Corporates’ Decarbonization Efforts Driven by Favorable Regulations: Interview

Firms are alive to changing import regulations centered around emissions


The recent policy tweaks enacted by the government, mainly the exemption on fees for wheeling electricity across state borders and General Network Access rules, have fueled the decarbonization efforts by corporates, making them commercially viable, Nishit Mehta, Chief Business Development Officer, Serentica Renewables, said on the sidelines of the Mercom India Renewables Summit 2023.

Mehta listed delays in land acquisition and grid connectivity as the most pressing problems for renewable developers.

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Has the landscape for commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers adopting renewables changed in the past two years?

A massive change is underway now – with the inter-state transmission system (ISTS) waiver and the rules around General Network Access (GNA) and open access. The landscape is progressively getting better and more conducive for industries to make the switch to renewables.

These two or three items (the changes) make such a big difference that customers are encouraged to look at decarbonization in a way that is not detrimental to commercial interest or competitiveness at the global level.

Are companies considering decarbonization because of the changing import regulations that benefit greener firms?

Import regulations play a big role in the decarbonization of industries in addition to their individual decarbonization goals.

This is on the horizon, as reflected in Europe’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). In India, we had the minister talk about green steel. All these things influence the industries’ thinking on the why and how of the decarbonization journey.

Does Serentica have a capacity threshold for undertaking projects?

There are ways to make smaller capacities work, but what we are looking at is generally large loads. So our initial power purchase agreements (PPAs) are in the 200-250 MW range, but we are hoping to be looking at customers in the 5-10 MW range also, which will make it more conducive to bring them on to the central utility.

How is Serentica catering to the round-the-clock energy demand?

The answers regarding how much intermittency you can resolve are in various shades of grey. So, solar is intermittent, and wind with better annual CUF (capacity utilization factor) is just as intermittent.

When you combine the two, you reduce the intermittency to an extent. Then, you go on to the next level, where storage is needed. Then a consumer needs long-duration energy storage solutions. The prices of batteries are also high, but we are hoping they will come down.

But even with these solutions – longer-duration energy storage solutions that we consider in India are 6 hours, 8 hours, and 12 hours – there are bound to be days when a consumer would run out of energy storage, and solar doesn’t fire, or wind doesn’t work.

So, we do not have a 100% solution to do renewables on a time-log basis. To that extent, we need a grid that is dependent on non-renewables as well to provide balancing.

But the idea is to get as close as possible. So, it is easier to get to 70%, 80%, or even a 90% annual renewable solution. But as you go higher and increase the resolution from an annual to a monthly and daily basis, it gets harder and more expensive, given the current technologies.

What’s your current pipeline for the next 3-5 years?

We have power delivery agreements that would require us to build about 4,000 MW of solar and wind combined. And all of this before the June 2025 ISTS (interstate transmission system) waiver deadline.

What’s your client profile currently?

The clients we have already signed and developing projects for are largely metals-based sectors. We are actively working on solutions for clients from diversified sectors, from cement to textiles to steel.

Hydrogen, green ammonia, and data centers are some of the areas of our work.

Is land acquisition a major stumbling block for renewable projects?

Yes, land acquisition is one of the biggest problems, followed by a lack of connectivity and the apprehension about transmission capacity coming up in time.

These problems are more acute for the renewable-rich states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh, among others. These areas have good wind and solar sites, where the sub-station capacity runs out.

Even if Serentica is ready — from a customer PPA standpoint or from investor, EPC, and commissioning standpoints — to deliver the project before June 2025, the biggest challenge right now is the paucity of connectivity which would allow evacuation of power to the grid in a particular timeframe.

It’s a major challenge, and the Ministry is aware. We are working closely with them to identify more sites quickly and make that process more streamlined.

What could the government do to ease the bottleneck?

We are working closely with the government, the central transmission utility and the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to identify sites where we expect to come up with generation in the next few years, but we already see a bottleneck due to the big demand for connectivity.

Our only request is to keep up the priority work on these sites because connectivity is essential for evacuation in time.

Apart from land acquisition and connectivity issues, what else is troubling the sector?

Electricity is a concurrent subject, and only so many customers can be on the central grid.

The base of the pyramid is at the state level. In terms of open access and enabling customers to go green, states have a lot of potential from a regulatory standpoint to encourage this transition. We can truly reach the 500 GW goal if we can meet these requirements.

(Note: Sections of the interview have been paraphrased for better reading. Check out the video for a full chat)