Dr Hemanshu Bhatt, Dr Sunit Tyagi and Navashil Sharma were perhaps inspired by the movie Swades when they decided to return to India in 2005. Giving shape to their inspiration, in 2009 they started InSolare Energy, a solar-based engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company. The three promoters left their high-paying jobs in the technology and semiconductor fields to be part of the solar revolution in India.
InSolare came into the limelight when it commissioned a 10 MW canal-top and a 5 MW canal-bank solar project on the Narmada canal for Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited in 2017. However, this was not the first time that the company had executed a challenging assignment. In 2009 itself, InSolare had deployed a 5 MW ground-mounted solar project in Gujarat for Backbone Infrastructure, which was at that time one of the largest utility-scale solar projects with a single-axis tracker and thin-film solar modules to be set up in the country. Post this project, the company went on to set up more ground-mounted solar projects in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat and also worked on open access projects for Infosys and ITC. InSolare has till date set up 120 MW of ground-mounted solar projects while 50-70 MW of more projects are in the pipeline.
InSolare has also set up over 250 rooftop projects with a cumulative capacity of 25-30 MW and these are distributed across 17 states. Navashil Sharma, chief executive officer, InSolare Energy, says, “Our key clients in the rooftop segment include ITC (3 MW), Infosys (4 MW), Cisco (1.5 MW), the CRPF campus in Uttar Pradesh (4 MW) and Oracle (0.75 MW).” The company recently won the Solar Energy Corporation of India’s rooftop tender to set up 3.8 MW of projects across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “These projects will be commissioned by the end of 2020, and another 10 MW of projects are in the pipeline,” Sharma adds. InSolare has also set up a few carport projects for its clients. A 750 kW project and 800 kW project for Infosys in Jaipur and Mangaluru respectively; 550 kW for Manipal University; 150 kW for Oracle in Pune; and 120 kW for the CRPF campus in Uttar Pradesh are operational; while 2 MW of carport projects are in the pipeline. Post the successful execution of the canal-based projects in Gujarat, InSolare is looking to target canals in Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam. But many challenges related to these projects still need to be resolved. Sharma says, “The biggest challenge is the offtake of power. We did not face this issue for our project on the Narmada canal due to the proximity to a hydro project, but other locations will definitely face this issue.” He adds, “the lack of pooling infrastructure is another issue. Moreover, 40 per cent subsidies provided by the government are given to the developer and not the EPC player.” InSolare has also ventured into the microgrid segment and has set up more than 10,000 solar street lights across remote villages in India. The company carried out this project for IndusInd Bank, HDFC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Infosys as part of their corporate social responsibility activities. In sum, the total installed portfolio of InSolare is 150 MW and 100 MW is in the pipeline to be commissioned by the end of 2020.
Challenges for solar EPC players
InSolare has taken the brunt of the aggressive price competition between developers, which results in a lower budget for EPC players, adversely impacting the quality. Sharma also shares in detail the impact of climate change on plant performance, an issue that most developers try to circumvent. He says, “At a few locations across the Ganges plain in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, the diffused radiation due to dust and pollution has decreased the plant yield by almost 20 per cent. And Delhi smogs have led to a 10-15 per cent fall in yield. This has impacted the project viability.” The removal of net metering policies across some large states is another challenge for the EPC players.
InSolare’s financial health has remained strong despite the company operating in a dog-eat-dog solar EPC market. The company’s revenue has grown at the rate of 200 per cent year on year since its inception, though the revenue fell last year due to a slowdown in the economy. The company now operates from four offices, in Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi, and has over a hundred people on its payroll. Sharma says, “The only way to survive in a crowded market is to focus on technology and quality. Also, as the market is driven by ambitious targets, the pie is big for each player.” In this context, InSolare’s plan to have 1 GW of solar projects in its portfolio in the next three years is not out of proportion. However, this can only be achieved if the company does what it has done best in the past, execute difficult projects that other EPC players refrain from taking up and adopt a long-term approach.
By Sarthak Takyar