Recently, the Indian solar market bounced back from the sluggish year of 2018. With the climate agreement in place and an estimated global investment of $2.8 billion in Q1 2019, there is no doubt that there is a huge scope. We are going through a positive phase. All government bodies are working towards our ambitious target of 100 GW. If things are going at the same pace, it’s not a big deal. Government agencies should continue to show the desire for the commenced projects, believes Amruth Puttappa, Founder, ThingsCloud, a Bengaluru-based CleanTech IoT startup developing smart power electronics and artificial intelligence (AI) products. In conversation with Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Saur Energy International, Puttappa shared his views on a variety of topics which the power sector is currently dealing with, the product portfolio of his company and their future expansion. Here’re the excerpts from that exclusive interview published in the Saur Energy International Magazine’s July 2019 edition:
Q. How has the ThingsCloud journey been? Key milestones so far? Do highlight the Make in India perspective too.
Our journey has nothing been short of a revelation and constant learning. We are aware of the repercussions of climate change and since the government is taking gigantic steps towards curbing global warming and other ecological adversities, we thought why not be a part of this noble cause and resolve climate change through a pragmatic and innovative manner.
During the first 4 years of our journey, we were learning, and only learning. This proved to be a great step as we gained clarity about the solar industry, the technical infusion of the Indian solar energy scenario, and also, the global solar energy scenario. In addition to climate change, we are also passionate about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Make in India’. As a result, we now develop, manufacture and supply smart solar grid inverters which was earlier mostly the domain of foreign players.
Our expertise lies in:
- 1-5 kw grid tie inverters
- 1-5 kw grid hybrid inverters
- Customer friendly IoT monitoring platform for both mobile and desktop
- MNRE certifications
- We have achieved an order log of 19K inverters
- Supplied around 1000+ inverters to various customers
- Scaled up to production capacity
- Developed & Supplied 10000+ home UPS to our OEM partner
- Developed EV motor controllers
- Signed agreement with 2 OEM partners for EV motor controllers after field trails
- 1000KM achieved by using our motor controllers
- Started development of 3phase inverters
- Started development of EV charging Stations
Q. What prompted you to enter into this segment? What are your latest product offerings?
Team at ThingsCloud has been in the solar field since 2010 and the era then was about off-grid inverters. Because of various reasons, 2014 onwards, the traction was towards grid tied systems and all were depending on traditional players whose product innovation was not up to the mark. People started using external circuitry as safeguard and without much of a service support.
That prompted us to develop an indigenous product which can solve customer’s pain points. On hindsight, we are happy to have a solution which solved all major pain points. When we started the development, we were very clear about product features and quality and the value the product should provide to customers. So, we incorporated AL & ML to offer least manual intervention and maximum yield out of systems. Now we reached next level of the AI which can offer more flexibility on operation and maintenance.
Our new products are grid hybrid inverters from 1Kw to 5KW. Also, we are developing 3 phase inverters ranging from 5KW to 30KW. We would like to deploy a million inverters by 2021. Our products can be classified into the following:
- ThingsWiFi: Smart switch connecting traditional electrical equipment
- Thingslo: Leveraging data analysis for solar plant and solar energy synthesis
- ThingsApp: A user-friendly app that keeps the customer updated with ongoing solar activities
- ThingsHiFi: Blending AI and Machine Learning with solar energy
1. Instead of letting all the energy generated by the inverter go to the grid, we can balance the amount of generation and consumption and therefore, avoid wastage of energy. This is the idea of ZERO export. We have deployed this in educational institutes that run only during day time, commercial spaces, and spaces where there is heavy reliance on diesel generators.
2. Rooftop solar installations for residential as well as commercial use.
Q. Why is the inverter market still dominated by China-based brands? How does ThingsCloud plan to compete?
As I mentioned earlier, in the beginning only Chinese players were there. Even the quality was minimal and people were forced to depend on them. But now people’s mindset has changed and they are buying Indian products which can give more features and service support. Our strength is innovation and understanding of Indian customers. So, I would say our systems are far ahead of the current technology.
Q. In your view, will the new generation of AI-powered Smart Solar inverters lead to major changes? What are the big changes we can look forward to?
Yes, of course. The coming years are all about AI and its applications. As we all know, in terms of inverter efficiency, we achieved at max and tariffs have reached a record low. Now we should concentrate more on O&M. Even though research is going on, improvisation of PV panel efficiency and its commercialization may take some time. Our focus is on operations and maintenance of solar power plants. Major issues are longer service downtime and dip in generation. Even though trackers and cleaning robots are in place, sudden changes in the climatic conditions may lead to energy loss. As tariffs are very low, even saving 1 unit makes a lot of sense. Our AI inverters, which continuously communicate with trackers and cleaning bots, ensure maximum yield from the system. Also, it reduces the service downtime with wise and timely notifications.
Q. How do you see the market till 2022? Do you think the government will or should do more to reach the 100 GW solar target?
The Indian solar market has just bounced back from the sluggish year of 2018. With the climate agreement in place and an estimated global investment of $2.8 billion in Q1 2019, there is no doubt that there is a huge scope. We are going through a positive phase. All government bodies are working towards the ambitious target of 100 GW. If things are going at the same pace, it’s not a big deal. Government agencies should continue to show support for the commenced projects.
Q. What is the current efficiency rate of your smart solar inverters?
As it is a smaller capacity, we are able to achieve an efficiency of 98%+. Smart Solar Inverter can generate 15% more power than traditional inverters over a period of time.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you face as a startup in the sector?
Chinese invasion was the first challenge we faced. The second challenge was getting the customer’s trust in our products. Many people questioned us about the experience of the company. Anyhow, we overcame these issues and people have started accepting us.
Q. Do you have any plans for expansion in footprint?
Yes, definitely. We are expanding to Indian subcontinental countries and South-East Asia by 2020. Also, we will have a global presence by 2022.