Interview: Manu Karan

Vice President – Business Development at CleanMax Solar

Mr. Manu Karan discusses about Indian Solar Sector and its opportunities & challenges

June 24, 2019. By News Bureau


Que: How do you see India's journey in the solar industry over the last 10 years?

Ans: The solar industry in the last 10 years has seen drastic changes and evolution. While the adoption in the first few years was not considerable, the last 5 years have seen speedy growth. This growth is attributed to the favorable policies from MNRE and SECI as part of National Solar Mission of 100 GW by 2022. While most of the capacity installations has come from utility-scale projects through government tendering, we believe that the open access solar and rooftop solar for commercial & industrial (C&I) consumers have been witnessing more consistent growth, which is based primarily on compelling economic proposition to consumers. There have also been landmark judgments from APTEL and all the courts of law supporting the rights of consumers to source power directly from captive plants and 3rd party IPPs. This has boosted investor and consumer confidence in creating more solar capacity in these models.

Que: What kind of market share does CleanMax Solar enjoy in the Indian solar market?

Ans: CleanMax Solar is India’s largest provider of solar electricity to corporate. Since 2011, we have installed more than 400 projects for over 120 corporate, with a cumulative capacity of more than 520 MW of solar power capacity. This includes 190 MW of onsite or rooftop projects and 330 MW in open access solar farms. The company enjoys market leadership in the C&I segment with market shares of 17% in rooftop and 9% in open access solar as of March 2018 (As per BTI 2018 report). Recently we were ranked No. 1 rooftop solar installer by Mercom for 2018.

Que: What kind of challenges exists for solar developers in India's open access niche?

Ans: The open access segment is highly regulated, so adoption rate depends state government policies. For consistent growth we need long term and stable policies in open access, so that there enough clarity for both developers and consumers. In some states in India, the possibility of projects getting approved is nearly impossible. For example, in Rajasthan, they were back and forth on policy, but ultimately no open access for group captive solar projects has been approved. In some other, smaller states such as Delhi and Puducherry, open access has practical difficulties. Additionally, customers always take considerable time to evaluate opportunities before adopting solar through open access. These are some of the challenges that have resulted in the adoption of open access.

Que: India is still far away from its 40 GW rooftop solar target. What is stopping the growth of Indian rooftop solar, in spite of the potential?

Ans: Adoption of rooftop market depends heavily on net-metering – the policy is crucial for developers as well as our clients. Net metering has always been seen as a threat by DISCOMs and has been a drag on the rooftop sector. Policy implementation is not consistent always in most states there is artificial cap on the size of rooftop solar projects to avail net-metering benefits. Even the process of getting net metering approvals remains bureaucratic in most states, with confusion about what’s required between DISCOMs, officials, and various government departments.

Currently commercial & Industrial sector is generating the demand for rooftop solar sector, so if Tamil Nadu doesn’t allow net-metering for HT consumers then it leaves out most Commercial & Industrial power users from availing benefits of adopting rooftop solar. Also Gujarat for example doesn’t provide net-metering benefits for consumers who have installed solar plant using RESCO / OPEX model.

Most of the growth in the rooftop segment is currently coming from Commercial & Industrial consumers. There is untapped potential in the residential segment which can be pushed by introducing favourable policies. This sector needs incentives to take off at a large scale, both for consumers to see value and developers to venture.

Que: Is the safeguard duty on solar panels impacting margins of solar developers?

Ans: The safeguard duty (on imported modules) has increased prices but module prices have been on the decline, so it has had a dousing effect on tariffs. Hence the margins for solar developers like CleanMax Solar have not seen much decline.

Que: Discoms fear losing high value clients if they allow open access easily, while they are bleeding at the same time. How do you propose the government solve this?

Ans: Firstly, very few states in India have favorable open access policies. Drawing power from renewable resources has become imperative for the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) segment given the cost benefit and also individual company’s clean energy targets. Discoms themselves have Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) which needs to be met. Open Access Renewable energy is an effective way to increase clean energy generation without the Discoms having to make any additional investments. Furthermore as power demand on the grid decreases from large corporate power consumers, Discoms can focus on increasing last mile connectivity in rural and residential segments with uninterrupted power supply.

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