Demand for Rooftop Solar Substantially Higher Than the Pre-COVID Times: Interview
It will be a shame if its latent potential of rooftop solar is not tapped fully due to policy-related constraints/barriers
The government of India has a bold target of 40 GW by 2022 for rooftop solar installations in the country. However, the cumulative installations as of March 31, 2021, are only about 5.4 GW.
Rooftop solar accounts for around 13% of the cumulative solar installations in India. The segment has a long way to go and needs significant support from the government with innovative financial models and efficiently managed incentives. But, businesses are realizing the financial and environmental benefits of going solar, and the adoption has been hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tata Power Solar has been the leading rooftop solar installer in India. The company emerged as the top solar rooftop installer in India in the calendar year (CY) 2020, according to Mercom’s India Solar Market Leaderboard 2021, accounting for 20% of the total rooftop installations in the country.
Mercom spoke with Ravinder Singh, Chief – Solar Rooftop Business, Tata Power, to discuss the company’s plans and his thoughts on the existing policies related to the solar sector.
What is the scope for rooftop solar in India for residential and C&I segments, and what is Tata Power’s focus and why?
The rooftop solar segment in India is significantly underpenetrated, and there is huge growth potential. This growth potential is due to the compelling economics (on-site generation through rooftop solar is the cheapest source of power) of rooftop solar and the increasing consumer awareness of rooftop solar and its impact on the environment. Over the next five years, we expect the rooftop solar market to more than triple in size from its current installed base.
At Tata Power, our focus is on commercial and industrial (C&I), including Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and residential segments. While so far, the growth in the rooftop solar segment has been driven by the C&I segment, in terms of the sheer size of the opportunity, both the residential and SME are extremely attractive. Towards that end, we are focused on significantly ramping up our ‘on-ground presence through a mix of channel partners as well as our own sales team and investing heavily in digitization to improve the overall customer experience.
What is Tata Power’s stand on the net metering cap of 500 kW for rooftop solar installations down from the earlier 1 MW, and how does it impact business, particularly for the C&I clientele seeking ways to cut costs and generate green power?
Lowering the net metering cap from 1 MW to 500 kW is not ideal. Nevertheless, it is welcome as in the earlier government directive, it was proposed that net metering be done away totally for all segments other than the residential segment. This revised net metering cap of 500 kW would enable SMEs and other institutional customers that do not have round-the-clock power requirements to adopt rooftop solar and make their economics even more attractive.
We do not believe that this downward revision of the net metering cap from 1 MW to 500 kW would impact the larger C&I customers as their power demand is typically much more significant than 1 MW and is mainly round the clock.
For the medium-sized C&I customers, in the immediate term, ~15-20% of the demand could be impacted by this revision in the net metering cap. However, once customers accept this new reality in the short term, we expect them to continue to adopt rooftop solar, albeit with a smaller capacity sized to match their minimum load demand. In the medium-to-long term, with the cost of energy storage coming down, we expect almost all such customers to adopt solar rooftops with energy storage.
How is Tata Power managing the rising cost of installations (modules, cells, panels, mounting structures) and staying competitive?
The rising installation costs are an ‘industry’ issue and not something specific to Tata Power. However, given our volumes (including utility-scale solar, microgrids, and pumps), where we are on an average sourcing ~3-3.5 GW+ of solar components, we are in a somewhat better position than smaller players and are thus able to negotiate better prices from the suppliers and minimize the price impact for our customers.
Is rooftop demand back after COVID-19 after disruptions?
The ongoing pandemic has disrupted almost all sectors, and the solar industry is no different. The pandemic affected the sector greatly, with the sales and service teams unable to move about and visit the existing or potential customers.
However, we see early signs of revival and are getting the sense that there is a lot of pent-up demand in the market. Our current order book and pipeline are significantly greater than what it was even before the advent of pandemic last year.
Tata Power is also financing solar systems. Can you elaborate on the various financing programs for residential and C&I clients?
Easy, quick, and attractive financing with flexible tenors is the key to unlocking rooftop solar potential. We believe that financing would have a force multiplier effect on the growth of the rooftop solar segment. As the market leader, Tata Power has tied up with various financing entities (both banks and NBFCs) to offer a variety of financing products to meet the needs of residential and C&I clients. These offerings include non-collateral financing, lease finance, and pure vanilla EMI options through our various partners. Our sales team works closely with our financing partners to make the entire loan approval process as convenient and hassle-free as possible for our clients. In the future, we plan to develop specific financing products tailored to meet rooftop customers’ needs.
What policy changes would you like to see to help rooftop solar flourish? Is there anything else that can boost rooftop solar installations?
Rooftop solar is the most cost-effective way of generating power at the point of consumption. It will be a shame if its latent potential is not tapped fully due to policy-related constraints/barriers. We believe that there is an obvious need for the industry to work with all stakeholders, including electricity distribution companies and regulators, to device policies that are a ‘win-win’ for all stakeholders. Lastly, more than anything, this sector needs policy stability. Frequent policy flip-flops are not suitable for the overall health as well as the growth of the sector.
Rahul is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Before entering the world of renewables, Rahul was head of the Gujarat bureau for The Quint. He has also worked for DNA Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad Mirror. Hailing from a banking and finance background, Rahul has also worked for JP Morgan Chase and State Bank of India. More articles from Rahul Nair.