Raking in money while the sun shines

Feb 05, 2017, 08:53 IST | Kusumita Das

Tax benefits, long-term reduction in electricity bill and a booming demand generated by government policies. Here's why the
Mumbai's young and smart are looking up to the sun to cash in on the riches

If cutting  down on expenses has been a prime savings priority, get a load of this. A solar power plant of 5 KW (kilo watt), your requirement if you live in an average Mumbai-sized 2BHK, will cost you `4 lakhs. It’s a one-time cost that, over 25 years, will bring down your per unit cost to `2-3 per unit, or in lay terms, cut your monthly bill of `3,000 to say `50. 

Interested? There’s more.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his goal of increasing India’s solar power capacity to 100 giga watts by 2022 — five times higher than the previous target. If that’s accomplished, it will make India a world leader in renewable energy. Towards that end, at the just announced Union Budget, finance minister Arun Jaitely declared that 7,000 railway stations will be fed with solar power by mid-year, and that work has already begun over 300 railway stations.

It’s little wonder then that the city’s young, smart entrepreneurs have jumped onto the solar bandwagon.

Plugging into the sun
A commerce graduate from Matunga’s Podar College Hiren Bhanushali signed up for a two-day solar power awareness programme at Borivli’s Khadi and Village Industries Commission out of curiosity. “It was a very short course, but I got a basic knowledge about solar power — the types of panels, their applications and the job opportunities in the sector,” says the 23-year-old, who followed this up with a 10-day course at kWatt (Solutions Pvt. Ltd), an IIT-Bombay incubated firm which provides solar power solutions. What the course involved was hands-on training on how to install solar panels, electricity bill analysis, shadow analysis and site inspection. “I won’t say it was enough, but it gives you a head-start. I spent the next four months doing market research and then reaching out to relevant people. I also train the contractors I work with,” he says. Six months ago, he set up Super Watt Power Solutions LLP, a solar power solutions firm that specialises in designing, integration and rooftop installation of solar systems that help convert solar energy to electric energy. “We ask the client to share the past year’s electricity bill to understand the consumption pattern. Then we do a bill analysis followed by a site survey, where we look for shadow-free areas. After that, we make a proposal,” he says.

What Major Priyanka (centre), estimates her six-month turnover for Visol Renewable Energy Solution, which she set up with Aparna Kshirsagar and Jyoti Prakash

How much money is there in the business? Bhanushali, who is currently juggling 10 projects, estimates a turnover of `2 crore for these contracts, which includes work on a 15-floor SRA building with 800 tenants.

The guides
kWatt, when it was formed in 2013, envisioned economising renewables. The firm with a six-member team was incubated in SINE (Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) at IIT, Bombay. Founded by Dr Chetan Solanki, professor, Department of Energy Science and Engineering at IIT, Bombay, it also has a separate advisory board. While kWatt provides solar power solutions, it conducts regular training sessions to induct more into the industry.

“We have about six to seven training courses with modules on both hands-on installation and entrepreneurship. Initially, we started off by reaching out to engineering colleges, as we wanted to lay the foundation for the future trainers. Later, we got
into corporate training programs,” says 26-year-old Akash Sharma, one of the team members. Today, the institute — a 10-day course here will set you back by `40,000 — trains over 2,000 students annually.

“This is a cheap source of energy that levels the cost at `3-5/unit for 25 years,” says Sharma.

Among kWatt’s former students is former Army officer, Major Priyanka, who after completing the course last year, set up her own firm, Visol Renewable Energy Solution, along with two friends Aparna Kshirsagar and Jyoti Prakash. She estimates the six month turnover of her firm — which specialises in setting up independent power plants and solar water heater installations — at approximately around `15 lakhs. “So I’d say, business is good,” she smiles. The push, she adds, is government generated. “The government has created a demand of 100 GW, and India has done only 9 GW so far. Naturally there are many more players in the market now, funding is available and component prices are dropping — every six months, there’s a new price.”

Among the more reputed players to have entered the market is the $1 billion Mahindra Group’s five-year-old Mahindra Susten which last year, introduced its first training course for an all-women batch of eight. “The way solar industry is shaping up, every household is going to have a solar roof top in the future,” says CEO Basant Jain. The course, conducted at Susten’s Thane-based institute, is open for all women who are 10+2 qualified or more — while the course is technical, one doesn’t need a science background to qualify.

Demand will rise
Dombivli resident Jignesh Gajra who has installed a solar water heater at his home, has seen a marked difference in the electricity bill. “I live in a 1BHK flat, and since the time I’ve installed the solar water heater, my bill has gone down from `3,000 to `1,200. I am now in talks for installing a complete solar power panel for my house,” says the 31-year-old software engineer.
If cutting on electricity costs wasn’t incentive enough, those who invest in solar energy are given tax benefits, says Sharma, adding, “There’s a rule in Maharashtra that makes it compulsory for new buildings to install solar water heaters. PWD and other government departments have been asked to supply 15 per cent of generated electricity through solar. There’s pressure at a global level to reduce carbon emission, thanks to the G20 Summit. That’s why the government has to take steps. But, at the end of the day, we all stand to benefit.”

Rs 15 lakhs
What Major Priyanka (centre), estimates her six-month turnover for Visol Renewable Energy Solution, which she set up with Aparna Kshirsagar and Jyoti Prakash 

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