We are working closely with Canadian Solar to bring some extremely unique solar products into the Indian market later this year
Q.Shed some light on Soltech Equipments over three decades presence in the Solar Power Industry in India? The different products and solutions you offer?
Soltech was started with the vision of promoting widespread use of Solar power in the mid-1980s. This was long before any major initiative in this space by the Government, so we had to start off with solar products like water heaters, cookers etc. One of the key strengths that we leveraged all along in order to create a niche in this space was innovation. Let me give you an example. Our early projects were in the Coimbatore region where we dealt with domestic Solar Water Heating systems. Most of these houses had their water tanks at roof level and this meant that water would not flow into the Solar Water Heater. We came up with unique, customized configurations involving Auxillary Tanks (placed over the existing ones to elevate height) or in some cases, a Forced Flow Circulation method with a ball valve that made sure that the Solar Water Heater pipes were always filled with water before it was routed into the tank. We set up one of the earliest Solar Cooking systems in Tirupathi temple with parabolic concentrator technology that helped in feeding 40,000 during the mid-day meals. At some point we also worked with Solar Stills to generate distilled water, which I continue to believe, is a lucrative idea for starting a home business in remote areas.
Over these years we have worked extensively with MNRE Nodal agencies like TEDA in promoting solar power technology. Since JNNSM, we have been able to focus on Solar PV in a large way and with our strategic association with Canadian Solar, today we have an organization that provides Solar PV solutions across wide capacities from 1kW systems to multi-MW Solar Power Plants. We still offer some off-grid solar products but their proportion in our business has come down.
Q.What difference, in growth, opportunities and service, has Soltech Equipments undergone after associating with Canadian Solar as its channel partner?
It is a very good question. Though we were able to provide some innovative solutions in Solar and work with government agencies, the reach of Soltech was largely confined to Tamil Nadu and the neighboring states. For a company to scale it needs the right partners. Canadian Solar is a global leader in Solar PV modules known for its quality and delivery. Our vision and value systems were already aligned. Hence, entering into a partnership was a mutually beneficial proposition. Although Soltech is the Channel Partner for their modules, association with Canadian Solar has helped significantly in elevating the overall brand value of Soltech and in the process open the doors to our growth across the globe.
Q.The government has embarked on an ambitious plan of generating 100GW from Solar Energy, what opportunities are you looking at?
As a company that has always been playing an active role in growth of solar in the country, we look forward to being a contributing partner in the government’s 100 GW plan. Our major thrust will be on Canadian Solar modules, which is already the market leader and the most preferred option for Indian projects. We are also keen on strengthening our position as a provider of world-class EPC and O&M services where we foresee significant opportunities as the industry matures. Overall we look to being associated with at least 1- 2% of the result.
Q.How do you see the rooftop market in India and its role in achieving 100GW from Solar Energy?
As far as rooftop is concerned, we have crossed the stage of educating people or creating awareness. Today the major gap in rooftop lies in the revenue model. Each state has its own policy that dictates the rooftop market there. This must be unified into something that is more general and nation-wide. There is a sizable unexplored market available for rooftop in India and with the right policy drivers, it could be a significant contributor to the 100 GW plan. Another important point here is the need to differentiate the motivations for households and commercial properties to go solar and associate them to their respective power consumption pattern. In fact, it is a good idea to come up with different policies for attracting these two market segments, which some innovative startups are already doing through their propositions.
Q.As an EPC player, what are the challenges in executing a solar project in India? How do you overcome these challenges? How do you ensure timely completion of a project?
As in the case with any new market, there has been a sporadic mushrooming of ‘solar companies’ over the last few years. Unfortunately many of them do not stick around in business beyond a couple of years. Solar is a long-term business. For EPC, we focus on Captive Power Projects, which involve only the developer and us. This gives us the space and predictability needed to deliver on time. In most cases, time delays and uncertainties are caused by multi-party presence in a project especially if the power is being fed into the grid.
Q.How is the market for solar products like lanterns, charges and streetlights? Where do you see the growth coming from?
Off-grid products are one of the earliest solar solutions to find a market but their growth hasn’t been very impressive. This is largely because of the issue of energy storage and poor maintenance. Peak consumption happens at a time outside the window of solar power generation and hence, batteries are key components in these products. If we manage to address this challenge, solar products have a good market especially in remote areas with limited or no access to grid power. It is also important to educate the customers about usage and maintenance of these products.
Q.What differentiates Soltech Equipments from its competitors? How do you keep ahead of your competitors?
Soltech has always placed quality and innovation above everything else. We have built the business and the Soltech brand on the trust of our customers and partners who continue to help us grow. When we are developing solar projects for a life of 25-30 years, our track record of being a part of the industry for the last three decades despite all odds shows our commitment to the business. It reiterates our promise of being there for our clients and thankfully all of them appreciate that. The trust thus established helps us deliver better results for them.
Q.How has been the growth of the company over the years? What are your plans to take the company to a new level?
As I had mentioned before, we have come a long way from solar cookers and water heaters to utility scale solar power projects. In a sense, we have evolved along with the solar industry in the country. Our vision is to facilitate widespread adoption of Solar technology and we would continue to tackle challenges in this front through innovative products and solutions. We are working closely with Canadian Solar to bring some extremely unique solar products into the Indian market later this year. Additionally, we also plan to address some key areas of technology like energy storage and monitoring systems, which will help in accelerating the inclusion of solar in our national energy mix. We would continue to extend our support to the initiatives by MNRE and TEDA for coming up with policies and incentives for adoption of solar power.