State, Central Level Policymakers Should Work Together to Set Standardized Guidelines

Although India does have a goal of renewable energy of 450 GW by 2030, it is not clear how this will be achieved in each state and what resources will make up the new energy mix at that time. By enabling a structure, it will allow Discoms across the country to prepare for this increase in solar energy in the grid as well as the reduction in fossil fuel-based energy. Our hope is that state and central level policymakers can work together to set standardized guidelines for solar rooftop, ground mount and open access installations that can support the boost in solar energy to meet our targets, believes K.R. Harinarayan, Founder and CEO, U-Solar Clean Energy, a solar EPC and developer company. In conversation with Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Saur Energy International, Harinarayan shared his views on various topics including the impact of coronavirus and lockdown, his company’s plan on entering into the residential solar segment, a tendering system in the country, government policy, etc. Here’re the excerpts from that exclusive interview.

Q. Shed some light on U-Solar Clean Energy, its contributions for the clean and green energy space in India.

Harinarayan

K.R. Harinarayan, Founder and CEO, U-Solar Clean Energy

U-Solar Clean Energy is a self-funded company, which has grown organically over the past 10 years since its incorporation in 2010. By investing our own money and revenue into the company we have been able to grow from a small residential solar installer to have a PAN India presence in the C&I solar segment. Till date, we have installed about 90MWp of rooftop and ground-mounted installations, which amounts to an off-set of about 1 lakh tonne of CO2. We are known for our detailed design and engineering capabilities in the market as we customise each of our solar plant to the client’s energy requirement. From the very beginning, U-Solar has had the vision to support the energy transition from fossil fuels and we have enabled many of our clients in doing so by off-setting their DISCOM energy demands through our captive solar installations. Our team is always looking for new ways to integrate solar energy at industries, commercial buildings, schools and colleges as well as residential spaces such as homes or apartments. An energy study that is a part of our preliminary technical assessment is done for each of our clients, regardless of the size or scale of their solar power requirement.

Q. As we know U-Solar is planning to enter the residential rooftop solar market in India, what encouraged you to enter into this segment?

When the company was founded U-Solar was doing only residential installations, which has been very important towards the growth of the company. We, therefore, have a lot of experience in the residential sector, specifically for battery-based systems for houses, villas and apartments across South India. In 2014 we had exited this market, as the time to acquire and educate a customer was extremely long as compared to the revenue we were generating. This was because of the size of the company back then and the lack of awareness of solar, however, we believe that now is a good time for us to re-enter the market. The times have changed, there is a lot more awareness for solar. As the company has grown we are now capable of selling and executing projects more efficiently. A residential project can be executed within 1-2 days using detailed engineering and advanced planning method, which has given us the confidence to scale up in the residential market. Our experience also ensures that we are able to execute solar for homes and apartments very efficiently.

Q. How much potential you see in the residential rooftop solar market in India as compared to the C&I sector in the coming years? Has Covid-19 made any impact on demand in the residential sector?

If we look at the Indian solar market, the largest chunk of it includes grid-scale ground-mounted solar plants which are 85-90 per cent and rooftop solar is relatively smaller in comparison which is very different from other countries where rooftop makes a larger contribution. Given the increase in awareness for solar power plants among home-owners and apartment dwellers coupled with the improved economics of installing a solar power plant as compared to back in 2010 – when it was only a nice to do sustainable option – solar is now cheaper than the grid power. Due to the sustainable and economic benefits, we estimate that more people will adopt solar in the residential market, it is a critical segment to increase the total solar installation in India. Additionally, the advancements in battery storage technologies are making solar energy more reliable as it can be used at night time as well. With the advent of Lithium-ion batteries, it is now more efficient compared with Lead-acid batteries (they have a longer life and lesser maintenance as well). U-Solar estimates that in the next 2-3 years Lithium-ion will be cost-competitive with Lead-acid batteries, which opens up a new solar configuration for residential solar power plants. Solar power plants are easy to install, technology is superior and therefore the installation is becoming more plug and play. The larger question is how the government will enable or support the adoption of solar for residential markets.

Q. Has coronavirus and lockdown across the country made any significant impact on the company operations? What is the current status of your projects that were under construction during a lockdown?

Yes, it is true that over the months of April and May our operations activities for a few of our installations were stopped midway. However, over the last few weeks work has resumed at optimal productivity rates across all of our sites. U-Solar hopes that it will continue this way, in fact – we have completed three rooftop installations after the lockdown was lifted and hope that this momentum will keep us going.

Q. What are your views on the tendering system in India? What could be the reason behind multiple extensions of tender submission dates? Is this the Covid-19 effect or other reasons are also attached to it?

