AmpIn Energy Transition: Growing presence in the renewable C&I space

AmpIn Energy Transition (formerly Amp Energy India) is a leading renewable energy transition platform involved in the commercial and industrial (C&I) and utility renewable energy space and helps customers meet their climate targets. With more than 20 years of experience in the power sector and backed by a mechanical engineering degree from the Delhi College of Engineering, Pinaki Bhattacharyya, MD and CEO, AmpIn Energy Transition, has been steering the company’s growth. In an interview with Renewable Watch, Bhattacharyya talks about the evolving needs of C&I customers, AmpIn Energy’s foray in domestic solar manufacturing and possible solutions for the challenges facing the renewable energy sector. Edited excerpts…

How has the company evolved over the years?

Headquartered in New Delhi, AmpIn Energy Transition has regional offices in Kolkata, Ben­galuru and Mumbai. The current portfolio of the company is arou­nd 3 GWp, equally balanced with C&I and utility business, with 2 GW in the late-stage pipeline. The aim of the company has been to sell green power to both utility and C&I customers. We entered the C&I business in 2018. In 2019, we entered the utility-scale segme­nt as the barriers to entry in this space are comparatively low. In the C&I space, we cater to the rooftop, interstate open acc­ess, virtual power plant (VPP) markets in a bid to provide round-the-clock (RTC) renewables to over 60 customers that are diversified across 10 industries. In the utility-scale business, we try to combine our solar, wind, storage and po­wer trading expertise. Apart from maintaining a balance in our portfolio across segments, we have al­so ensured that the development of projects is across India, in 17 states.

We are an independent company and not a subsidiary of AMP Energy Canada from whom we have received incubation funding. We have raised over $500 million in phases from leading international institutional investors such as LGT Lightrock, CIP, SMBC, CBRE Caledon and CIIF/ Ko­tak, ICG and AIIB. Our target is to have a 10 GW portfolio by 2030.

How is the company adapting to customer demand for more RTC power?

Our objective is to maximise the use of renewables at the lowest cost for customers. In the utility side of business, hybrid, RTC, peak power supply tenders have started floating. The cost inc­reases with greater demand for RTC rene­wables and therefore these projects do not make economic sense. Also, storage costs are expected to come down in the future, therefore, RTC renewable energy projects should not be blocked now. In the RESCO model, it is the developer, not the customer, who has to make the massive investment in a RTC renewables project, hence we have to be cautious to start setting up such projects.

To achieve RE100, there are four steps – utilise rooftop solar within the factory/co­mmercial space, and explore intra-state op­en access, interstate open access, and VPPs. With this, the co­n­sumer can efficiently reach 100 per cent renewables without the physical replacement of RTC power. Currently, 100 per cent rep­la­cement of power is not advisable. It is better to take it slowly and steadily so that full replacement happens when supporting technologies become cheaper.

Regarding VPPs, most of the regulatory issues have been solved and it just requires more clarity. This is a good business model for both the generator and utility as the customer is retained by both and more investments are attracted.

Going forward, India can become a global supplier of renewable energy credits for global companies wanting to meet their climate targets.

What are your views on the electric vehicle (EV) charging and green hydrogen businesses?

We have stayed out of the EV charging infrastructure business as it is a B2C business. The charging infrastructure business makes economic sen­se when the B2C business is stable and growing. Right now, the uptake of EVs is slow. Similarly, the hydrogen production business is completely different. Our company’s aim will be to supply green en­ergy to companies producing green hy­d­rogen and tie up with electrolyser suppliers and provide opex solutions to customers.

We want to stay in the distributed model of renewable energy. It is important to not lose focus. The country started with a 175 GW renewable energy target by 2022. One year has passed but we have still not reached that target, in fact, a new target for 2030 has been announced. It is key for the government to set targets, but we should not forget that the last target was missed. So, there is already an untapped potential in existing businesses. For em­erging businesses, it is sometimes better to have second- or third-mover advantage to know which technology is the clear winner out of the big pool of technologies available. For instance, in the initial years of solar power uptake, solar thermal and solar PV were the two options and finally the latter was adopted on a larger scale. Similarly, in the green hydrogen space there is competition among different technologies of electrolysers right now, hence we need to be cautious in entering this segment. The government is doing positive work by providing incentives in the green hydrogen space. We have to safeguard our investors’ money from risky investments.

What are your plans in the solar manufacturing space?

In April 2023, AmpIn Energy Transition, through its subsidiary AMPIN Solar One, won 1 GW capacity under basket 3 for in­tegrating cell and module manufacturing under the Solar Energy Corpo­ra­tion of India’s (SECI) production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme Tranche II. AMPIN Solar One will be eligible to receive a maximum in­centive of Rs 1.4 billion. In September 2022, our company announced a joint venture with Websol Energy Systems to manufacture up to 1.2 GW of monocrystalline PERC solar cells and modules in two phases of 600 MW each. The modules will be produced at Websol’s existing unit at Falta, West Bengal. The aim is to have better control over the supply chain as this allows faster and cheaper power to our customers.

What are your policy suggestions to the government?

The artificial tax and duty structure is a key issue for the power sector as it increases the cost of power, thus not only adversely affecting the end consumer but also making the manufacture of other goods in India less economical. Therefore, the high GST for the renewables sector should be reduced to 5 per cent.

The large public sector undertakings (PSUs) in India can use their deep pockets to invest in large-scale factories for solar components. Instead, they are crowding out private investments by bidding in tenders for renewable energy project development. A PSU investing in manufacturing could have helped reduce the market price and made sure that domestically produced components are used locally and not exported (which is done by private players). Moreover, a manufacturer would prefer a capital subsidy instead of PLIs.

The Approved List of Models and Ma­nufacturers (ALMM) needs to be done aw­ay with. The ALMM reminds one of the licence Raj era in India when the government used to put stringent restrictions on what a company could do.

The basic customs duty of 25 per cent on solar PV cells is a little high. There is hardly any operational domestic cell manufacturing capacity in India, therefore, these have to be imported. The government gets the duty but ultimately it increases the cost of power for the consumers. Much of the issue of PPA backlogs by distribution companies started with the tampering of duty structures to promote domestic solar manufacturing.

While it is highlighted that solar tariffs are reducing, even reaching an all-time low of Rs 2 per unit, one needs to check if these power plants ultimately get built or get stranded because of lack of economic feasibility.

Another issue is that many states are not following what is written in the Electricity Act, and this leads to litigations. Me­an­­­wh­ile, in the utility space, there are ongoing issues related to land acquisition, substations not coming on time, the Great Indian Bu­stard issue, etc.