Solar has shown me the right way, says Rahul Gupta, CEO, RaysExpert in an interview.
Says Rahul Gupta, CEO, RaysExpert, in conversation with R Srinivasan.
After graduating from
IIT Roorkee you started RaysExperts in 2011. Kindly comment on the journey, challenges faced, how they were overcome and learnings till date.
It has been more than seven years and the journey feels like it’s just the beginning. While people around me were preparing for IAS or CAT or MS or campus placements, I was busting my shoes in the hot barren deserts of Rajasthan, knocking door-to-door to arrange land for our first solar plant and I don’t regret one minute of not giving up to peer pressure. I didn’t know what was I meant to do but solar has shown me the right way, which makes me even more passionate about solar. The biggest fact I learnt and reflected during this journey is that hard work beats talent, every time.
Since the company and NDMC came together and solarised 32 schools, comment on benefits from educational institutions opting for solar.
It’s a great trend if it starts and I am hopeful that it will. Apart from tax incentives, savings, etc, the biggest benefit when educational institutions adopt solar is that we ensure we are now a part of the solar culture - which is our philosophy at RaysExperts. Imagine a kid learning that his school and house run on solar. This will automatically make him adopt solar energy when he grows up. After years of mismanaging our limited resources, we will finally be able to take the right decisions if this trend begins.
The company has executed some of India’s largest rooftop solar projects till date. Is the rooftop segment moving in the right direction and what lies ahead?
The segment is definitely growing. We will have to grow faster than the industry if we want to keep repeating our success. What lies ahead (apart from the big funding gap) is the accountability, accessibility, and ease of going solar. The government must take steps to improve the governance around solar policies so that transparent and rapid processes can be put in place.
The company has commissioned 200 MW across India with a presence across 15 states of India for solar. Your views on the call for different feed-in-tariff (FiT) for different states with higher insolation levels and the need for a consistent policy regime.
Different states have different policies and different methods, which is why difference feed-in-tariffs. While agreeing that the one nation, one policy regime will impact growth positively, it would be great if constraints from each state are taken into account so that it creates a win-win situation and a possible solution.
What does the company do to overcome the shortage of skilled manpower?
In solar you need skilled labour and skilled office teams and it is difficult to find good people to work with. On site we try to overcome this issue with our deep connections and networks in remote areas and also by hiring able and experienced site managers who can break down complex work into simple processes for the non-skilled labour. It’s all about having the right people around you. I don’t need 500 experienced and skilled people- just 20 skilled people can lead 500 less skilled ones.
Your views on solar power equipment manufacturers who are concerned about GST and how it may ultimately burden consumers.
Researchers at the Council on Energy, Environment,
and Water (CEEW) find that if solar components is categorised based on currently levied tax rates (including exemptions and subsidies), GST would impact solar tariffs minimally. However, if preferential tax benefits to renewable energy were not accounted, then GST could raise utilityscale solar tariffs by as much as 9.5%, hampering progress. Our fingers are crossed on further activities.
Solar has picked pace but distribution companies (discoms) 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. Will this suffice or suggest what the govt should do to restore confidence among developers and investors.
Though this is the right direction to act in, this is clearly not enough. Strict policies and introduction of penalties can help in ensuring that RPOs buy power. The math is simple, 100 GW will require a $100 billion investment in solar. This figure somewhat includes the cost of adopting solar per person or per GW. This cost is a result of the overlap between newness of the concept, in the exposure of the customer and the financial viability gap.
While most of the $100 billion is going to be financed by banks/ investors, the government will still need to invest at least $30 billion to achieve the target. While the total govt funding till date as incentives to adopt solar has not crossed $6 billion (20% of $30 billion while India aims to achieve 40% of our target by next year).
Your views on how the renewable energy push will adversely affect thermal power plants.
There is a reason why renewable energy is called ‘Alternative Energy’ and not ‘Complimentary Energy’. All the thermal plants that exist in India have a certain life, post which they will be rendered useless. Until that time they will keep producing power without any effect from renewables. The government is not going to reduce thermal capacity to increase solar. It will only set up solar much faster than it will set up thermal (in case solar really, really picks up).
Your views on large-scale deployment of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in India and the resulting benefits in a scenario of insufficient charging points.
I am a fan of electrical cars and await the day we see even one charging point. This year’s budget (just like last year’s budget) didn’t make any announcements wrt electric vehicles or charging stations. Though they are planning/ talking to set up a car factory with Tesla, chances of this happening anytime soon is very low. If what you are asking happens, solar will be a big winner (in the event of insufficient charging points or otherwise).
Solar trackers increase energy output by up to 25 per cent while reducing levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) risk. Apart from the cost, what are the other deterrents to their adoption? What incentives would lend impetus to this segment?
- Higher cost of maintenance
- Lower stability
- Need for more skilled labour Incentives:
Opening up incentives for the industry so that they can offer cost-effective technology and structural stability.
Kindly give details of how domestic manufacturing (in view of the Make in India programme) can save India over $42 bn by 2030.
$42 billion seems like a fancy and glorious number but we have to remember that China took 10 years to come out of the shabby and cheap quality perception of ‘Made in China’ products (Due to poor implementation in the first 10 years of Made in China policy). The key is simple - focus on quality and everything else will follow.
USA is a market leader in battery storage implementation. Your views on innovations for energy storage as opposed to the ‘use or lose it’ thought. Where is India in this regard?
It is said that the world’s first trillionaire will be a battery business owner. India is far behind the USA or other developed nations when it comes to storage capabilities. We should really work in this direction.