Viz-A-Viz with Ramnath Vaidyanath, CEO, WiSH Energy

Q. To begin with, please tell our readers more about WiSH Energy and its contribution towards clean energy in India.

WiSH (Wind-Solar Hybrid) Energy was created for the sole objective of bridging the energy gap and making renewable energy accessible and affordable for all. Through constant innovation, research and human interaction, we are paving the way for cleaner, safer and sustainable ‘prosuming’ of energy. We do this by continuously striving to increase the global availability and accessibility of clean energy through highly customized, smart and integrated renewable energy solutions.

Ramnath Vaidyanath

Ramnath Vaidyanath, Chief
Executive Officer, WiSH Energy

Of the 1.4 billion people worldwide with no access to electricity, 160 million are in India, and 260 million people are still dependent on traditional, polluting, expensive and unsustainable fossil fuels for their energy needs. There is a tremendous push towards bridging this gap with renewable energy and until now, the focus has primarily been on capacity addition and not on last mile connectivity to the consumer. Enabling this change and providing access to sustainable, affordable and clean energy is our constant motivation.

Through decentralised distributed generation systems based on hybrid renewable energy generation, we want to take the generation to the consumer’s doorstep, instantly converting them into a “prosumer” – someone who can generate, consume and trade energy at their own premises. In this way, we make them independent of the grid.

Over its 30 year history, WiSH Energy has installed over 35, 000 wind, solar and hybrid installations across 40 countries, with a cumulative installed b a s e o f over 80MW. In India alone, we have completed over 300 projects, generated more than 6 MW and eradicated over 5 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

Q. Can solar micro grids prove to be a boon in achieving India’s aggressive electric vehicle targets?

The current target of making 15% of all vehicles electric by 2023, and 30% by 2030 is ambitious, and requires a lot of investment on creating the ecosystem for EVs to operate. This includes charging infrastructure, tariffs, charging protocols, amongst others. The current energy infrastructure is ageing and struggling with increasing demand and commercial losses.

Relying on this strained infrastructure to support such a large influx of electric vehicles will be next to impossible. Therefore, localised renewable energy in the form of microgrids will have a large role to play as sources of energy for EV charging stations.

The microgrid should ideally be a “hybrid” system, i.e., a combination of solar, wind and other available natural sources, rather than just a single source. This is because individual sources of renewable energy are limited in their availability at different times of the day and different months (seasons) of the year.

For example, wind speeds are highest early during mornings and evenings, while the sun is at its peak during the day. Similarly, summers have high solar energy potential while monsoons and winters have high wind energy potential.

By combining these sources of energy in a single system, not only do you get significantly more amount generation overall, but also more consistency over the course of a day, month and year. One of the biggest challenges with renewable energy is the low source availability, and hybridisation goes a long way towards increasing that.

Q. What are your suggestions to the Indian policy makers in order to achieve the target of ‘24×7 Power for All’?

  • Promote development of decentralised distributed generation and microgrids to supplement utility scale renewable generation and provide last mile connectivity to the end consumer.
  • Promote hybrid energy systems that utilise all the sources of energy that are available to maximise the renewable potential of a site.
  • Create a level playing field for all renewable energy sources. The current system is too focused on solar PV alone.
  • Establish a comprehensive and well-defined microgrid policy which provides a roadmap for the development of the sector. Currently there is a paradox between the government’s plan to extend the existing grid to disconnected communities and customers, while at the same time, pushing towards localised renewable generation at these places. Both cannot happen together. Create clear microgrid policies which will give confidence to financiers and investors to promote more investment. The financial ecosystem for renewable project is still quite nascent, which impacts the successful execution of projects.
  • Modernisation of the grid and replacement with smart grids that are dynamic and designed to take on intermittent renewable infusions. There are several challenges in adding a large amount of renewable energy to the existing grid, which is ageing and already over-strained.

Q. Kindly name a few successful micro grid projects of WiSH Energy?

WiSH Energy has executed a number of projects that have delivered value to both the public and private sectors. Some notable projects are listed below:

• Making resorts self-reliant: include a 30 kW system for a hill resort in Lonavala, Maharashtra, which did not have any grid connection and was totally reliant on diesel for its power requirement. This was expensive not only in terms of the cost of diesel itself, but the logistical cost of diesel delivery in such a remote location. By integrating the hybrid system with the existing generator, we managed to reduce their diesel requirements to almost negligible and the resort is now self-sufficient.

