Interview with the Sriram Group’s Ashutosh Garg: “The quality of cables must be strictly ensured”

“The quality of cables must be strictly ensured”

Cables are a crucial component of the solar industry. As solar plants function in an open environment, they have to withstand severe weather conditions, dust, heat and UV radiations. To ensure safety and smooth functionality of solar plants, the quality of solar cables is important.  A major player in the solar cables space, Sriram Cables caters to the cable requirement of various solar power plants across the country and is now focusing on various advancements to improve cost efficiencies. In an interview with Renewable Watch, Ashutosh Garg, Vice President (Solar), Sriram Group, shares his perspective on the key advancements, standards and challenges in the solar cables space.…

What is your company’s overall product portfolio? In what areas does it operate in the solar space?

The Sriram Group started its journey with its flagship company Sriram Cables way ba­­ck in 1978. Today, the company has es­­tablished a global presence and is ac­ti­­vely engaged in the business of wires and ca­bl­es manufacturing, solar power generation and real estate. As the company has a pre­sence in both the manufacturing and project development sphe­res, we are hi­ghly keen on increasing our market sh­are on all fronts and foraying into em­erging segments.

The solar sector involves long-term commitment of a minimum 25 years to any of its projects. In 2016, we ventured in the so­lar space considering our strong experience in the power sector for the past 45 years. Currently, we are supplying cables to leading solar developers for their giga­watt-scale solar projects as well as vario­us government departments across India. We are coming up with a huge set up for electron beam cable manufacturing for DC cables with all the required certifications to cater to domestic as well as ex­port markets. Among the unique manufa­cturing facilities at Sriram Cables are the HV cable manufacturing Catenary Conti­n­uous Vulcanizing (CCV) lines supplied by M/s. Troester, Germany, the world lea­der in CCV technology. It can produce cables from 25 mm² to 1,000 mm² of both copper and aluminum with voltage grade up to 132 kV. In our solar EPC division, we have an independent team and an extensive R&D wing to cater to the solar EPC business of commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers, power plants, refineries, ban­ks and many other sectors as well. We ha­ve successfully delivered over 30 MW of solar projects across various sectors.

What have been the key advancements in this space?

Solar power is a very dynamic industry. Technological advancements occur often and continuously in all possible components. To start with, in order to enhance mechanical, thermal and chemical properties of polymer, electron beam crosslin­king technology is being used nowadays. This technology involves irradiation treatment of polymer using a high energy electron beam accelerator. Nanotechnology is one of the fastest growing areas in science and engineering, and is being greatly used in the solar cables space. With the emergence of Passivated Emitter and Re­ar Cell (PERC) technology, the efficiency of solar panels has increased significa­ntly. From offering 300 Wp polycrystalline technology earlier, Indian solar panel ma­nu­facturers are now offering mono­cry­s­talline PERC technology solar panels up to 600 Wp and even more.

The solar industry has also evolved in terms of types of installation. The installation of solar plants is now carried out on the rooftop to cater to the household and the C&I sector, while floating solar, ground mo­unt, canal top, carport, train coach tops, wind-solar hybrids and solar plus ba­tt­ery storage systems are also coming up. Energy storage coupled with renewa­ble sources of power such as solar energy will prove to be a huge turning point in the energy sector. In the railways sector for instance, Sriram Solar commissioned and successfully integrated solar panels atop the coaches of Jan Shatabdi Expre­ss, which runs at a speed of 100-120 km per hour. This is an engineering marvel and has proved encouraging for the cab­les as well as the solar sector.

What are the key quality considerations in solar cables? How is the quality of cables en­sured?

Solar cables play a very critical and crucial role in terms of safety, maintaining op­ti­m­um generation and achieving the de­sired internal rate of return on the project, in order to make it technically and commercially viable. The quality of cables must be strictly ensured to achieve the above. Top quality raw material procurement for cables is the first and foremost aspect to be considered to ensure cable quality. Ri­go­rous testing of cables needs to be carried out at a facility, which can comply with national and international standards, or cables should adhere to standards as sp­e­cified by the relevant authority. Facili­ties such as shielded room solutions and partial discharge detection systems, high voltage testing solutions, and equipment for measurement and instrumentation image­ry can be installed to ensure the quality of cables. Speaking from the company’s experience, collaboration with established international players can play a significant role in this regard.

What are the relevant standards at present? What more quality checks/standards are re­quir­ed in Indian solar projects?

Currently, various standards as specified by the International Electrotechnical Com­mission (IEC) and the Bureau of Indian Stan­da­rds (BIS) are prevalent to ensure the de­sired quality of cables. Recently, the Mi­ni­stry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) also introduced the Approved List of Models and Manufacturers (ALMM) for solar modules. These standards are up­­da­ted regularly, as and when the sector de­mands. Apart from these, there is a re­q­uirement for approval from the chief el­ec­trical inspector to the government along with various other approvals from central and state departments to ensure that the project is as per the guidelines of disco­ms, state renewable energy departments as well as other stakeholders invol­ved in the solar project.

What is your overall take on solar power growth in India?

India has set a very ambitious target of installing 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030. Solar energy is the most readily av­ai­lable renewable energy resource in our country and is likely to play the strongest role in meeting the 2030 target. As per the MNRE, the country receives solar energy equivalent to over 5,000 trillion kWh per year. The daily average solar energy that India receives varies from 4.0kWh/m2 to 7.0kWh/m2 depending upon the location. India’s equivalent solar energy potential is about 6,000 million GWh of energy per year. The climatic conditions make this re­gi­on an appropriate location for harnessing solar energy.

Further, with the increase in the demand for electricity across the country, it is very im­portant to ensure power availability. Fu­r­thermore, it is essential to make sure that the power supplied is clean and not harming the environment. The recent power crisis, which was mainly caused due to the shortage of coal, led major thermal power plants to use up coal reserves. This has in­itiated a greater need for a reliable and clean source of power. To this end, solar energy can act as a decentralised source of electricity, which can cater to various strata of society, ranging from rural households, farmlands to the industrial sector. The central government is also running the production-linked incentive scheme in the solar energy space to give a boost to domestic manufacturing. This will further increase the demand for solar power in India. The entry of big companies in this sp­ace is also likely to help the sector grow while creating employment opportunities for potential workforce.

Is the cable industry suffering from supply chain constraints much like other component segments in the solar space?

The Covid-19 pandemic posed various challenges in terms of disrupted supply chains for almost all raw materials, sour­ced domestically as well as internationally, for the solar cable segment. To further add to it, the recent geopolitical situation in Eu­rope has caused raw material prices to soar. This has led to increased costs acro­ss most sectors including cables and re­ne­wables, and the power sector. The price rise has been immense in a very short pe­riod. Considering the solar energy segme­nt, particularly the increased cost, can aff­ect the internal rate of return and the paybacks on solar projects. However, as the cable industry is not as dependent on im­ports as the solar panel manufacturing industry is currently, cable manufacturers faced fewer supply chain issues as compared to developers.