Manas Shrivastava, Founder and Director, SolaireGen Energy Pvt Ltd

Please share in detail about the SolaireGen’s operations and projects.

SolaireGen Energy Pvt Ltd is a turnkey solar EPC company which is primarily into building rooftop and utility scale solar PV plants for customers who are looking to move away from expensive grid power to more sustainable, profitable and viable source of power. Headquartered in Bangalore, SolaireGen offers solar power solutions in both Capex and Opex business models. With Opex business model, a customer only needs to pay for solar power and free itself from the burden of capital investment.

SolaireGen delivers PV energy solutions that maximize the value of our customers’ PV investment while minimizing their risk. We meet our customers’ desire for greatest reliability, long-term performance and aesthetic integration. No matter which kind of roof—we always have the right solution.

SolaireGen currently boasts of installing solar power plants for finest institutions in India such as ISRO, TVS Group, Nippon and etc.

Can you shed some light on the company’s total cumulative capacity installed as on date and is there any kind of operational challenges from these solar plants?

SolaireGen has installed a cumulative capacity of 3MWp as on date and is expected to add another 2MWp within first half of this financial year. SolaireGen follows strict and highest engineering standards that focuses on energy yield in each project such that every project is profitable to our customer.

Did the India solar sector already reached its low in tariffs or is there any further scope Or will there be reverse trend in solar tariffs?

Tariffs in the Indian solar sector dwindled at considerable pace owing to reduction in prices of key components like solar PV modules, inverters and cheap sources of finance for the developers.

But the recent development of duties has cautioned the players in the market who have begun to factor these uncertainties in their overall calculations. On the other hand, negative measures are dampening the mood in the solar market such as awarded tenders being cancelled or no new projects being awarded. Take for example, the 500MW grid connected solar tender that was scrapped by GUVNL in which the tariff was 30 paisa more than the L1 tariff of a previous tender.

Share your views on how adoption of rooftop solar can be propelled in the country.

Indian solar industry witnessed a tremendous capacity additions and expansions in 2017. Indian solar industry is estimated to witness further improvement in the rooftop solar sector as well. New investments and the Government seeking to boost residential rooftop solar growth in 2018 should propel growth in favour of solar.

But investments alone will not push the solar penetration in the rooftop segment. Legacy systems and bureaucratic red tape have hobbled the process of receiving approvals for solar power projects. Authorities like the CEIG to Government and DISCOMs are often slow to respond and deliver the requisite approvals. Significant quantum of time is therefore spent just chasing the right office.

Also, a key segment, the residential solar, is held back due to the lack of familiarity with the process and the fear of red tape. People are still largely unaware of the financial incentives and attractive return on investment that a rooftop solar power solution can provide. Many people still perceive it to be a large upfront capital investment. Their misconceptions extend to fears of their roofs being unsuitable technically.

Eradicating lack of information and knowledge will be a key to whether or not the sector reaches its 2022 targets and begins the process of effectively replacing fossil fuels in Indian society and industry.

EPC companies are attempting to bridge these gaps through tools that scientifically estimate the gains of switching to solar power for users, and provide multiple financing options to reduce the initial capital burden. The regulatory framework also needs a swift overhaul to incentivise DISCOMs to act promptly, clear up GST confusion and streamline subsidy delivery to customers and credit delivery to private solar power developers.

Doing so would enable greater uptake of rooftop solar power by individuals, helping them access cheaper and more environmentally friendly power.

Usually rooftops of commercial buildings and manufacturing facilities are old and weak, installing solar panels would affect the life of the roof, what kind of due diligence is done before commissioning of such projects?

Many industries and commercial spaces were build years back and in many cases the roofs are unsuitable for installing a rooftop solar power plant. In all the cases that SolaireGen undertakes, our qualified civil and structural engineers evaluate the stability of existing roof and building structure and whether or not the structure is suitable to sustain the load from the rooftop solar power plant for its lifetime. As a double assurance, we request our valued customers to take an independent structural stability report from a qualified agency and make an informed decision.

What are your views on the current scenario of India’s solar sector?

The Government of India is committed to increased use of clean energy sources and is already undertaking various large-scale sustainable power projects and promoting green energy heavily. In addition, renewable energy has the potential to create many employment opportunities at all levels, especially in rural areas.

But duties such as anti-dumping and safeguard duty is causing a huge concern in the solar industry which is witnessing a slow down in the pace of projects being awarded.

What is your opinion on the anti-dumping and safeguard duties? Will this really slow down solar installation?

Although the imposition of duties will definitely hit the growth of the solar market in India but there is still not enough clarity whether or not these will be actually imposed. Last month, the DGS had recommended safeguard duty to be imposed for a period of 200 days in order to control imports of solar cells and panels and give a fillip to domestic manufacturers. However, a final decision is yet to be taken on the same.

The Madras High Court had put a temporary stay on implementation of safeguard duty and the timeline for the final decision is also not clear. Also, the fact that recently the industry association of solar cell manufacturers withdrew their earlier petition filed for anti-dumping duty in June 2017 and now plans to file a fresh petition is only adding to uncertainty.

This uncertainty is not just about the timeline but also over the quantum of safeguard duty that may be proposed. In this context, tendering activity for solar projects would continue to be impacted in our view, as also seen in the postponement of solar project bids in Maharashtra and Karnataka recently, and overall subdued trend of solar project awards since June 2017.

If indeed either duty or both are imposed, solar developers’ input costs are bound to rise sharply, forcing them to charge higher tariffs which may not beneficial for the industry overall.

How do you see the future of rooftop solar? What are your plans there?

Rooftop solar is one of the most price-sensitive and most crucial sub-sector to achieve the critical mass required to replace fossil-fuel based power generation, making solar the household name. For India’s renewable energy dreams to be achieved, it must engage more meaningfully and develop a positive, retail lead ecosystem that eases the process of adoption of rooftop solar in India.

As mentioned earlier, the Indian customer is still unaware of the benefits of solar and is largely worried from the capital investment and bureaucracy aspects. Hence, it is crucial that the solar industry collectively makes necessary efforts to educate the customer and develop this crucial segment.

SolaireGen is currently active in the commercial, industrial and education institutions rooftop market. We go the extra mile by offering rooftop solar to customers in Opex business model where customer only pays for solar power and is relieved from capital investment burden. I see further impact made in this space by SolaireGen. Recently, SolaireGen has started Opex Rooftop Solar Model offering to apartment societies with Bangalore as the launch city.

Recently you have installed rooftop solar power plant for India Nippon Electricals, can you share about the challenges and who were the solar panel and inverter partners for the project?

India Nippon Electricals is one of our marquee projects from which we feel extremely proud to have TVS group as one of our customers and to have shone well in all aspects. From an operational point, there were barely any challenges that SolaireGen faced primarily due to careful planning and the teams’ expertise. We used Vikram solar panels and Sungrow inverter in this project.

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