• Transforming & ‘Greening’ Fuel Stations: In line with their push towards reducing their carbon footprint, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) are aiming to “green” their fuel stations across the country with standalone hybrid power systems storage to take them completely off the grid. We have recently commissioned a 20 kW wind solar hybrid at their depot in Kognoli (Karnataka), which will serve as the model for their fuel stations across the country. We have also installed a smaller system for Indian Oil Corporation Limited at one of their stations in Kollam (Kerala), and are now looking to build larger systems for their other outlets.

• Street Lighting: We set up 110 wind-solar based street lighting systems in various locations in Assam, ranging from urban clusters to remote areas. Each RELight 1 kW hybrid LED street light system generates enough power for continuous operation, and has storage autonomy to power the street light for 2 nights even if there is no additional generation. This has resulted in energy savings of 40,000 units, or INR 2.4 lakhs, as well as carbon savings of 1.7 million tonnes every year. Most importantly, it has provided the local population with a reliable community lighting solution that enhances their safety and productivity.

• Powering the telecom sector: We have developed a unique solution for the telecom sector. It is well known that telecom towers are among the highest consumers of diesel in India, next only to the Railways. This is primarily because many telecom towers are in remote areas where the grid is either non-existent or unreliable, and since any downtime in tower operation results in severe financial implications for the telcos, all towers will have diesel generators as a backup. Over 40% of telecom towers in India are reliant on diesel for more than 12 hours a day, which massively impacts operational expenditure. Adding the logistical costs of delivering diesel to towers spread across remote locations, and the fact that 20% of the diesel is pilfered, energy expenditure is a major cause of concern for telcos.

WiSH Energy’s Power Tower Solutions use a unique, proprietary design to mount micro wind turbines on the existing telecom tower infrastructure. This saves space and costs, and the solutions can be integrated it with solar panels, storage and the pre-existing diesel generator to offer a 24/7 energy solution. Not only does this maximise the use of renewable energy, but it also reduces diesel consumption by using it only as a last resort. The potential savings for telcos, both from an economical as well as an environmental perspective, are tremendous. We have delivered a successful project for a Sri Lankan telco and are now working with Indian companies to roll out a similar solution across their remotely located towers.

Q. What do you think is the future of wind energy market in India?

India has tremendous wind potential, and we have already added a significant amount of large scale wind energy to the grid. However, these large plants have a significant footprint which poses a challenge for a country where land is premium. This is where offshore as well as microwind turbines will have a big role to play.

The microwind segment is still very small, but has the potential for application in sectors such as telecom, mountain and coastal communities, fuel stations, fisheries and street lighting. On the whole, with the combination of the right policies and continuous improvements in wind technology to make cut-in speeds lower, the future is very promising.

Q. In your view, what are the bottlenecks India’s net metering policy is facing on the ground?

The major bottlenecks for net metering are the additional financial strain that it places on the Discoms who are already struggling to reduce commercial losses. The other major issue with net metering is that it is currently limited in its scope, i.e., it is applicable only for rooftop solar PV systems. Maharashtra recently became the first state to extend net metering to all renewable energy sources, and we expect other states to follow suit. However, the current model is not sustainable, and we can see that from the falling feed-in tariff rates. One of the solutions to counter this could be the promotion of microgrids in a big way so as to allow trade of power between communities and individuals, rather than place the onus on the Discoms to pay.

Q. In current scenario, kindly provide some suggestions on how energy storage will become more affordable in India?

As with all technologies, affordability is linked to scale and volumes. With increasing renewable energy adoption, there is a parallel increase in demand for storage, and the costs are expected to decrease by 8% annually over the next 5 years. The planned increase in the number of Electric Vehicles will also greatly contribute to lower storage costs. Other than that, we at WiSH Energy are exploring means of storage that are not necessarily through batteries. These include hydrogen and pumped storage which have the advantage of reusability and longevity with no replacement costs.

Q. What are WiSH Energy’s expansion plans in next 2-3 years?

We have very ambitious plans to ramp up over the next 2-3 years. We are targeting specific sectors such as telecom and fuel stations, where our solutions can reduce operational expenditures by more than 90%.

We have also developed an extensive partner network in new geographies such as the Pacific region, Africa and South East Asia, and have already developed pilot projects in several of these locations. As always, we will continue to refine our existing product range and add newer products and solutions to our catalogue. We are partnering with some of the finest research institutions in India and overseas to jointly develop new and improved technologies. For example, we signed an MOU with National Aerospace Laboratories (CSIR-NAL) and have successfully designed and developed a wind turbine with a cut-in speed that is lower than 2 m/s. This turbine is now installed and we are monitoring its data. We will be commercialising it soon.

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