Five years on…

Setting things straight, I don’t write anything personal but this post is intended to be a little different. I have taken some time off to look back at where it all began for me as a professional.  The reason, it’s been over 5 years since my first project at a remote site in Rajasthan, which incidentally happened to be the first solar project to be commissioned under the National Solar Mission (NSM). Little did I anticipate that a 5MW project would kick off a programme, which if all goes as per plan could see nearly 100GW of solar projects by 2022. As a Graduate Engineer Trainee (GET) and 2 weeks into the job I was moved to a village in Rajasthan from the comforts of my hometown, Bengaluru. ‘Getting your hands dirty’ was one of the popular phrases used to encourage a fresh graduate and help settling in a rural setting. The real experience of a ‘renewable energy’ professional soon began.


A glance at the project plan tested my engineering background and understanding of semi-conductor physics and basics of photo-electric effect. A material without Silicon/Germanium could still exhibit PV behaviour, an eye opening introduction to thin films and the Cadmium-Telluride (CdTe) technology. Coincidentally this project also happened to be the first large scale deployment of this technology in India. The modules were assembled on a structure that had only posts rolled in India with the aluminium purlins imported, which was strange considering our large aluminium industries. Also, the available DC cables in India were not capable of withstanding a prolonged exposure to sunlight and hence high quality DC solar cables were also imported.


Time was a luxury for projects in 2011, although the projects were equally challenging. A 5MW project was to be commissioned in 8 months. The timelines of the early projects were long mainly due to over reliant on imported materials, although better planning ensured work at site was synchronised with the material delivery schedule.  Since this project was one of the first of its scale, it had to be built by a skilled workforce and hence we had international sub-contractors with significant European work experience land in India with meticulously planned action chart right up to the commissioning date only to find the site was not shovel ready. Add to that, there were delay in shipments more specifically delays in shipments getting cleared at customs with all the due formalities to get exemption benefits allotted for solar projects which everyone were dealing with for the first time. If 2016 saw Phalodi setting the record for the 50°C breach, 2011 saw Jodhpur region receiving the highest rainfall in decades, which disrupted installation works. Not to mention, work disruption by local villagers demanding right to work ‘on their land’ in spite of lacking the qualifications to do so, it was a common feature in 2011-12. So, even an 8 month timeline was short considering the vagaries at site.

And finally, with an increased workforce participation which involved local villagers who were then trained by international subcontractors the project got on track. Although transmission line and grid extension was not a significant challenge like today, it did get complicated and stretch the timelines, but in the end the project was commissioned right on time. Post commissioning one of the first learning was to familiarise with the procedure to clean the modules, using the right equipment, wasting the right amount of water and most importantly doing it early morning or late evening to ensure solar production is not disturbed. Incidentally the project has been one of the top performing plants commissioned in the first phase of NSM.


5 years on…

Looking back, 5MW construction was significantly challenging being the first project of its scale. Over the years, 5MW was claimed to be done in a month, a year later 5MW of module installation was done in a week and recently we had a developer who went on to execute blocks of 5MW spread over a project location in a day. It clearly signifies the growth, but what goes unmentioned is the development of supporting ecosystem around project development. One, developers and Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) companies have gone from strength to strength over this time by doing more projects and managing resources. Second, the entire manufacturing supply chain is ready for projects of any scale throughout the year. Significant progress or rather forced adoption is seen in the sector especially in the manufacturing. International inverter, mounting structure, DC combiner box, solar cable, connectors and monitoring system suppliers have set up base in India or tied up with an Indian company. Back then, little did the manufacturing industry like aluminium and steel rollers anticipate opportunities. Early on, steel and aluminium rolling companies were sceptical about solar power plant as a means of business to them. A few of them accepted production orders on the condition that we take the cost of tooling development, today most of them supply exclusively for solar projects. Skilled workforce was a rarity or rather non-existent, today any village in the sun-belt region would claim to have people/local sub-contractors with solar installation experience.

It is always said that policies and regulations can build or destroy a sector; fortunately I have been on the positive side of things. I have seen a sector show promise, witness uncertainty and now rise back to a state of optimism. Moving from a time of relying on imports for major components to just relying on import of modules, sourcing international contractors to developing local contractors and allied services the sector has come a long way. Starting off as a professional in this sector, I was drawn by the thought of 100% renewable, although I now understand the technical challenges in that vision, I believe there are definitely interesting times ahead.

 [PS: The experience would have been incomplete without the support of my former colleagues; PC: Author and his ex-colleagues]



Potential for Energy Storage in India: An industry perspective

Energy storage has been a buzz world off late globally and I recently had an opportunity to attend a workshop hosted by the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) that focused on evaluating the potential for energy storage integration to large scale Renewable Energy (RE) projects and the Electricity Vehicle (EV) market in India. The workshop had significant interest from top RE developers in the country considering the recent tenders from Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) to establish a solar plus storage in the upcoming solar parks in Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Karnataka.

The potential for energy storage integration with solar and wind

In general the overall potential for energy storage stems from the fact that RE is intermittent in comparison to the power demand and hence when there is a significant increase/decrease of RE in the mix there will a period when there will be notable dip from RE in contrast to demand which in graphical terms is referred to as Duck Curve/Camel curve.



