Interview (Mr. Kunal Chandra)

Mr. Kunal Chandra,
Managing Director-South Asia at PROINSO

“Please introduce Energetica India readers to PROINSO’s services and products in India.”

PROINSO is a global leader in the solar energy market with business units in distribution and integration, technology and project development services. We offer a full-service portfolio for solar projects of all scales including: procurement, engineering, project development, finance and construction. PROINSO’s Qualified Installer Network is our go-to workforce for installation and O&M services; counting over 2,500 certified solar installers. PROINSO has been trusted by blue-chip companies and governments around the world.

PROINSO, through its unrivaled global value network, holds contracts with Top Tier-1 partners in the solar industry (SMA, Jinko Solar, Huawei, Trojan Battery Company). Product quality and financials of our partners are scrutinized through our strict due diligence procedure ensuring the highest performance, safety standards and bankability of our selected manufacturers. Over a decade of relationships with world-leading PV manufacturers and 2.7 GW global supply footprint put us at the very forefront of market for industry pricing across all components.

We’ve been operating in India since 2010, where we integrate and distribute products from both strategic manufacturer partners and products developed through our technology division. Our local manufacturing is setup for high quality and reliable mounting structures which offers vari-ous rooftop and ground-mount solutions, as well as horizontal single axis trackers. We supply the full range of solar PV components including inverters, modules, structures and complete balance of system ensuring the best coverage for all our projects.

“Can you give us examples of some of your achievements in the solar industry?”

This has been a very successful year for us in terms of recognition for our achievements in the solar industry. We have won 2 project awards and the enterprise award which we are particularly proud of – the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade in recognition of our outstanding performance in international trading. The Queen’s Award is the UK’s most prestigious award for business success and recipients are chosen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who is assisted by an Advisory Committee that includes: representatives of Government, industry and commerce, and the trade unions.

On the project side, our 28 MWp utility scale project in Teknaf, Bangladesh was the winner of the Asian Power Award in the category “Solar PV Installation of the Year - Bangladesh”. This is the first utility solar project in Bangladesh delivered in partnership with Joules Power Limited, and the first step towards the government’s target of producing 2,000 MW of solar power by 2021. This project is a demonstration of both PROINSO’s business philosophy and global capabilities in solar projects. We believe that a strong collaboration between global and local businesses and institutions is the key to achieving long-term sustainable growth and reaching renewable energy targets, as defined by the Paris Agreement.

Another example is our mini-grid project in East Sumba, Indonesia. Following our short-listing in two Solar Power Portal Award categories this year, PROINSO and our partner Surya were announced as the winners in the “Community Solar Installation of the Year” category. Our 492 kWp distributed generation project in Indonesia has brought electricity to over 900 households and public facilities in the East Sumba Island. This project was completed under the Green Prosperity Project program run by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Indonesia, a bilateral United States foreign aid agency.

“You were among the first solar companies to launch a corporate social responsibility initiative. Can you tell us more about the activities undertaken by Solar Energy Solidarity?”

At PROINSO, we believe solar is becoming central to powering our homes and businesses. We aim to be at the forefront of this energy revolution. Solar Energy Solidarity started in 2011 as a solidarity initiative, carried out by PROINSO, to embrace corporate social responsibility and commit to providing off-grid communities with the technical tools to use the solar power as a source of clean energy. Solar Energy Solidarity is aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to empower communities worldwide. Our goal is to create tangible and measurable impact in diverse areas which are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

PROINSO’s business strategy is based on global experience and local expertise which we see as the key for successful deployment and operation of projects while ensuring that both local capabilities and revenue retention is enhanced. We have worked in partnership with leading blue-chip companies, governments and NGOs to bring projects to life around the globe. Moreover, we carefully select our supply partners based on their supply chain transparency, ethical treatment of workers and responsible manufacturing practices that strive to minimize their carbon footprint.

We are particularly passionate about our activities aimed to improve health and well-being of people living in developing countries. The World Bank estimates that 780 million women and children breathing kerosene fumes inhale the equivalent of smoke from 2 packs of cigarettes a day. Moreover, kerosene lamps increase the risk of fire-related burns and often result in severe burns or fatalities. We partnered with NameneSolar Light Company to bring affordable SM100 solar lights to underprivileged rural and off-grid communities. In partnership with NGOs in Africa (Aluwani, Mercy Ministries) and Asia (One Million Lights) we implemented fundraising campaigns that resulted in donation of solar lights in Madagascar, South Africa and Philippines.

“What are your thoughts on India's recent tariff on import of solar equipment, especially from China and Malaysia?”

I personally think that recently imposed tariffs are not going to hamper the CAPEX of solar projects too much as the prices of modules have fallen drastically this year, enough to offset the 25 per cent increase due to the safeguard duty. It was very important to get some regulatory clarity, as throughout this year there were a lot of mixed signals on whether the duty was going to be imposed or not, causing project developers to delay their decisions on project execution. Even after the safeguard duty has been imposed there have been some utility project bids which have indicated that the impact of safeguard has not really affected their bid pricing.

