I Would Praise the Govt for Meticulously Planning and Executing Solar Policy in India: Nalin Sharma , VP Ecoppia Asia

I Would Praise the Govt for Meticulously Planning and Executing Solar Policy in India: Nalin Sharma , VP Ecoppia Asia

Nalin SharmaAs utility solar becomes competitive; companies are vigorously undergoing enhancements in efficiency and production. Automated systems and digital adoption is driving every corner of the industrial sector. In strive to automate the traditional and inefficient solar cleaning processes; Ecoppia’s robots are well poised to make a transformative effect in the perverse cleaning solution segment. The company’s autonomous and water-free solar array cleaning solution frugally keeps photovoltaic panels at peak performance, even in extreme geographical conditions. In talks with Niloy Banerjee, Associate Editor, Saur Energy International; Nalin Sharma, Vice President – Asia, Ecoppia illustrates on the canvas of this ground-breaking ‘automating’ revolution and also confabs on the prospects which are set to sweep the solar corridors.

Recently you joined Ecoppia as Vice President Asia, what are the top priorities to establish the operations in India?

To establish a company, you need 3 things: great people, great culture and good numbers, in that order. We are scouting talent from top tier colleges, people who have worked in international organizations and have a drive to bring a change in the world and make world a better place.

In addition, these people need to have a great product and great partners, hence, we are allying only with tier 1 vendor such as Kyocera, Panasonic, Texas Instruments and the likes. Also, for OEM we have chosen a fortune 500, USA based company, Sanmina.

Our vision is build a world class ecosystem for solar O&M – a cutting edge technology, tier 1 vendors and highly competent people – to give an unmatched experience to solar IPPs.

Recently we had a press briefing from your end that Ecoppia has launched its Make in India plan with Chennai plant. Will the company assembling the robots here or manufacture?

Ecoppia is very impressed with “Made In India’ drive of Prime Minister Modi and is very keen to support the same.

We are going to completely manufacture our robots in India. Our new Tamil Nadu plant is not only going to cater to India, but also to the Middle East. Infact, this plant is already operational and as we speak, our robots are getting shipped to Middle East for two of the biggest IPP players of the world.

Tell us something about Ecoppia E4 robots?

If you look at the complete value chain of the solar ecosystem, everything whether it is module or inverters has dramatically evolved during last 5-10 years. The modules earlier used to be 100 Watt peak, but now we are talking about 400 watt peak modules. Earlier module efficiency used to be just 11% now we are taking about 21-22% . Similarly, in inverters we are now talking about 1500V inverters. However, if we look at maintenance or O&M of the solar plants, specifically cleaning of the solar panels, we are still using the stone age manual cleaning where a person goes in with a water truck and then cleans panels using wiper.

Firstly, our attempt is to completely revolutionize the stone age O&M systems to a 21st century high tech, cloud based solution. Secondly, we feel that in today’s competitive world we should not waste even a single unit of energy; When you’re cleaning a solar plant with a 30 or 15 days frequency, soiling losses are huge. But with a system like Ecoppia, where cleaning is done on nightly fashion, the soiling losses can be reduced to almost zero.

As per World Bank, 79% of the new solar projects will come in arid regions, where you have lots of sun, acute water shortage and frequent dust storms. Post a dust storm, the efficiency of solar plant can drop by as much as 40% within a matter of minutes. In current competitive scenario a company cannot afford to take 15 days to bring plant efficiency from -30 back to 100% (which is the time manual cleaning with take). With a solution like Ecoppia, within a couple of hours, one can have immediate recovery with the entire plant getting cleaned and peak production getting restored. Additionally, the plant can operate at optimum production rates 365 days, throughout the year.

Dust is one thing; can Ecoppia robots solve the problem of bird droppings?

This is a question, which most of our client ask, because everyone is apprehensive on how effective and efficient the dry-cleaning is.

Our system can easily clean bird dropping. Additionally, even sand deposits (formed on panels when sand storms are accompanied by shower), can be cleaned with ease by our system. Ecoppia systems removes 99% of dust each day, everyday.  For example, say on day one you have 100 dust particles on a module, then on day two you will have just 1 dust particle left, and on day three you will have .1 dust particle left.  Again the next day 99% of this .1 dust particle will be cleaned.So one can imagine the kind of effectiveness Ecoppia will bring to the overall ecosystem.

I think another major issue which most of the solar plant owners are worried about is reliability; because in manual labor you never know what type of cleaning they would be doing, one day they are in good mood they would clean efficiently but next day the cleaning might not be up to the mark. But, with robots consistency in cleaning is guaranteed.

Can you shed some light on how much water is saved due to Ecoppia Robots?

If we go by the current statistics, the operating solar power plants in India are consuming 2.7 billion liters of water. Each panel on an average required between 2 – 3 liters of water per cleaning cycle. If we talk about 100GW, then Ecoppia can potentially save upwards of 200 billion liter of water, water critical for drinking.