It is this period that the power sector anticipates could be served by energy storage instead of turning on/off big fossil powered plants in a chaotic manner. The scenarios are well served in developed world where the Demand Side Management (DSM) has evolved to accommodate energy storage along with the ramping of renewable energy. However, the Indian scenario will be in sharp contrast considering the Indian power demand will be significant and so will the anticipated RE capacity of 175GW by 2022.

The industry believes that the large scale storage although envisaged currently would take time to ramp up but ancillary services market could be well served by energy storage in the short and medium term until the storage technologies reach market maturity. A section of experts are of the opinion that micro grids are not getting the right attention when it comes to storage. Energy storage could be well developed and integrated to micro grid sites. In short, storage as a value proposition will be viable for storing PV during peak sunny days or even for managing morning/evening peak demand and more importantly during the ramp-up/ramp down of RE generation, i.e. the anticipated duck/camel curve.

Electric Vehicles

The electricity vehicle adoption has not been up to the expectations of the government. Even with the nascent battery technology the Revas and Amperes did enter the market and create an impression on the EVs but they failed to take off. The National Electric Mobility Mission anticipates 6 million EVs or Hybrid EVs to rule the roads by 2020. The recent FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles; a 30-60 Lakh subsidy for Electric buses) policy that was launched with a subsidy outlay from the government has created a second buzz wave. It is aptly aided by the new generation vehicles from Mahindra and Ather energy, the latter in particular has taken the 2 wheeler EV market in India by storm, akin to the impact of iPod entry in the music industry (Follower beats the industry leaders).



Aside to the passenger vehicles and its market, leading industry players are also investing significantly in the R&D of electric buses. Policy makers likewise have their task cut out in assimilating industry and market information from other countries where EV has been successful in trying to creating the right framework that facilitates the development of associated infrastructure that enables the operation of electric buses.

Overall, the market for energy storage looks promising although the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) anticipates the large scale adoption to kick in only close to 2020 with R&D and demonstration projects occupying the space until then. On the contrary, the road map for EVs are very optimistic with economic viability forecast in the next couple of years and India could see large scale manufacturing facilities in operation by 2020. However, like for any futuristic project of this scale a clear direction through policies and regulations is needed. For e.g. the ancillary service market in India has still not gained expected traction owing to lack of policies (read more). Similarly for EV and the sector to develop policies related to EV charging and reverse feed in tariffs have to be laid down. Nevertheless, there is some optimism in the air!

India ratifies Paris Agreement, what next?

The Indian Government surprised everyone when in 2015 it released its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) on Gandhi Jayanthi invoking his thoughts on the moral responsibility of human beings in preserving natural resources. An even bigger surprise followed in 2016, when intense speculation on India’s stance on the accord preceded its sudden decision to ratify the agreement, again on Gandhi Jayanthi (Read more).

The Paris agreement was subsequently ratified by a few more countries (75 as on date) and will come into force on Nov 4th, 2016. (How the entire process unfolded?)



Upon ratification countries are expected to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) which will serve as a yardstick for monitoring by all the parties at the meetings of Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA). India however has submitted its INDC as its first NDC which brings the focus back on the INDC (India’s INDC:Towards Climate Justice; An earlier blog post).

The premise of the INDC brings in the equation of ‘Climate Justice’ , clearly highlighting a need to consider the past of the global emitters.


co2-emissions-metric-tons-per-capita (Cty:WB)

A need to clearly map the present and future scenarios was illustrated in the INDC.



A key point of contention that will remain is the electricity demand per capita.


electric-power-consumption-kwh-per-capita (Cty: WB)

INDC key highlights

  • India plans to cut emissions by 33-35% by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • India projects to achieve a renewable energy capacity addition of 175GW by 2022 and increase the renewable energy in the mix to 40% by 2030. It seeks funds explicitly from the Green Climate Fund. (The fund the developed countries agreed to create for projects in under developed/developing countries).
  • To create a carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through forests and trees by 2030.
  • India estimates its Climate Change mitigation plan will cost $2.5Trillion between now and 2030.

The way forward will see some challenges

  • Enforcing policy regulations.
  • Creating a finance mechanism that utilizes the coal cess, Renewable Purchase Obligation(RPO), Perform Achieve & Trade (PAT) etc.
  • Creating a Green Energy Corridor (est. $6Bil) to facilitate power evacuation from renewable energy plants.
  • Not to compromise on Human Developmental Index of the nation. 300Million people in India still have no access to electricity. Hopefully we achieve the national target of ‘Electricity for All’ by 2019.
  • A need to cut subsidies and increase tax in fossil fuels.
  • Securing fuel for proposed 63GW of nuclear power projects.

At the moment, Indian government through its various ministries is trying to establish a framework to gather emissions data from concerned sectors. Recently aviation sector which dint find traction @ COP21 managed to agree for a global cap by 2020(Read more). India however decided to remain out of the pact until it establishes relevant frameworks in the sectors (read more). The next phase in this deal will be more clear once it is enforced and the first meeting kicks off in COP 22 until then its fair to rejoice the moment of clinching this deal.