In­dia can eas­ily go up to 100 GW in rooftop so­lar alone, says Ga­gan Ver­mani, founder, MYSUN, in an in­ter­view.

Says Ga­gan Ver­mani, founder, MYSUN, in con­ver­sa­tion with R Srini­vasan.

Power Watch India - - CONTENTS -

Schools, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, on­line mar­ket­place Snapdeal ware­houses and now ashrams are go­ing so­lar. Your views on how data cen­ters (that are huge power guz­zlers and have large rooftops) could em­u­late IBM’s ex­am­ple and adopt so­lar.

With so­lar prices hav­ing dropped sig­nif­i­cantly, a ma­jor­ity of en­ergy con­sumers across con­sumer cat­e­gories stand to make huge sav­ings on their en­ergy bills by go­ing so­lar. In fact, com­mer­cial en­ergy con­sumers pay the high­est tar­iff amongst all elec­tric­ity con­sumers. Data cen­tres can eas­ily be called en­er­gyguz­zlers. Not only do they need the power to run the high-volt­age DC com­put­ers and stor­age sys­tems, but they also spend a lot on air-con­di­tion­ing due to the heat dis­si­pated by this equip­ment. There­fore, the power cost be­comes a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the over­all op­er­a­tional cost of a data cen­tre. More­over, in the case of grid power, one needs to con­vert AC to DC to run data-cen­tre loads. This con­ver­sion is highly in­ef­fi­cient, and a lot of en­ergy is con­sumed in this process. So­lar is ideal to cater to this need. So­lar PV pan­els pro­duce DC out­put, and they in­te­grate with other power sources, in­clud­ing grid and backup power. More­over, the sun shines brightly in most parts of In­dia. So, adopt­ing so­lar re­sults into a highly re­li­able source of en­ergy with huge sav­ings for data cen­tres.

The coun­try is to in­stall 700 MW of rooftop PV in 2016. While it sounds great on pa­per, kindly elab­o­rate on chal­lenges that the in­dus­try will en­counter along the way and what you would sug­gest for the same.

The big­gest chal­lenge is to con­vince con­sumers to go so­lar as they have a lot of ap­pre­hen­sions. Once that is done, find­ing the right so­lar in­stall­ers or devel­op­ers is another chal­lenge as there is a lack of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion in this seg­ment of the so­lar in­dus­try. Grid in­ter­con­nec­tion is­sues such as de­lays in net-me­ter­ing or other dis­com ap­provals slow down the pace of so­lar de­ploy­ment. The avail­abil­ity of fi­nanc­ing is another chal­lenge. For so­lar devel­op­ers, one of the big­gest chal­lenges is the con­tract com­pli­ance risk as they take the risk of their cus­tomers de­fault­ing on pay­ments. We need to put more fo­cus on cre­at­ing de­mand, in ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple and then mak­ing it eas­ier and risk-free for them to buy so­lar. Net-me­ter­ing, even though adopted by many states, is still very slow on the im­ple­men­ta­tion front. That needs to be ac­cel­er­ated. And dis­coms should be made a party to so­lar power-pur­chase agree­ments so that the con­tract com­pli­ance risk can be min­imised.

What fac­tors pre­vent net me­ter­ing from tak­ing off in Ma­ha­rash­tra as in other states?

The chal­lenges are al­most uni­form across states. Many states have an­nounced Net Me­ter­ing poli­cies but the big­gest chal­lenge is bring­ing the dis­coms on board, stream­lin­ing ap­proval pro­cesses and defin­ing a time-frame and tar­get MWs. Be­cause of this, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of net-me­ter­ing has not been ef­fec­tive. Net-me­ter­ing is a great con­cept to feed-in ex­cess so­lar power gen­er­ated back to the grid. An ef­fec­tive pol­icy should in­clude a con­crete im­ple­men­ta­tion mech­a­nism with quan­tifi­able short-term

and long-term tar­gets. The ob­jec­tive should also be to make it has­sle-free for con­sumers to ap­ply for this fa­cil­ity, just like a sim­ple on­line ap­pli­ca­tion.

Com­ment on ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the re­cent World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO) rul­ing.

The re­cent fi­nal rul­ing by WTO ask­ing In­dia to do away with DCR pol­icy im­pacts the us­age of so­lar mod­ules, which con­sti­tute al­most 50% of the cost of a so­lar sys­tem. In fact, with tier 1 mod­ule prices falling to sub-$40 cents level in global mar­kets, it is against the in­ter­ests of mil­lions of en­ergy con­sumers in In­dia to pay a hefty price just to pro­tect the financial in­ter­ests of a few In­dian mod­ule man­u­fac­tur­ers. In a way, if this DCR pol­icy had con­tin­ued, In­dia would not have seen so­lar en­ergy prices drop­ping close to Rs 4/kWh. The pro­tec­tion­ist DCR re­quire­ment was a short-sighted ap­proach. In­stead, In­dian so­lar man­u­fac­tur­ers should be sup­ported by other means like cheaper elec­tric­ity, fi­nanc­ing and work­ing cap­i­tal sup­port, tax breaks/ex­emp­tions, etc. In the long run, In­dia should fo­cus more on be­ing the low­est cost pro­ducer of so­lar elec­tric­ity so that its long-term goals of af­ford­able and qual­ity power for all are met.

