Dr. Gundu Sabde, Founder & CMD, RelyOn Solar Pvt. Ltd.

Established in 2010 with a handful of employees, how has been the journey for RelyOn Solar so far and what were the challenges? 

In 2010 we started in distributed solar power generation with only 4 employees in a small office in Pune. Today we have grown to 162 employed across 16 states. This growth is fuelled by the continuous efforts of our team and increasing growth of the solar industry. Over the years the government has also made several initiatives to fuel the growth of renewables but the distribution and grid stability have yet to improve. As the renewable content continue to increases this will be a major issue. Also, financing of rooftop solar continue to be a hurdle, banks are yet to open up and provide easy financing schemes. Along with this domestic manufacturing has still not picked up. Indian manufacturers are yet to perform and there are many quality issue connected to Indian manufacturers.

How does RelyOn Solar see the solar energy market and what has been its key focus areas?

RelyOn solar being a technology company has strived to continuously improve the efficiency of solar power systems to increase the acceptance of solar energy not because of its environment-friendly but because it’s actually a more viable option. RelyOn has always stayed at the forefront transforming the energy landscape with its customized solutions focusing on consumer needs including leakage proof solar roofs, solar car park, solar airports , DG and UPS synchronization and advanced storage for off grid solar solution. We continue working on 24 hours renewable solutions which include not an only adaption of advanced storage but also interrogation of differs renewable sources in order to minimize the storage requirement and assure a 24 hours supply of renewable power. Other than that recently we are also focusing on launching a series of innovative technologies including single axis trackers and SCADA monitoring system to enable large-scale adaptation of solar power. There is still quite high percentage of solar components being imported today and hence there is a great opportunity to increase domestic content through technology innovations.

Recently you have launched SCADA – Advanced Monitoring System, can you share more about the monitoring system and it’s USP.

RelyOn SCADA is an Advance Monitoring system built on IOT platform to help monitor the health of Solar power plants and is capable of Real-time data acquisition and analytics. With historical data collection and analysis, it can assist in creating customized charts and performance analysis. The product assists the users in decision-making through trend and data analysis to improve the Plant performance. In case of any plant issues, the user can directly check the origin from across the world and take necessary action. This helps in increasing the plant uptime and hence improves the generation of plant. It’s also a great tool for optimizing O&M. The system is capable of maintenance scheduling and tracking making it easier to keep the process on track. This launch is an effort towards building a tool to take solar closer to assured power with the development of accurate forecasting and prediction capability. Through enhancement of SCADA platform, we will develop energy forecasting and day ahead prediction capability.

As the solar industry is growing increasingly competitive today viability of projects is dependent upon increasing the output of the plant. With RelyOn Solar’s SCADA you can stay competitive and improve project returns, reduce operating costs and lower the LCOE.

What are the current quality issues in PV modules and trackers? How should they be resolved?

Indian solar industry has seen severe nosedive in tariffs which means lower and lower EPC costs. This often leads to corner cutting leading to compromise in quality. People say you can get a solar panel/ module at a price you want and this has a consequential negative impact on quality of modules.

The commonly observed quality compromises are in terms of hotspots, microcracks, and degradation of the back sheet of the solar module.There are also only a few number of experts who have knowledge of specifying and testing solar modules in order to ensure its 25 years of life as per its generation curve. this also leads to quality issues.

In the past Tracker, technology has been seen as a high upfront cost with installation complications and increased maintenance cost but good tracker technologies are actually less complicated and robust with minimal maintenance. RelyOn single axis row tracker is one such tracker with a robust gearbox and DC motor design for each row which allows adaptive backtracking of individual row thereby increasing the output. With frictionless bearing and gearbox that is meant to provide more than 25 years of life, the key components are virtually maintenance free.The tracker also has 120 panels installed on single tracker unit as compared to industry average of 60 panels and up to 23 % increase in generation. In this industry Its important that installation complication and maintenance cost be considered when considering a good tracker technology.

What areas of quality standards require improvement in solar?

The quality standards in solar projects are too generic, while there are specifications for the bill of material that goes into solar PV plant there is either no benchmark or no assessment of EPC companies. Since the field is still in early stage (just above 5 years) we see mushrooming of EPC companies.It often becomes practically impossible for the customers to decide on the choice of EPC companies, the shortcut often being taken is to award the contract to the lowest bidder. This is a major concern for the industry.

According to Eco Survey 2017-18, tariffs have gone down to a level where projects can be unviable. Please share your view on the same?

The lower and lower tariffs are supposed to be a combination of excessive competition but more so with the speculation of reducing prices of solar modules. It is true that these low tariffs are looking unviable due to rising trend in the prices of solar modules and moreover, each project has unique conditions in terms of scope of work, land, ROW(right of way) issues and payments clarity etc. Hence it is unfit to compare tariff at one place to be applicable to the other but a comparison is bound to happen overlooking these differences.

The Director General of Safeguards (DGS) has proposed imposing a 70 % safeguards duty. It is been said that this will significantly damage the solar industry. What is your view ?

The anti-dumping imposition will definitely hit the growth of the solar market in India. Solar will become more expensive with increased panel prices and the investors might lose confidence in solar. Sure this will support domestic manufacturing by giving a short-term boost but in the long run, but they will also be hit by declining solar demand. The duties are also going to harm domestic module manufacturers, who are almost dependent on cell imports mainly from China. These will become increasingly difficult to sell in India but at the same time, this may lead to increasing exports markets. The Indians manufactures who have cell manufacturing in India will benefit.

Even with increased domestic manufacturing, the quality of panels will be questionable since Indian cells don’t have a long history of performance. Foreign investors will definitely be concerned with the performance of Indian cells when the entire future capacity of India is to be built on the Indian cells.Furthermore, when Gov has an ambitious plan of reaching 100GW by 2021 these duties don’t make sense, this is going to slow down the growth of the industry. For improving domestic manufacturing it’s important that Indian manufactures rise up to the global industry standards not only in terms of quality but performance and other factors instead of this protectionism.

What is your assessment of this year’s budget as far as the renewable energy sector is concerned?

This year’s budget honestly did not offer quantum benefits to solar industry.Steps like reinstating accelerated depreciation and tax benefit on the sale of electricity could have been instrumental in providing a further boost to this industry.

(This Interview was originally published in March issue of Climate Samurai)