India’s position as a net exporter of solar equipment is foreseeable

Step into the world of solar innovation as we sit down for a gripping interview with Mr. Prashant Mathur, CEO of Saatvik Green Energy.

In this enthralling interview from our ‘Green Guardian series‘, Prashant takes us through the remarkable journey of Saatvik Green Energy in the solar module industry and how they plan to maintain a fierce competitive edge in the dynamic solar module market. He also discusses the evolution of this industry and India’s growth potential, which could enable a tripling or quadrupling of the industry in the coming years. At the same time, he explains why consistency of policy is necessary for sustained growth of this sector.

Prashant Mathur, Saatvik solar

IBT: In order to set the context, please share insights about your company’s journey in the solar module industry and its significant milestones.

Prashant Mathur: Regarding Saatvik‘s journey, it commenced in 2015, making this our 8th year in operation. Today, we proudly stand as one of India’s largest solar module manufacturers. Our manufacturing facility is situated in Ambala, near Delhi in northern India. Our current module manufacturing capacity stands at 1.5 gigawatts, ranking us among India’s top five manufacturers. The journey began with polycrystalline technology, also known as multicrystalline. At present, we specialize in monocrystalline p-type half-cut panels, particularly the 545 and 550-watt panels. These panels represent the latest generation of solar technology available in India. We are at the forefront of introducing cutting-edge technology to India, with plans to implement end-top-con technology by September-October.

Significant milestones mark our journey. Foremost, our consistent growth stands out. Over the past eight years, we’ve maintained an impressive year-on-year growth rate of 25%. Notably, the past three years have seen extraordinary growth, nearly ninefold. This exponential progress is characteristic of the solar industry, rewarding adept strategies with remarkable expansion.

Our organizational footprint is expanding as well. Alongside solar panel manufacturing, we’ve entered the realm of EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction). We undertake projects including large rooftop installations and ground-mounted arrays, primarily serving the commercial and industrial sectors, with involvement in select government initiatives. Our trajectory also includes the IPP (Independent Power Producer) business model, involving power generation and sale. We’ve already initiated projects in this domain.

Our operations extend beyond the domestic market, encompassing international trade as well. We’ve established business ties with regions including the US, Canada, Europe, and Africa, solidifying our presence on a global scale. This encapsulates the core dimensions of our business endeavours.

IBT: How are you planning to retain a competitive edge in the solar market right now? 

Prashant Mathur: As I mentioned earlier – while pursuing the right strategies is crucial for growth in the energy sector, it’s equally important to execute these strategies promptly. Ensuring timely execution prevents potential setbacks. Therefore, sustaining a competitive edge involves staying attuned to the latest products, technologies, and global best practices prevalent in the energy industry. We constantly strive to uphold this competitive edge by remaining aligned with the evolving global energy energy landscape.

Our ongoing expansion focuses on the adoption of Topcon technology. In India, P-type technology has dominated, but the tide is shifting towards N-type technology, which was once considered cost-prohibitive but is now gaining widespread acceptance. We’re introducing Topcon panels, maintaining the same panel dimensions while achieving higher wattage and efficiency levels, approximately 10-15% more efficient. This translates to increased energy generation per square meter and improved Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE).

Within our EPC division, we’re dedicated to reducing the cost of ownership for both products and projects. This commitment extends to adopting the best practices across engineering, installation services, and operations and maintenance (O&M) services. These collective efforts bolster our competitive position. Concurrently, our research and development (R&D) endeavours focus on refining our products and technologies, prioritizing uncompromising quality while ensuring competitive pricing. This consistent approach has been instrumental in establishing our market success.

IBT: Quality is what we are expecting from India to become a prominent name in this sector. What are your potential growth expectations from the Indian market right now?

Prashant Mathur: The Indian market is poised for continuous expansion, driven by the nation’s imperative to expedite the transition towards green energy. Solar power is integral to this journey, and its development must accelerate. India boasts abundant solar resources that we must harness effectively. As our nation progresses economically, purchasing power increases, consequently elevating energy consumption. This dual trajectory presents considerable growth opportunities.

The first aspect of growth lies in transitioning from non-renewable to renewable energy sources. Simultaneously, as more individuals emerge from poverty and affluence rises, the adoption of electric vehicles gains momentum. The upcoming years are likely to witness an immense surge in energy demand. To mitigate reliance on non-renewable sources, proactive preparation is essential. Establishing robust renewable energy infrastructure ensures we meet the impending demand effectively.

