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Saurabh Srivastava, President- Marketing & Product Strategy, Eastman Auto & Power

15 May 2018

More investment needed in R&D to make India hub of energy storage solution

India’s solar sector is in the thick of activity as the government keeps focus on expediting capacity addition to rationalise dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation. Tariff has fallen at a much faster pace than expected on the back of cheaper availability of equipment. But will tariff come down further or has it already hit the rock bottom? There are many such questions that beg answer. In an interview to InfralinePlus, Saurabh Srivastava, President- Marketing & Product Strategy, Eastman Auto & Power, discusses the future direction of the solar industry. Excerpts:

Are you satisfied with the current pace of capacity addition in solar power? Do you think at the current pace, the target of 1 Lakh MW solar capacity by 2022 can be achieved?

The pace with which towards India is moving towards solar energy is commendable. We have achieved a target of 20GW within eight years and that too, four years ahead of the deadline. According to the November 2017 report of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), around 715 MW of capacity was added across the country in the last fiscal as compared to 227 MW in the previous year, taking the country’s total installed capacity to 1.3 gigawatts. Indian solar installations registered a record 123 percent growth to reach 9.6 GW in 2017, which was more than double the 4.3 GW installed in 2016. Renewable energy sources now account for 32.2 percent of the total installed capacity in the country, with the renewable installed capacity growing faster than conventional sources in 2017 for the first time. This is a giant stride towards achieving the ambitious target 100 GW solar power capacity in 2022. However, achieving 1 Lakh MW of solar capacity would need a concerted push from both government and private players. A lot more needs to be done to educate people about the benefits of solar energy.

Has the uncertainty over the imposition of safeguard duty affected the pace of capacity addition in solar sector? And if so, how far?

The uncertainty over the imposition of safeguard duty undoubtedly impacted the tendering activity in the solar sector. It led to uncertainty over both timelines and the quantum of safeguard duty. There was also no clarity on pass-through of such duty under “change in law” provision. However, this was only for a time-being and the industry has successfully tided over it now.

Do you think the price of solar equipment has hit the rock bottom and now it is going to move up again?

Undoubtedly, the prices of solar equipment have been at an all-time low in the past year. The costs have reduced by half over the past five years. The timely drop in the solar tariffs from about Rs 7.8/kWh to Rs 2.44/kWh was instrumental in driving the growth of the solar segment. Simultaneously, average retail electricity prices have increased by 22 percent during the same period. In my opinion, prices are going to remain low due to stiff competition among numerous players in the solar sector.

How do you see the growth prospects for your company over next 2 to 5 years?

With 10,000 dealer and 1,000 channel partner- strong network and 1200 employees, Eastman Auto and Power Limited (EAPL) is rapidly making giant leaps towards growth. Currently, we offer a wide portfolio of products ranging from on-grid, off-grid, hybrid and bi-directional. We are among the leading battery manufacturers exporting our products to over 70 countries. The company closed this financial year at about 25% growth. We are targeting the growth rate of 30% in this financial year. Before we launch an IPO in the next financial year, we would want to be one of the leaders in residential solar rooftop segment and also the top e-rickshaw battery provider and supplier in the country. The company also envisions encouraging entrepreneurship in the solar segment by creating a pool of ‘solarprenuers’ who would be instrumental in taking solar to every household.

How promising are researches going into energy storage projects? Do you see the possibility of a big technological breakthrough in this area in the medium term?

Energy storage has immense potential in India including aiding in renewable integration providing grid support services, supporting C&I segment and creation of big role in the facilitation of early adoption of electric vehicles. At Eastman Auto and Power Limited, tubular gel batteries made of fumed silica mixed with electrolyte are our strength and we believe it has a potential to serve as a viable alternative to lithium- ion batteries in the long -run. Our world class R&D are on the verge of developing fast charging technology which shall reduce the charging time by 50%.

We are also steadfastly working towards the possibility of developing Lithium Ion battery for which our R&D team is working quite hard, it shall be used in the booming sector of e-mobility and solar in the future. However, it is desirable that all stakeholders converge to enable a transparent ecosystem and policy guidelines to put indigenous manufacturers in an advantageous position.