Viz-A-Viz with Damian Miller, CEO, Orb Energy

Q. Could you please tell our readers about Orb Energy and its journey?

NP Ramesh and I were colleagues at Shell Solar for almost seven years. After Shell exited the solar market in 2006, we secured venture funding and started Orb Energy (Orb) in India. By the start of 2007 we had started full-fledged operations in Karnataka. Since then we have been able to supply more than 160,000 solar systems, are present in 8 states, and have installed over 40MW of rooftop solar systems in India as of today.

Damian Miller

Damian Miller, CEO, Orb Energy in India

We launched as a provider of solar energy solutions – in both solar PV and water heating – for residential customers. Over time we have diversified our portfolio to include commercial and industrial sales of solar. As a result, about 70% of our revenue is today generated by commercial and industrial sales of rooftop solar (PV) systems and commercial-scale water heating systems.

The last four years have been particularly remarkable for us. Our rooftop solar systems sale has grown more than 100% year on year for the last four years. Two years ago, we launched our own in-house financing facility to cater to Small and Medium size Enterprises (SMEs) with a collateral free loan scheme. And in 2017 we also launched our own in-house production of solar panels – the plant has a capacity of 60MW and Orb expects to be at full capacity in 2018, and to double its manufacturing base in 2019.

Q. How does Orb Energy stand out in the solar market? How is your company different from others?

We provide a range of solar energy solutions to residential and commercial players. Our focus is particularly on Small and Medium Enterprises as they are a largely under-served part of the market. To enable SMEs to afford solar, we have set-up an in-house finance facility to provide extended payment terms to commercial customers who meet our credit criteria. Customers have a three to four year payback on rooftop systems and we aim as much as possible to match the tenure of the loan with their payback. We do this without asking our customers for any collateral, other than the rooftop solar system itself.

Also, what makes Orb stand out from the rest is the fact that we manufacture solar photovoltaic and solar water heating systems in-house to control quality and cost. The solar panel, solar thermal systems and module mounting structures are all manufactured at our plant in Bangalore. In this sense we are vertically integrated from manufacturing to sales and installation to finance.

Q. Orb Energy’s rooftop solar solutions for commercial and industrial customers reduce the cost. How do you justify this statement of yours? If possible please give us any case study.

The average cost of electricity, generated through conventional means, in India is approximately INR 7.40 per unit. With our rooftop solar systems, the cost of electricity can be brought down to under INR 3 per unit (when amortised over a 25 year period). This helps our customers avoid the exorbitant costs of obtaining electricity from conventional sources. This tends to give our rooftop solar customers a 3-4 year payback. Once paid off, customers are effectively generating electricity free of cost.

In our decade long journey, we have had the opportunity of working with various exciting customers with diverse needs. One such customer is Janatha, India’s leading Fish Meal and Oil Products manufacturer. Their fish-meal and oil-products business requires two megawatts of power and they plan to fulfil half of that through solar installations. Today, they have installed 1 megawatt rooftop solar system which helps them save around INR 50,00,000 (50 Lakhs) annually on electricity costs for the company.

Q. Given that India is riding high on solar energy, what does Orb Energy expect from the market?

Rooftop solar has a key role to play in helping the country reach its target of 100GW by 2022. As a company we focus on serving residential and commercial rooftop solar users. Among the commercial and industrial community, we specifically target small to medium size businesses, which contribute about 40% to India’s industrial output. Commercial and industrial SME’s struggle with rising power tariffs, as well as dependence on expensive and polluting diesel generators. SME’s are now getting comfortable with the idea that solar is now cheaper than grid electricity, and we are also providing them with a collateral free solar loan to be able to afford it.

Q. Solar water pump market is growing tremendously with lot of government support. You being one of the leading player, how do you plan to excel in this category?

The Central government has chalked out a remarkable plan to assist the solar water pump market. The INR 48,000 crore for the KUSUM scheme will ensure that farmers embrace solar water pumps. For an organization like ours, such a push from the government will enable us to penetrate deeper into rural markets.

Q. There have been aggressive and competitive biddings in India lately. How do you think Orb Energy copes with such scenario?

Orb is different to a lot of other players in the rooftop solar space. We generally do not participate in tenders. We like to go direct to the customer and convince the customer to adopt a rooftop solar system on the merits of the technology, our service, and our ability to bring finance to the table. It means that we are not as affected by the competitive bidding you see in the tender markets in India. That said, even when selling directly B2B, we see considerable price competition in the open market. As mentioned, we differentiate in several ways that serves to give customers the confidence to work with us at a price that is right for them and us as well.

Q. As of now Orb Energy has its presence in India only, do you have any expansion plans for other countries as well? What is the potential market you are eyeing on globally?

We began operations in Kenya in 2014. Our focus area in India and Kenya remains the same – residential and commercial customers. The global rooftop solar market will be worth an estimated $184 bn by 2025. This essentially means that we have an ocean of opportunities out there which require to be tapped into. For instance, we are also working on opportunities to supply high quality, cost-effective solar modules to USA.

Q. Your claim “Orb Energy’s solar panels do not have negative tolerance, as is the case with many of our competitors”, Could you please explain what do you mean by that?

This quite simply means that we do not sell solar modules that are less than their rated capacity. It has been a practice of others to offer +ve or –ve the rated power. We only offer the rated power +ve.

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