The primary purpose of the safeguard duty is to protect the local manufacturers. At the moment, the percentage of market share being catered to by local players is extremely small, so it re-mains to be seen how much of an impact this move actually will have for on development of lo-cal manufacturing. The prices from China are still falling and are almost at par with the local suppliers even after adding the safe guard. Moreover, there are new channels being explored for procuring modules from countries other than China and Malaysia in order to avoid the safeguard duty, which at the end of the day will benefit the end consumers.

“What impact will China's solar subsidy cuts have on global solar industry?”

China and India rank among the top 3 countries globally by electricity consumption, heavily dependent on fossil fuels. As signatories of the Paris Climate Accord both countries pledged to limit their carbon emissions by switching to more sustainable energy sources – primarily solar PV energy. In order to facilitate this energy transition China introduced generous subsidies for the solar industry.

In 2017, China accounted for over 50 per cent of the global PV market with 130 GW of total in-stalled solar capacity. Not surprisingly, China’s unexpected contractionary policy shift has caused a real shakeup in the global PV industry. Analysts have cut their 2018 capacity forecast for China by 40% percent, with expected 20 GW reductions in the global market size. As a result, many solar manufacturers have already revised their revenue forecasts for this year, which was punished by investors and forced many publicly listed solar companies to consider going private. The major impact of the subsidy cuts is over supply of Chinese modules which directly affects the pricing as modules manufactures need to find alternative markets for their existing stock.

Still, we expect the solar industry to continue moving along its growth trajectory and accelerate its pace. The recently published IPCC report written by the United Nations’ scientist’s calls for 100 per cent shift to renewables until 2050 if we were to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change. Increased speed of solar energy deployments is crucial in order to achieve this goal. Development of new technologies that would increase efficiency and reduce price of solar electricity, as well as growth of the corporate sector Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) should play a key role in this mission.

“What impact will feasible energy storage have on the solar industry?”

By its nature, solar and other renewable energies face fluctuating availability. Storage will provide some of the flexibility that future electricity systems will need to accommodate the fluctuating availability to solar and wind energy. Energy storage represents one of the biggest obstacles, and opportunities, in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy system.

In the long-term, batteries need to be able to support high levels of variable renewable electricity, specifically by storing surplus energy and releasing it at peak-hours, helping reduce pressure on the grid. Energy storage still has the challenge of “crossing the chasm” in its diffusion trajectory between early adopters and early majority. Storage products are currently facing two primary challenges – technology and cost. Energy storage as a solution still needs to evolve, which will give a huge boost to renewable projects in general.

According to a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), battery storage in set for exponential growth. By 2030, the installed costs of battery storage systems could fall by 50-66 per cent, with stationary applications set to grow from only 2 GW worldwide in 2017 to 235 GW in 2030. Without a doubt, this will be a tremendous drive for solar energy to go mainstream.

“Explain the industry challenges in terms of evolving new trends, market players and cost?”

The industry is currently entering a period of consolidation on the supply chain which will not only lead to some immediate opportunities for developers’ profits, but it will also erase some component manufacturers from the landscape. The overall costs will continue to fall and product technology for major components likes modules shifting to mono from poly, as well as the increasing capacities of string inverters.

We have observed some emerging new trends in the industry that are posing new business op-opportunities, primarily energy storage, distributed generation and smart energy production and virtual grids with IoT. We expect that data ownership will play a significant role in companies’ future valuations, with large corporations already fighting to acquire the big data available in our industry.

“How do you see the Indian solar industry evolving and the role PROINSO can play in this changing environment?”

PROINSO has a wealth of experience in completing solar projects of all scales for blue chip companies and governments around the world, including PepsiCo, Bosch, Mercedes Benz, Toyota and Tata. We are optimistic on the outlook of the solar industry in general as there is still a long way to go to achieve the target set out by the government. With the falling costs of solar we are seeing more growth in the C&I space for which we are perfectly positioned to cater to the demand.
We observed monitoring adoption rates increasing globally, with some countries like Japan tak-ing an extra step to make it mandatory. India is lagging behind with majority of the market still relying on monitoring systems provided by inverter manufacturers which have very limited scope. We believe monitoring will play a key role in increasing energy yields and reducing operating costs in the utility and industrial segments and are excited to be the first company in India to offer it as an added value to our clients.

Starting from the 12th of November, PROINSO’s project clients in India with get complimentary 1-year access to EIRA, one of the most advanced solar asset monitoring and management plat-forms available in the solar industry. EIRA is a unified software platform developed by Inspire Clean Energy (ICE) working on proprietary AI engine which allows assets to function as an integrated unit. The platform enables asset owners and managers to access health of their renewable energy assets in less than three clicks.

EIRA’s primary objective is to increase profitability and enhance efficiency of solar projects by enabling asset owners, managers & field teams to leverage the power of connected devices. The platform uses machine learning to provide better fault detection and diagnosis and action real-time preventive maintenance. Advanced analytics can predict asset reliability and lifetime and assign actionable tickets to the right person. One of the unique aspects of this platform is that it allows asset managers to access all their projects in a single dashboard. The platform is device-agnostic and comes with support provided by a team of local engineers.

Interview 17/12/2018 by Moulin
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