Global suppliers tapping into India’s solar energy market
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IBT: What inspired you to start Roofsol Energy and how has the journey been since its inception in 2016?
Dipankar Pal: Throughout my extensive career spanning 25-30 years, I have amassed invaluable experience while working with numerous MNCs and Indian companies across the globe. As my career drew to a close, I recognized the potential for strong growth in the field of solar energy, despite facing challenges with fossil fuels. Armed with limited knowledge, my wife and I boldly invested in a small company, which we successfully transformed into an EPC company. Our journey has been far from easy, but we have made significant progress in providing employment, building a strong team, and contributing to India’s green mission. Although there is still a long way to go, I am immensely proud of our accomplishments thus far.
IBT: What sets your company apart as a leading onsite solar installer for commercial and industrial segment clients while ensuring quality and efficiency?
Dipankar Pal: Our company has a strong focus on design, engineering, quality, and timely project execution as an experienced EPC provider. Our team, including a strong leadership team and a dedicated on-ground team, has been built up through heavy investment. This has enabled us to acquire more orders and build a robust network of salespeople.
Our primary focus is on industrial rooftops and industry veterans, including owners and promoters. We understand that investing in solar power is a no-brainer for them, as it is a capex investment that reduces their power costs. To win their trust, we provide them with reliable products that consistently work for a long time. Although we faced initial struggles due to a lack of references, we eventually built up a strong customer base, including repeat customers.
Honesty and transparency are crucial to our business. If we are unable to deliver on a project, we communicate openly with the customer and work together to find a solution. We have completed over 250 MW of installation projects and have never left a project midway, even if the prices of raw materials like modules and inverters were volatile.
We are proud that almost 90% to 95% of our customers have supported us and would be happy to give us a repeat order if the situation arises.
IBT: Can you explain Roofsol’s international presence in countries like Oman, Philippines and Bangladesh and the challenges and opportunities faced in these?
Dipankar Pal: Solar energy is gaining popularity worldwide, not just in India. India’s market offers a diverse range of experiences in handling various customers, products, and situations, which can be valuable for international expansion. Many international suppliers are targeting the Indian market, creating opportunities for building relationships with them. Although we have not achieved much success yet in the international market, we have started making progress. Our business model is to establish joint ventures with local partners in target countries.
We have already set up a company, Roofsol Energy Bangladesh Limited, with a local JV partner in Bangladesh, and projects are underway. We are also in the process of identifying a business partner in Oman, and we are looking for a new JV partner in the Philippines. We are also planning to acquire a company in the UK and have already established a company in the Bay Area of San Francisco in the US. Our goal is to expand into the Middle East in the next six months. It is essential to move carefully and recruit skilled management members and team members from the Indian market to build our business in different parts of the world. We can leverage our strong learning and experience to achieve success in these markets.
IBT: What is your strategy to achieve the goal of executing 1000 megawatt peak solar projects by 2025?
Dipankar Pal: Our goal of achieving 1000 megawatt is undeniably ambitious. We may not reach 1001 gigawatt, but we are laser-focused on executing 0.6 gigawatt, equivalent to 600 megawatt of projects. We have already accomplished almost 300 megawatt and anticipate completing around 150 megawatt this year. In the next two years, we aim to reach 300 to 400 megawatt. Conservative estimates put us at 600 megawatt, while more ambitious projections suggest 800 to 900 megawatt.
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IBT: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in the renewable energy sector in India in the coming years?
Dipankar Pal: Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels can be achieved by increasing our manufacturing capabilities and transitioning to cleaner fuel sources. This approach can provide multiple benefits, including improved environmental conditions, reduced power costs, and enhanced manufacturing processes. Investing in renewable energy can significantly reduce the overall cost of power in a country. Developed nations like Britain and European countries have already seen the benefits of this approach as they used to have exorbitant power costs. China has been working hard to manage its power costs, and India has also realized the importance of renewable energy and is actively pursuing it. Solar energy and wind power are simple and readily available forms of renewable energy.
My preference is always solar because the costs are slightly lower and uncertainties are a little less across solar power generation. So that is the case. Now, there are a lot of challenges as the market in India is growing. There are many, many challenges. We have challenges of grid integration, we have challenges of land acquisition, we have challenges of financing, we have challenges of policy and regulatory uncertainty. Every state has a different kind of different kinds of policies. In rooftop business, for example, the net metering policies across different states are different. In the past, changes in government often led to changes in policies, creating a sense of political instability in the country. However, there is a significant opportunity to uplift underprivileged rural communities. Solar projects and renewable energy can play a vital role in bringing people above the poverty line, providing employment, and boosting their opportunities to lead better lives. This potential for sustainable development is immense and should be addressed to realize India’s future possibilities.
The KUSUM Yojana program, initiated by our Prime Minister, promotes the use of solar power in agriculture. This is a significant development, considering that India has one of the highest rates of agricultural power consumption globally. It’s fantastic to convert this energy source to solar power through the Kusum Yojana program.
Renewable energy can be extended to rural areas as well, provided the rural grid is stable and well-defined. There are challenges to overcome, but progress is being made step by step. The solar sector business is divided into two parts – utility-scale and rooftop business. Utility-scale involves constructing solar plants on land and transporting the power to the point of consumption, and grid stability is essential in this aspect. The rooftop business involves installing solar panels on commercial and industrial buildings. The policies are strongly influencing this sector, and it’s expanding rapidly. Our company primarily focuses on rooftop and behind-the-meter solar installations, but we have also started utility-scale projects. The commercial and industrial segment provides many opportunities for rooftop solar installations.
IBT: What suggestions would you like to provide to policymakers to further uplift this sector?
Dipankar Pal: In order to build up the renewable energy and solar business sectors, policymakers should create stable and consistent policies that are uniform across all states. The government’s recent introduction of the ISTS Interstate Transmission System, which allows power generated in one state to be transmitted to another state through open access means, is a positive step. The green open access policy process has also been beneficial, with the limit increasing from 1 MW to 100 kilowatts. However, challenges such as net metering need to be uniform across different states.
India operates as a federal structure, with different rules for states and the centre. Therefore, it’s important for the government to define consistent policies for net metering, cross-subsidies, and other charges. Better visibility and stability in returns are necessary for investors, as renewable energy assets like solar plants have a life of 20-25 years. If policies remain consistent and financing becomes more available, more investors will be encouraged to invest. Overall, consistency and uniformity across the country should be the priority for policymakers.