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Damian Miller, Co-founder and CEO, Orb Energy

Image: Orb Energy

Renewable energy “The potential of solar energy in India is enormous”

Jun 28, 2018

Damian Miller, Co-founder and CEO, Orb Energy, in this interview with Juili Eklahare, reveals how the company maximises the adoption of distributed solar power by targeting the SME segment of India and discusses how the commercial and industrial customers are warming up to solutions driven by solar power. Excerpts…

What are the latest developments in solar energy technologies? How is Orb Energy coping with these developments?

The most significant development in solar space has been the decline in the cost of solar panels, from a wholesale cost of $4 per watt in 2007 to less than 30 cents per watt today. This drop has opened new segments in the Indian solar industry, notably rooftop solar, for commercial and industrial customers. About 70 per cent of Orb’s business is now serving these customers.

Another development is the improvement in the efficiency of solar cells. We are also enthusiastic about the recent global ramp-up in the production of lithium batteries, a great driver for the future of distributed solar in India.

Can you explain the role of distributed solar in cutting inefficiencies of the current system? How is Orb Energy maximising its adoption in India?

Today, almost 23% of electricity generated in India is lost in transmission and distribution. However, solar power can be produced on one’s own roof, thereby, limiting this loss. Orb maximises the adoption of distributed solar power by targeting the SME segment of India. It also offers them an uncollateralised solar loan that makes it easier to adopt a rooftop solar system.

Shed some light on the current installed capacity of Orb Energy, the R&D infrastructure and new technologies that Orb Energy is currently working on. What per cent of the revenue does the company put into R&D?

Since our inception in 2006, we have sold more than 160,000 solar systems in India, with cumulative installations of more than 40 MW of rooftop solar (PV). Our R&D is focused primarily on driving customer satisfaction, such as, the technology that facilitates remote monitoring of rooftop solar installations. This will bring in the required preventive maintenance interventions to ensure that Orb’s rooftop solar systems operate at high efficiency.

When we talk about the growth of solar as a resource, what are the most exciting markets in the solar power industry and why?

We are particularly excited about the potential of rooftop solar in India, which is now significantly cheaper than grid electricity. The payback is now just 3 to 4 years. Commercial and industrial customers depend on expensive and polluting diesel generators for uninterrupted power supply. They are, however, warming up to the fact that solar power is now cheaper than the grid.

The Government of India has set an ambitious target of achieving 100 GW of solar power by 2022, out of the total 175 GW the country plans to produce from renewable sources. What is your take on this?

The installed capacity of rooftop solar is just 1.6 GW as of January, 2018. But the annual installations are growing every year. This shows the tremendous potential that rooftop solar has, with respect to helping India to reach its target. Industrial and commercial users will also be pivotal by helping the country in crossing its 100 GW solar aims.

How do you see the overall industry/market scenario for renewable energy, especially solar energy, in India, in terms of potential, growth, opportunities, and technology development?

The potential of solar energy in India is enormous. Solar power on-site (distributed solar) is now cheaper than grid power. Most commercial and industrial customers pay Rs 6-9 per kWh. With the cost of solar energy eventually heading closer to Rs 2 per kWh, it makes sense for almost every commercial and industrial user in India to go for rooftop solar.

In truth, the future is even more exciting with the cost of lithium-ion battery storage costs going below that of lead acid batteries. Once that happens significantly, most of our commercial and industrial customers will be interested in exploring solar plus storage. They will not need their diesel generators that cost roughly Rs 16 per kWh.

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