So­lar has picked up pace but dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies are re­luc­tant to pur­chase so­lar in light of low power de­mand and cheap power avail­abil­ity on ex­changes. MNRE is mulling a $400 mil­lion fund to pro­tect clean en­ergy pro­duc­ers from pay­ment de­lays by dis­coms. Also your views on fund­ing sup­port from banks and on dump­ing of lower cost mod­ules from China and Tai­wan.

Yes, the power avail­abil­ity sit­u­a­tion on the ex­changes has im­proved a bit and there­fore, dis­coms are try­ing to avoid buy­ing so­lar power. But this is a short-sighted ap­proach only to man­age day-to-day power costs. The dis­coms need to take a long-term view on so­lar more so as the cost of so­lar has come down vis-a-vis coal-based power if we go by some of the re­cent bid­dings. Also, they need to go fully dig­i­tal for ef­fi­cient grid man­age­ment so that they have the flex­i­bil­ity to use the cheap­est power avail­able de­pend­ing on the time of the day.

The fund­ing from banks has been good for so­lar when it comes to util­ity-scale so­lar power plants. How­ever, due to con­tract com­pli­ance risks and small ticket sizes, banks have been a lit­tle hes­i­tant in the rooftop so­lar seg­ment. GOI has given so­lar pri­or­ity sec­tor lend­ing sta­tus but in prac­ti­cal terms noth­ing much has hap­pened there.

The is­sue of dump­ing of lower cost mod­ules has been grossly over­stated. Most of the so­lar in­dus­try stake­hold­ers to­day un­der­stand the im­por­tance of us­ing re­li­able so­lar pan­els. Al­most 9 out of the 10 largest so­lar panel man­u­fac­tur­ers to­day are con­trolled by Chi­nese com­pa­nies. Buy­ers need to avoid get­ting very ag­gres­sive on their pric­ing tar­gets as this com­pro­mises the qual­ity.

Gover­nor Brown has com­mit­ted to hav­ing over 1.5 mil­lion elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EVs) on the road in Cal­i­for­nia by 2025, and the state is work­ing to en­sure that there will be suf­fi­cient EV charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port it. Your views on largescale de­ploy­ment of EVs (adopt­ing so­lar charg­ing sta­tions) in In­dia and the re­sult­ing ben­e­fits.

A lot has hap­pened on this front in the US in the last cou­ple of years. Tesla is a great learn­ing ex­am­ple for the rest of the world. In­dia too has started its jour­ney with EVs through cars such as Reva along with wide­spread pro­mo­tion and us­age of thou­sands of e-rick­shaws. Purely from the im­pact on pol­lu­tion and air-qual­ity in In­dia, EVs make tremen­dous sense. How­ever, we need to eval­u­ate the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of the same in In­dia. Since stor­age costs are still high, it may take a few years be­fore we will see a flood of EVs on the In­dian roads. And we fore­see so­lar-pow­ered charg­ing sta­tions to be the per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment to these greener EVs.

As a new so­lar ven­ture, your views on whether the In­dian rooftop seg­ment is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion and what lies ahead for the sec­tor in the years to come.

Hav­ing seen the growth of so­lar in In­dia, and the as­so­ci­ated chal­lenges too, over the last 8-9 years, we cre­ated MYSUN as a plat­form to drive the de­mand for so­lar among con­sumers and make it eas­ier and af­ford­able for con­sumers to adopt so­lar.

We re­alised that non-util­ity so­lar, even with a 40 GW tar­get by 2022, wasn’t go­ing any­where. Cus­tomer de­mand is low and the in­dus­try is strug­gling to find the right busi­ness mod­els. There is a lack of trust on so­lar, and peo­ple are unaware that they too can use and ben­e­fit from go­ing so­lar.

Our an­a­lysts and en­gi­neers have mapped the en­tire coun­try, pin-code-wise and con­sumer-wise, and have de­vel­oped elab­o­rate al­go­rithms to give an un­bi­ased and rel­a­tively easy yet ac­cu­rate so­lar as­sess­ment to any­one liv­ing in In­dia, whether for res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial or in­dus­trial use.

Our pan-In­dia re­search shows that so­lar makes great financial sense for a ma­jor­ity of con­sumers with monthly bills as low as Rs 2000 per month across most parts of our coun­try. If we can cater to all this de­mand, even ac­count­ing for the fact that not ev­ery­one will have ac­cess to a rooftop to in­stall so­lar, In­dia can not only meet the 40 GW tar­get but eas­ily go up to 100 GW in rooftop so­lar alone.

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