“There is a surge in demand for VPPAs”: Interview with Amplus Solar’s Sharad Pungalia

Sharad Pungalia, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Amplus Solar

One of the key trends in the global and Indian renewable energy landscape has been the growing demand for clean energy from commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers. As a result, the C&I renewable power market has grown from small onsite rooftop solar projects to large-scale open access and even round-the-clock renewable power arrangements, and is still evolving and expanding. Amplus Solar, an early mover in India’s C&I renewable energy space, started with rooftop solar projects and has recently ventured into diverse areas including hybrids, distributed green hydrogen and residential solar. In a recent interview with Renewable Watch, Sharad Pungalia, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Amplus Solar, talked about the company’s journey in the Indian renewable energy market and the upcoming opportunities for the company…

What has Amplus Solar’s journey been like? What is your total portfolio?

Amplus Solar’s journey began as a startup founded by people from the power sector. In the early 2010s, we saw an opp­ortunity in the Indian renewables space given the direction in which the country was heading. At the time, roof­top solar was gaining momentum and the net metering policy had just come out. Ar­ou­nd 2012-13, we started our journey with Amplus Solar. Initially, our focus was on the rooftop segment. Our vision was to become a pan-Indian rene­wable energy service company and I would say that Amplus was one of the first companies to achieve such a scale. The philosophy has always been to provide renewable energy to our customers directly and support them in their sustainability journey.

Over the years, we have moved from just rooftop solar to larger onsite solar projects and also the open access space. As and when customer demand is chan­ging, our company’s offerings are also evol­ving accordingly. We have also step­ped into the interstate transmission system (ISTS) segment, where we are setting up large projects to supply renewable power pan-India, as well as the hy­brids space. More­over, we have our resi­de­ntial solar offering under the brand name Home­Scape Solar.

Currently, we have about 1.7 GW of total ca­­pacity under operation or construction. Of this, about 1.1 GW is already operational.

What has the company’s experience been in the residential solar space? Has the rooftop solar portal helped in promoting uptake in this area?

The government’s rooftop solar portal is a very good initiative. The direct benefit tra­nsfer scheme is beneficial for both customers and developers. However, some is­sues remain. I feel some amount of education or awareness is required at this po­int as rooftop solar penetration is still quite low in the residential space, especially in smaller cities and towns. Although the­re has been some progress, we need some quick fixes to accelerate the uptake.

What are some of the big recent deals and projects for you?

We are implementing our first hybrid project, a 200 MW solar-wind hybrid project in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. This project is being undertaken in partnership with Everrenew, which is responsible for the development and is our BoP contractor as well. The project comprises about 108 MW of wind po­wer capacity and 100 MW of solar po­wer capacity. We have selected GE to supply us the wind turbines for the project. The pr­o­ject will be commissioned in phases next year. We are already in talks with our customers for power offtake from this project.

We are also implementing our first ISTS project, a 300 MW solar power plant in Bikaner. The project is under construction, and we hope to finish it before the end of this year.

How has Covid-19 impacted O&M strategies for developers like yourself, especially from a technology standpoint?

For us, Covid-19 did not have that much of an impact on operations as Amplus has al­ways been heavily dependent on ad­van­ced technologies for its operations and maintenance (O&M). We have developed an in-house analytics platform called Hawk AI for the O&M of all our projects. Thus, right from an individual unit to str­ing-level monitoring, this platform takes care of our monitoring needs.

There is a centralised monitoring hub lo­cated at our Gurugram office and a dedicated team that takes care of the software development aspect of this platform. This analytics platform monitors some of the rooftop solar projects owned by our parent company, Gentari, in Malaysia.

Due to the adoption of such advanced te­ch­­n­ologies, the operation of our projects was never an issue apart from those initial da­ys of lockdown and movement restrictions. Later, renewable energy was cate­go­ri­sed as essential services and, barring so­me supply chain constraints, our O&M acti­vities were not impacted to a large extent.

We are also opting for 100 per cent automated module cleaning for our upcoming Bikaner ISTS-connected solar project. This will help us to save significant volu­mes of water especially in a water-scarce state like Rajasthan. Further, as labour issues are expected to increase in the near future, there is bound to be significant cost efficiency in using automated robotic cleaning solutions versus manual cleaning of modules.

What is your perspective on VPPAs? Is this a viable possibility today? What regulatory measures are required to facilitate these arrangements?

Several measures are required to establish virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA) frameworks in the country. Cer­tai­nly, there is a lot of demand for such arr­angements. Many global corporates, es­pecially tech giants and various multinational corporations, have committed to achieving 100 per cent renewables within a certain time frame. However, some of th­ese players might not have enough load for consuming green power directly. Thus, such companies seek a “contract for differences” kind of arrangement.

However, several challenges need to be addressed. First, clear regulatory mechanisms must be put in place for these VPPA arrangements, especially in terms of lic­e­nsing, taxation and registrations. Further, a strong short-term market or a merchant ma­rket for renewable power projects is crucial. While the government is moving in that direction with measures like general network access, greater clarity is required to further develop these frameworks.

We have signed a 100 MW renewable en­ergy attributes sale agreement with Mi­crosoft recently and we will be developing more customer friendly products, catering to instant requirements.

Does the company have any plans in the green hydrogen or green ammonia space?

At Amplus, we are more interested in the distributed green hydrogen space based on our current business model. Since we already supply renewable power to our C&I clients as RESCOs, we can set up electrolysers on a captive basis and supply green hydrogen to them as well under the hydrogen sale model. However, so­me clarity is still needed on definitions and pricing for offtake.

What are the company’s short-term and long-term plans?

Since the company’s inception, we have always had one goal – to be an energy solutions provider for our customers. We do not have any capacity targets, and our approach is focused on providing our customers with optimum renewable energy solutions to meet their energy requireme­n­ts, whether it is through onsite projects, offsite projects, hybrids, VPPAs or ISTS arran­gements. Going forward, we will focus mo­re on solar-wind, as we see a lot of dema­nd for such solutions in the future.