Husk Power Plans To Commission More Mini-Grids In India: William Brent (CMO)

Highlights :

William Brent is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Husk Power Systems, based in Spain. In his recent visit to India, William talked exclusively to Saur Energy and talked about the journey of the solar mini-grid operator and its future plans. Excerpts from the interview:

Husk Power Plans To Commission More Mini-Grids In India: William Brent (CMO) Husk Plans To Commission More Mini-Grids In India: William Brent (CMO)

How did the journey of Husk Power Systems start?

Husk Power’s journey started around 2008 with its co-founder, Manoj Sinha, and other like-minded people from Bihar. At that time, rural electrification was a major issue in India and states like Bihar. Husk came into the picture to ensure that the unserved communities in those areas got access to electricity. 

We started with utilizing waste biomass in Bihar to produce electricity. Bihar was known to produce crops like paddy and generate biomass waste. So, we started with the idea of converting waste into gas. This gas was used to produce electricity. That was the genesis. 

How you moved from biomass-based power generation to mini-grids

After around six years, the government was seen pushing for the grid extension. Subsequently, the solar prices came down considerably. In 2014, we realized that the waste biomass solution could not be scaled up appreciably because it could not provide 24×7 electricity to the communities. 

We also realized it was not a viable business model as it was not creating enough revenue. Manoj took over as the CEO in 2014 and pivoted the business. In the last 10 years, the firm has transitioned to a solar plus battery mini-grid operator. We built our own mini-grids. Husk Power typically puts in transmission poles and lines upto 5 kilometers. The business and technology have evolved, too. 

What new elements have you tried to offer to your consumers?

We also had to think about creating consumer demand to ensure that the mini grids become viable. We added a financing part to it. We also gave impetus to our EPC capacity. Husk Power tried to target the rural Commercial and Industrial (C&I) consumers there to use these mini-grids. We tried to make our presence in these local areas and stationed our manpower there. On average, now we have around seven employees working on each of our mini-grid. 

Looking ahead, we are scaling up our energy services around agro-processing hubs and electric mobility. We also tried water as a service. So with time, we have evolved in terms of technologies and business models. We have taken the learnings from India and exported them to Africa.

You have a presence in Africa, too, besides India. How different is working in India and Africa?

Both the markets are different. For example, in India, most of our business is confined to mini-grids, while we offer more off-grid solutions in African countries. In India, our interventions through mini-grids allowed the MSME consumers to shun diesel and save up to 30% of their power costs by shifting to clean power generated from our solar mini-grids. 

What kind of consumers have you served in UP and Bihar, your main strongholds?

Husk Power mainly serves rural MSME consumers in these states. These included– furniture manufacturers, small factories, bread-making institutes, banks, government offices and others. Let’s take a case of a furniture-making shop of 3 people. Our interventions allowed them to increase their revenues by means of adding more machines as our reliable and quality power empowered them to run machinery uninterrupted. 

In some areas, the consumer might get grid power at a cheaper rate. Why does your consumer still opt for solar power?

The main advantages and attractions of the solar power from our mini-grids are reliability and quality. The small businesses in these areas preferred our products. We ensured no voltage fluctuations, more reliability, access to more monitoring of their usage, and much more, which the grid power in those areas failed to do so. This ensured enough off-takers for us. We now have 200+ mini-grids in India. Husk Power have now aimed to ensure a total of 350 mini-grids in India by the end of this year. 

Do you plan to expand your solar business in India?

Besides Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, we have a presence in other states, too, like Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. In terms of appliance sales and financing, we can span across India. We are there in UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for rooftop solar. We are planning to expand further in more states. There is also enough space for the mini-grid business. 

If we see the Indian power market, it is exciting. There is now a virtual net metering concept in India; there is a public partnership between the mini-grid operators and discoms. Husk Power is looking for more partnerships with discoms. UP and Bihar will be our focus for mini-grids but we are looking aggressively in other states. We are also working under the PM-KUSUM scheme. We have targeted to have 5000 mini-grids globally by 2030, which will be in India and Africa. 

Why do you think many solar mini-grids fail in India?

This depends on the ownership of these projects, too. Many mini-grids started in India were owned by governments or came through CSR projects. The Operations and Maintenance (O&M) part was never factored into it in many cases. Many of these, while ensuring supply, failed to take care of the demand side. A lot of work is needed on the demand size. But let me make it clear that these projects are not confined to India alone but global issues. Private mini-grid firms like Husk Power can come into the picture and make it more reliable for consumers and suitable for projects, too. In India, besides Husk Power, there are many others working on the mini-grid front. We have Tata Power, OMC, and others who are interested in the solar mini-grid business.  

What are your future plans?

We plan to extend our work to more Southeast Asian countries and regions in the Sub-Saharan countries. We also want to expand solar mini-grids in India and aim to have 5000 mini-grids globally by 2030.

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