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India has immense potential for off-grid solar power

EM NEWS BUREAU ,  Saturday, March 17, 2012, 16:11 Hrs  [IST]

Dhiraj Bhagchandka— Dhiraj Bhagchandka, Managing Director, Kirti Solar Ltd

Part of the diversified Pekon Group of companies, Kirti Solar Ltd is amongst India's largest solar power systems and projects companies. Supported by a worldwide network of service centres, Kirti Solar offers all range of off-grid solar systems including solar home and street lighting, solar power plants for banks, telecom, railways, etc; and also solar thermal power systems. Dhiraj Bhagchandka describes his company's operations and exudes confidence on the bright future for the solar power industry in India.

Please discuss the role of small off-grid solar power installations and your company's offerings in this product range.
Kirti Solar Ltd is one of the largest companies involved in the design, supply, installation and finance of off-grid solar power projects in India. We have offices across eight states with more than 175 sales/service centers across the country. Our company is a registered channel partner of the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

The potential of off-grid solar power is huge in India. Particularly in the sectors of telecom, defense, railways and banking industries, the use of solar power has become essential as it can save huge costs.

Could you explain, in general terms, the importance of solar power in rural India, given that there will continue to be villages that will not easily get grid power despite programmes like RGGVY?
In general, solar power is a necessity for a developing country like India because of the huge dependency on fuel imports and its associated costs. The government has also decided to deregulate the cost of diesel, which will further drive the cost of energy.

In rural areas, which lack reliable transmission network, solar power is the only reliable and feasible source of energy. In general, setting up of any transmission network to a new area has a fixed cost, which can only be justified provided there is a critical consumer base and strong local distribution for last mile delivery and payment collection. In most rural areas, which were conceived under RGGVY, the above cost cannot be justified by the local revenue. Hence, local power generation using solar, biofuel, etc is the only viable option.

Does Kirti Solar intend to make equipment (solar photovoltaic cells) for multi-mw solar power plants, given the big opportunity arising out of India's National Solar Mission?
We envision our role as the nation's largest design, installation and finance company for solar power systems, including off-grid and grid-connected plants. It serves our interest to be amenable to emerging technologies, without being bound by conventional methods. With this, we can always provide the most efficient modules developed through constant R&D in any corner of the world. We would prefer to remain so in the near future. However, we are very eager to tie up with technology providers in the areas of modules, inverters, etc.

In the same vein, does Kirti Solar intend to a full-fledged solar power producer following opportunities available under the JNNSM?
In fact, our company has acquired land for projects in Rajasthan and Gujarat and we do intend to become an IPP in the solar power sector.

Kirti SolarTell us more about your tie-ups with banks and financial institutions to make solar power more affordable.
Kirti Solar Ltd has the maximum number of tie-ups with leading nationalized and rural banks across India. Currently, we are actively working with 35 national and rural banks for financing solar systems across India. This enables us to offer easy finance on our systems/projects in any part of India.

What is your view on the penetration of solar power based appliances in cities and urban cities, aiming at displacing fossil-based grid power?
In the next five years, rooftop solar and Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) will be very common across Indian cities. As we are moving closer to the cost of conventional power, this dream is becoming a reality. The government of India, through the ministry of new and renewable energy, must be credited for taking various initiatives like declaration of solar cities across India.

Tell us about the synergy between solar power and LED that combine the benefits of solar power and efficient energy consumption.
In general, LED is the next big product whose use will soon become inevitable. When we combine this product with the source of free power like solar, it becomes all the more viable. Solar powered LED systems in home and street lightings are very cost-effective systems.

Do you feel that costs of solar photovoltaic panels are coming down of late? What is your view on India's competency in domestic production of grid-sized solar power equipment?
The cost will continue to come down in the near future because of huge surplus capacity across China and Europe and also the bad economic situation in Europe, which till date was the largest consumer of PV.

India has recently developed a huge production capacity which will continue to increase provided the government continues the protection of domestic manufacturing through its local content requirement.

Some cities are planning to convert conventional street lighting into LED-based systems. Do you think that solar-based LED systems can be the next step forward?

Telecom Regulatory Authority has mandated that at least 50 per cent of telecom towers should be energized through hybrid solutions. Do you think that solar power could be a viable solution?
It is very viable and profitable. However, the telecom companies must invest in this technology rather than delay its adoption. For the telecom sector, it has been proven beyond doubt that solar is the only viable and feasible solution.

Please summarize your future plans, mainly in the area of solar power for rural applications. Also, how important would be Kirti Solar's share in Pekon Group's activities, say five years down the line?
Kirti Solar Ltd shall be amongst the top three companies in India in the area of off-grid solar systems, particularly in rural areas. We are confident of building the largest supply and installation network across the country, backed by our leadership and experience in financing these systems. The share of our solar business shall be approximately 60 per cent in the Pekon Group.
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