Interview with Naresh Mansukhani, CEO, Juniper Green Energy 

in an exclusive interview with Climate Samurai CEO of Juniper Green Energy  shares about the Factors Driving Growth, Key Challenges, and Juniper’s Role in Advancing Sustainable Solutions. Here is the excerpt

1. How has the Indian renewable energy market grown since Juniper Green Energy began operations in 2018? What are the key factors driving this growth?

Since 2018, the Indian renewable energy market has experienced significant growth largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the change in energy requirements of individuals. According to REN21 Renewables 2023 Global Status Report, India stands at 4th place globally in Renewable Energy Installed Capacity. This change has also been aided by favourable government policies, declining costs of renewable technologies, increasing investor interest, and growing environmental concerns. The country has seen substantial investments in solar and wind energy projects, along with advancements in energy storage solutions. Additionally, initiatives like the International Solar Alliance have bolstered collaboration and accelerated the adoption of renewable energy in India.

2. How have recent government policies and regulations impacted the development of renewable energy projects in India?

To support the Sustainable Development Goals and bolster its position in the global market, the Indian government has introduced some major policies National Tariff Policy 2006, National Electricity Policy 2005, National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) 2008 and Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) and National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). These policies have helped in providing incentives, streamlining approval processes, and setting ambitious targets. Furthermore, policies such as competitive bidding for project allocation and renewable purchase obligations for utilities have fostered a conducive environment for investment and growth in the renewable energy sector.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing the renewable energy sector in India today? What are the most promising opportunities you see for future growth?

The biggest challenges facing the renewable energy sector in India today include grid integration issues, land acquisition constraints, financing hurdles, and policy uncertainties. However, promising opportunities for future growth lie in technological advancements, particularly in energy storage solutions, which can mitigate intermittency issues. Additionally, fostering innovation in decentralised renewable energy systems and promoting cross-sectoral collaborations could unlock significant potential. Furthermore, leveraging India’s vast solar and wind resources, along with expanding the scope of renewable energy in areas like electric mobility and rural electrification, presents promising avenues for sustainable growth.

4. How has the level of competition changed in the Indian renewable energy market in recent years? What strategies are Juniper Green Energy employing to stay ahead of the competition?

In recent years, the level of competition in the Indian renewable energy market has intensified due to increased participation from domestic and international players. With growing demand and government support, companies are adopting various strategies to stay ahead. These include vertical integration to control costs across the value chain, such as manufacturing solar panels or wind turbines domestically. Moreover, companies are focusing on technological innovation to improve efficiency and reduce costs, thereby enhancing their competitiveness.

Additionally, diversification into energy storage is gaining traction along with a strong focus on operational excellence, project execution capabilities, and adherence to quality standards are crucial for renewable energy companies to differentiate themselves and succeed in this increasingly competitive market.

5. Can you elaborate on Juniper Green Energy’s current project portfolio? What is the mix of solar, wind, and hybrid projects in development?

Our business presently has an operational portfolio of about 1GW with an under-construction capacity of 1.5 GW and a development pipeline of close to 5.5 GW of solar, wind, and hybrid projects.

6. How is Juniper Green Energy incorporating new technologies and innovations into its renewable energy projects?

Keeping up with the times, Juniper Green Energy has been embracing new technologies and innovations to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of its projects. We are leveraging advancements in solar panel efficiency, such as PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) technology, which boosts energy production. Additionally, we have been integrating IoT (Internet of Things) devices and smart grids to optimise energy distribution and consumption. AI algorithms are employed for predictive maintenance, ensuring minimal downtime and optimal performance of wind turbines and solar farms. Furthermore, energy storage solutions like lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are being integrated to address intermittency issues. Collaborations with research institutions and startups facilitate the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, positioning Indian renewable energy projects at the forefront of innovation.

7. How has the financing landscape for renewable energy projects evolved in India? What financing strategies does Juniper Green Energy utilize? 

Earlier, securing funding for projects with a debt-to-equity ratio of 70:30 and repayment tenure of more than a decade was a challenge. However, with the maturation of the industry, lenders began to offer greater support by extending repayment tenors to 15 years and improving the funding mix to a 75:25 ratio. Presently, major lenders, encompassing banks, financial institutions (FIs), non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), and external commercial borrowing (ECB) lenders, evaluate projects with loan repayment structures of up to 85% of the power purchase agreement (PPA) tenor. They are willing to consider project funding with a debt-to-equity ratio of 80:20, based on the project’s financial performance.

An array of funding strategies is available, including long-term loan financing, ECB funding with tenors of 5-7 years, construction finance, and post-commissioning refinancing. From the lender’s perspective, construction risk looms large in renewable projects, unlike operational ones which carry lower risk in comparison to thermal or gas-based power plants. Consequently, many lenders favor long-term funding post-commissioning. Infrastructure debt funds specialize in funding projects with at least one year of operating history.

Initially, only a limited number of lenders were willing to bear construction risk. However, as lenders gained deeper insights into the industry, major banks (public sector undertakings, private, and foreign), along with leading FIs/NBFCs, have become more receptive to funding greenfield projects contingent upon the project’s financial viability. The Juniper group champions long-term funding for its assets, given their enduring power supply commitments. Consequently, all projects, both operational and under construction, are financed with repayment tenors ranging from 16 to 21 years from the date of commercial operation.

8. What are your predictions for the future of the renewable energy market in India? Is India ready to handle the e-wastes created by the renewable energy sector?

The future of the renewable energy market in India looks promising, with continued growth driven by supportive government policies, technological advancements, and increasing environmental consciousness. However, effective management of e-waste from renewable energy equipment will be critical. While India has made strides in e-waste management, there’s a need for stronger regulations, infrastructure development, and awareness campaigns to ensure proper disposal and recycling. With proactive measures, India can mitigate the environmental impact of e-waste and sustain the momentum of its renewable energy transition.

9. How does Juniper Green Energy plan to contribute to India’s clean energy goals in the coming years?

Juniper Green Energy is an independent renewable energy power producer and operator of solar, wind, and hybrid power projects with significant experience in conceptualizing, building, and developing renewable energy assets.

Since inception, our vision has been to lead the renewable energy space and enable the nation with effective sustainable energy solutions in the most socially responsible manner. To achieve our goal, we have been committed to innovation and technological advancement in the development of renewable energy assets, both domestically and internationally. Simultaneously, we are dedicated to upholding the highest benchmarks of quality, safety, and environmental sustainability, ensuring that these standards remain uncompromised. Moreover, we prioritize social responsibility and continually strive to enhance the well-being of the communities in which we operate. Finally, we aspire to be an employer of choice, fostering a culture of trust, collaboration, and transparency to attract and retain top talent within our organization.

10. Is there anything else you would like to share about Juniper Green Energy’s role in the Indian renewable energy market?

Juniper Green Energy has come a long way from the first solar power plant in Maharashtra to 5 solar and 3 wind projects along with several more in the pipeline. Throughout the years, we have made sure to develop our projects in the most sustainable way by saving more than 120 mL of water every year and employing robotic cleaning methods to ensure the waterless cleaning of solar assets. Through our projects, we have also provided gainful employment to more than a thousand localities and we are dedicated to empowering communities within the operating areas.