Government has a pragmatic initiative of 100GW of solar power by 2022, how Ecoppia and its robots will make a change and help us to generate that?

For a world staring at acute water shortage, dry cleaning is the only way we can make the solar ecosystem sustainable and help achieve our Prime Minister’s vision of 100GW of solar installation in India by 2022. With a payback of less than 3 years, Ecoppia can help solar companies, operating at wafer thin margins, improve their bottom line significantly. This is the only technology which is bankable, i.e., our clients are taking 85% loans from major banking institutions.

The highly competitive solar landscape in India makes it indispensable for companies to ensure peak performance each day, every day. The overwhelming response from solar developers in India, known for strong ‘value for money’ bias, comes as no surprise to us.

Solar policy was conceived to make the energy mix more sustainable. So, if you look at the complete solar ecosystem the only thing which is not sustainable is the use of water & that is where Ecoppia comes in. We make the system completely maintenance free, water free, labor free and thus make the overall ecosystem more sustainable. When we talk about govt. initiative, what we have seen is government has taken very a positive approach for solar industry. Infact, I would like to praise the government for the manner in which everything has been rolled out, they have brought many experts into the panel, incorporated agencies such as Solar Energy Corporation of India. Mr. Rakesh Kumar has been doing great a job as involving with most of the solar IPPS and I hear praises wherever I go about SECI and MNRE official. MNRE and SECI are very approachable, proactive and prompt. They are very open to hearing out problems and more importantly to solving them actively. Therefore, I feel that Indian government has done a fabulous job when it comes to solar Industry.

Please share with us something about your market strategy?

Ecoppia as a company strongly believe in focus. We would be focusing on the top 10 – 15 players in solar industry and addressing large scale utility plants in arid regions. The response from the industry is nothing short of “amazing”. We have already received orders from many Tier 1 solar companies and are recognized as the gold standard for solar O&M.

You said you are not only manufacturing but you have started exporting your robots from Tamil Nadu facility …. Are you targeting SARC regions as well?

For next 18 months, we will be focusing on the Middle East and India only. Both these geographies have aggressive solar policies and lot of arid regions, which fits beautifully with our offerings.

To give you an idea on the kind of response we are getting in the Middle East, let us consider the harshest desert of the region – Arava Desert; three years back, 100% of solar plants in Arava Desert were on manual cleaning. Today 70% of solar plants are already on Ecoppia technology. We are confident of replicating similar success in India as well. ll.

What are the current researches happening in Ecoppia and what kind of new products we can expect in coming time?

Ecoppia is the only solar maintenance solution provider, which is investing heavily into research. The same is driven by the fact that, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO) was the R&D head of Israeli armory division at a young age of 29 and our system is already using technologies such as machine learning, which enables the robots to come up with  predictive maintenance schedule. The Ecoppia solution is capable to apprise in advance if a particular part needs replacement 6 months down the line. That has been a major reason, why in last 3 years, none of our sites required even a single manual cleaning!!

All the robots can be remotely controlled and managed via a desktop (internet) or mobile from anywhere in the world. That is to say, by sitting in New Delhi, you can control your fleet of robots in all parts of the world.

In India we have already deployed fixed tilt solutions, later this year we are installing seasonal tilt solution for a Fortune 500 company, and next year we would be introducing the tracker solution in India.

How Ecoppia robots can help us generate more power? In manual cleaning it has to be done in day time which might affect power generation. Do we have a facility that Ecoppia robots can work at night without hampering our day generation?

With Ecoppia robots, most of our clients are doing cleaning in a nightly fashion because in robots unlike a person you don’t need day light to clean. Hence it make sense to clean during nonproduction hours. It is completely remote controlled application which means one can run robots can be activated / deactivated through simple SMS from your mobile.  One can use desktop application to set time, say every day at 6:30 PM one can command robots go out for cleaning or can tie this with sunset or with any other schedule. What it does is, it makes the whole system more manageable because when you are talking about plants which are as big as 500MW it would be very difficult to track whether all rows are cleaned, so with Ecoppia robotic solution it would be very convenient for most of the COOs and asset managers to control the plant sitting in a room.

Please share what kind of investment that goes into installing Ecoppia robots and what kind of ROI it can generate? 

Investment can vary from plant to plant, because our system it is highly dependent on plant layout. Talking of returns, our Indian and Middle East customers have witnessed a payback anywhere between 2-4 years. To reiterate, the main payback comes from energy uplift which the IPP benefits from because here you are doing daily cleaning versus once in 30 days manual cleaning. Hence, generally here there is a significant uplift in the energy yield which leads to an attractive payback period.

What kind of warranty currently Ecoppia is giving?

The way we sell our system through CAPEX model and offer 25 year maintenance contract.  So it’s like plug, play & forget solution where everything is on Ecoppia, so for complete 25 year everything is taken care by the company.

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