement from India’s largest private sector firm and richest man, did more to put the spotlight on solar, and renewable energy in 2021, than almost anything else. After first announcing plans to get into clean energy in 2017, it was in its June 2020 AGM that Ambani announced some more specifics, including a net zero target of 2035. But it was at the 44th AGM in June this year, that Ambani finally made the big move. A planned $10 billion investment in the next 3 years. The Ambani reputation for getting into sectors with a long runway offering scale and opportunity, and disruption on costs, literally electrified the sector overnite. True to its reputation, in a series of announcements in October, the Group has announced a series of buys (REC Group For its Solar Manufacturing), buy-in (Sterling and Wilson Solar Limited), technology partnerships (Nexwafe of Germany for its Green Wafer technology, Danish firm Stiesdal AS For Hydrogen Electrolyser). Earlier in August, it had invested $50 million in Ambri Inc, a startup building a low cost, liquid metal battery. These fund commitments of over Rs 5500 crores in total are just the start, as the group proceeds with its Gigafactory plans at Jamnagar, where it intends to capture most of the solar supply chain. Early this month, it was also shortlisted for the Solar PLI scheme, one of four firms to make the cut with a 4 GW manufacturing plan across the value chain. With a stated goal to enable 100 GW of capacity creation by 2030, the Reliance juggernaut is well and truly on its way, and in its own way, will do as much to assure many investors about policy stability going forward, than anything else. Unless you take a position against the firm’s strategy of course

Hitesh Doshi, Waaree EnergiesDr. Hitesh Doshi, Waaree Energies: One of the oldest players in the solar manufacturing space, Hitesh Doshi’s Waaree Energies has been a real survivor, now hoping to reap the dividends from its years of patience and hard work. From a small start in 2007 with a 30 MW manufacturing set up, Waaree Energies has a 2 GW manufacturing line today for cells and modules, with plans to add a further 3 GW soon. Waaree matters because the brand is synonymous with solar in India for clients across the world. An EPC division started to push solar more aggressively has executed projects in 68 countries according to the firm. An IPO is in the works, that promises to propel the firm in the kind of limelight it has managed to avoid all these years, but is now inevitable if it is to keep up with the new wave of growth in front of the sector. Doshi, as one of the earliest players with a heavy manufacturing presence, has never been afraid to speak his mind, and has been one of the biggest votaries of protection from Chinese imports. However, having survived competition with the Chinese all these years, there is little doubt that this firm with its deep reach and relationships, will be one of the few pure play domestic survivors to look out for as India looks to install 25 GW or more of solar capacity each year from here on.

Gujarat StateGujarat State

Why do we have a state in our list for the future of solar? Quite simply, because of the way Gujarat has emerged to become the state that will matter. Although many other states have emerged as fertile grounds for renewable energy, notably Karnataka, and recently, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat’s acceptance as a destination for manufacturing, as well as site for capacity creation in solar as well as wind means that both developers and manufacturers have made a beeline for the state. From an over 50% share of existing approved manufacturing, the state’s share will only go up as massive expansion plans from Reliance, Waaree, Adani Solar and others near completion. The state has earned the moniker of renewable energy capital. An Ultra Mega Solar Park in the form of the 5 GW Dholera Solar Park is already on its way. Huge projects like the 10 GW Kutch solar park where 4.75 GW capacity is already approved, with a long term goal to develop 40 GW of wind and solar, mean that the state offers the strongest combination of consumption and logistics for firms looking to get into manufacturing and more. High quality ports makes both imports and exports easy too. All it will take perhaps is the one complaint we hear about the state. It’s less than ideal open access policies. With a heavily industrialised economy, there is zero doubt that given the right conditions, the corporate PPA market will be a whole new growth engine for the state in times to come.

Gyanesh Chaudhary, Vikram SolarGyanesh Chaudhary, Vikram Solar: The young Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Vikram Solar, having convinced his family to venture into solar manufacturing in 2006, should be no stranger to challenges. After all, it is almost single handedly due to Vikram Solar that West Bengal is still on the solar map, with its manufacturing facilities in the state. However, even that couldn’t stop Vikram Solar venturing out finally, all the way to Tamil Nadu, when the time came to expand. Today, the firm, with a 2.5 GW manufacturing capacity, remains one of the few credible Indian names to have built a brand, and held its own against foreign imports.

Much like its peer Waaree Energies, Vikram Solar has also maintained a presence in the EPC segment, helping many firms transition to solar across India. At ~1,100 MW of EPC contracts executed, the firm knows what it takes to control costs and deliver. The company also has 970 MW of Operations & Maintenance (O&M) project portfolio worldwide.

Exports have been a strong point,  helping the firm keep its nose above water in many tough years. While it may not have the same capital clout as its many bigger rivals, especially the new players getting in, there is no doubt that Vikram Solar’s reading of the market has been a strength, and will continue to guide the firm in the years going ahead.

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