Ignored in the Budget, The Renewables Sector Needs Marketing Lessons

With the ‘Interim’ Budget finally, behind us, it’s a good time for the renewables sector to take a look at just why the sector was ignored, more or less, when it comes to any major policy announcements in the budget. Of course, blaming ‘interim’ would be an easy way out.

Renewables Sector Ignored

It’s clearly not a case of being insignificant with a small impact, as the repeated references to renewables as an area of achievement, and future plans, be it for electric vehicles or 100% electrification, indicate.

The fact of the matter is that the renewables sector, particularly solar and wind, have not really been ‘sold’ to the people. This is a direct outcome of the massive policy overhang on the sector, dependent as it is on regular interventions, be it subsidies earlier, or duties now, when it comes to manufacturing. However, on both these issues, the amounts involved have simply not been large enough, or results visible enough, to make an impact with public consciousness. Unlike say the breathless attention regularly paid to the EV sector say, which is much smaller, but thanks to its connect with the auto sector, gets disproportionate time and attention from mainstream media and more. Like say, the fertiliser sector, which is also embroiled in a policy mess, but gets its clout from sheer size and impact on a critical and emotive area like food production, the renewables sector needs to sell its role for future generations better.

The MNRE also needs to consider if they have done a good job of communicating the impact Renewables are actually having on the ground. This writer, on a short trip to Bhadla in Rajasthan, the site of one of the larger solar parks with a commissioned capacity of close to 1800 MW on the date,  witnessed a sea change in the condition of the local population, as well as the level of economic activity. Besides direct employment in maintenance works, there have been other significant changes like hotels mushrooming up, cab services etc. The annual migration of villagers in the area to the cities for work has also been cut down drastically, thanks to the new employment opportunities created. The similar impact has surely happened in other large parks coming up too, but we rarely get to see that side of the story. One would imagine, even politically, this would make sense, considering the 5X multiples this government added on the original renewable commitments of 2009-10.

We have all seen how blatantly ‘illegal’ services like cab aggregators whose whole existence fell afoul of the law as it existed then, whose status even today remains in limbo in some states, finally got acceptance and even got welcomed on the back of the sheer number of jobs they created. And the economic boost they provided to the auto sector.

The renewables sector, rather than being highlighted for the potential impact they could have to prevent further damage to the country’s environment and resources, has today been herded into a battle to drop rates and build to a template dictated by the government. That is a recipe for indifference and being kicked around like a political football. Not to mention stagnation in terms of innovation, suicidal in such a sunrise sector.

The recent tender for the J&K set up, for 7.5 GW showed just how responsive the government can be, if you look at the many relaxations the tender has, besides of course fresh new conditions on financial size and efficiency. But how many people have discussed this in detail? Or the motivation for the new changes?

Today, we can safely say that literally hundreds, if not thousands of firms are part of the renewables bandwagon, creating both direct and indirect jobs and livelihoods for millions. But considering that, the clout the industry enjoys is probably way less than a single PSU like say, Coal India.

Its time the sector, with its multiple associations and lobby groups looked back and focused on at least a common programme of communicating its impact more effectively, to stakeholders beyond just the government. With price parity vis a vis conventional generation a reality today, the government, in any case, needs to find a way to let the industry bloom on its own soon when market forces become the sole arbiter of success. Succeeding in that situation will not happen without a clear, cohesive communication that truly lets potential customers look beyond just price and savings when making the call for renewables.

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