The tendering system can be more transparent, especially post submission of the tender documents. We have seen a few cases where we have submitted all relevant documents for the tender and have no visibility on the selection process or stage of decision for over 3-4 months. Moreover, the basis for rejection of our bid for tenders is not always clear – we understand that this is not the responsibility of the tenderer but as a company growing in this space it would support us.

In addition, over the past few months, many tenders have been getting postponed perhaps 1-2 times over. This might be a combination of under-prepared tender documents or lack of technical feasibility done prior to tendering due to which low response is received. The lockdown imposed during for Covid-19 did make it difficult for a few EPC and developers to prepare appropriately, so we are glad that many tenderers have taken this into advisement. Still, however, there are a few larger tenders that have been re-tendered/postponed due to lack of effective document formulation, which is a time-consuming process for all stakeholders involved.

Q. During the current scenario, any key suggestions from your side for the policymakers which can help in boosting the solar sector?

It is imperative that solar policies are consistent across all states in India. Currently, each state has its own policy which guides the impact of solar installation growth for rooftop, grid-scale and open access. If the policies are standardized to a certain extent across India, it will make it easier for the transition towards clean and green energy as well as detail a plan to transition out of coal and another fossil fuel-based energy. For any country that has had a successful energy transition, there has been a national level intervention and plan set out to guide local bodies. Although India does have a goal of renewable energy of 450 GW by 2030, it is not clear how this will be achieved in each state and what resources will make up the new energy mix at that time. By enabling a structure, it will allow DISCOMs across the country to prepare for this increase in solar energy in the grid as well as the reduction in fossil fuel-based energy. Our hope is that state and central level policymakers can work together to set standardized guidelines for solar rooftop, ground mount and open access installations that can support the boost in solar energy to meet our targets.

Q. In a competitive market like India, new technologies are also required to be adopted by companies to remain in the competition. What kind of technological advancements U-Solar has adopted?

This varies for the type of market we are catering to as well as the types of load profiles. For example, with respect to the residential solar power plants, the installations are smaller in size so module-level monitoring, high-efficiency panels and added storage could improve the generation of the plant but for larger industrial solar power plants where the installation is across 1000 sq.m. roofs, it does not make sense to use such advanced technologies as it would dramatically increase the cost of the system. Also, if we compare two industrial clients looking to adopt 100 kWp solar power plants each but they both have varying energy profiles wherein one consumed more energy during the day from 7 am – 7 pm a simple rooftop solar power plant would be appropriate whereas the other consumes energy 24/7 with high diesel generator use we would offer a solar + storage system that can offset loads from the DG Genset. U-Solar has adopted a systematic process to determine the appropriate solution for each energy consumer and convert them into an energy prosumer (producer + consumer). Our partnerships with the various module and inverter manufacturers who are working on developing cutting edge technology allow us to select equipment and tailor-make a solar power system. By using Indian make modules such as Waaree, RenwSys, Adani, Vikram we are able to maintain high quality and service for our solar systems. Enphase, SolarEdge, Delta, GoodWe, Sungrow for industrial are a few of the top inverter manufacturers in the world we work with. U-Solar also loves innovation in technology integration – we, therefore, have successfully implemented solar + storage microgrids and building integrated photovoltaic projects. Although U-Solar doesn’t invent technology we ensure that we find ways to bring the best of the technologies available together for our clients.

Q. Do you have any plans for further expansion, investment or any new partnerships in next 2-3 years?

U-Solar is currently in the process of scaling up our asset ownership to add about 5 MWp in the coming year and grow our own portfolio as solar developers. As storage is the new buzz word in the market, all for valid reasons, we have the experience and expertise to expand our foothold within this space. U-Solar is actively looking at working with companies who have a high energy dependence on diesel to reduce their costs and use cleaner sources via. our solar + storage solutions. Our BIPV project has been a successful endeavour wherein approximately 5,000 sq.m. of a building façade is a solar power plant. Therefore, U-Solar is now working on increasing the commercial attractiveness by consulting with façade manufacturers to develop this solution. For both, we are in talks with a few clients with whom we hope to be in business with soon. U-Solar has also successfully developed a Partner Program which incentivizes, supports and nurtures our partners through the Channel Partner or Influencer Partner program. We are openly accepting offers to partner with all kinds of businesses who are in contact with our target market or can help us integrate technologies as a package across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Gujarat.

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Manu Tayal

Manu Tayal

Manu is an Associate Editor at Saur Energy International where she writes and edits clean & green energy news, featured articles and interview industry veterans with a special focus on solar, wind and financial segments.

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