In essence, our focus must be on ensuring our renewable energy infrastructure is well-prepared to cater to the imminent surge in green energy demand. This proactive approach aligns with our nation’s overarching goal of sustainable growth.

IBT: How does your company ensure sustainable practices and environmental responsibility when it comes to solar module manufacturing?

Prashant Mathur: Absolutely, we’re committed to several approaches to ensuring sustainability and environmental responsibility. Firstly, we practice what we advocate by sourcing a substantial portion of our energy from renewable sources. Acknowledging the energy-intensive nature of manufacturing, we believe in leading by example.

Moreover, addressing the full lifecycle of solar panels is crucial. We’re proud to be among the pioneering Indian companies with a comprehensive plan for solar panel disposal at the end of their lifespan. Through collaboration with dedicated agencies, we’re addressing the challenge of managing panels that have served their 25 to 30-year lifecycle. This approach underscores our commitment as a responsible manufacturer, not only to society but also to the environment.

Watch the complete interview: 

IBT: What suggestions would you want to offer to the government for the support and promotion of green energy in India, especially in the solar sector?

Prashant Mathur: Our government’s efforts have been commendable, yet there is a crucial aspect that requires attention – policy stability. A consistent policy framework is imperative. Manufacturing processes are time-intensive, spanning concept to execution over a span of two to three years. This entails land selection, obtaining approvals, equipment procurement, facility construction, and a host of other prerequisites. A conducive environment for growth hinges on policy stability. Inconsistent policy shifts erode manufacturer confidence, hindering progress.

While we can engage in debates about policy impact, the paramount need is for policy consistency. The government’s role in maintaining this stability is pivotal. In terms of projects, the government is making noteworthy strides. However, there’s room for expansion, especially given our populous context. Compared with our neighbour, China, which achieved annual capacities of 70 to 100 gigawatts within a few years, India’s potential remains promising. While our current energy demand may not rival China’s, the trajectory is upward, possibly tripling or quadrupling in the coming years as our economy grows.

Stable policies would encourage capacity expansion among existing manufacturers, bolstering a comprehensive manufacturing ecosystem aligned with the “Make in India” initiative. With the trajectory we’ve been on, buoyed by the PLI scheme and other initiatives, India’s position as a net exporter of solar equipment within the next few years is foreseeable. This potential is within grasp. A stable policy environment would solidify India’s position as a global hub for solar and renewable equipment, a segment where our nation’s potential is poised to flourish.

IBT: Speaking of the government’s initiatives, the startup ecosystem has undoubtedly fostered innovation. In your view, has the startup culture played a role in fostering growth and innovation within your company or the broader solar sector?

Prashant Mathur: Indeed, the startup ecosystem holds undeniable significance. Remarkably, the solar industry mirrors the essence of a startup. While our domain is manufacturing, the solar industry itself is relatively youthful. It encompasses numerous ancillaries that have burgeoned alongside its growth. Components like junction boxes, solar ribbons, sealants, and frames, previously scarce, now contribute intricately to the solar manufacturing process. Notably, certain startups have excelled in these areas, carving out essential niches.

Moreover, the solar sector’s expansion has spawned startups dedicated to diverse segments like solar project installation, operations and maintenance (O&M) services, and even robotics-based O&M solutions. Inverter manufacturing also stands as a testament to startup contributions. These entities encapsulate the quintessence of the startup culture.

As a company that embarked on a startup journey itself not long ago, we wholeheartedly embrace and promote this culture. Our industry offers fertile ground for startups to thrive, akin to our own beginnings. The solar sector’s multifaceted nature ensures ample scope for innovation across various domains. The collaborative impact of startups bolsters both individual company growth and the sector as a whole.

IBT: What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs who are entering the solar business?

Prashant Mathur: For those considering entry into the solar business, my advice is grounded in a few key principles. Firstly, capitalize on your strengths. Acquaint yourself thoroughly with the industry’s intricacies. The solar sector is distinctly different from conventional businesses, characterized by rapid and often volatile changes. It’s a high-volume, low-margin field where pricing dynamics can shift overnight. Hence, gaining a profound understanding of the market and its dynamics is paramount.

Secondly, exercise caution and diligence. Comprehensive comprehension should precede entry. This isn’t a standard industry; it demands adeptness in various areas. My counsel is to select a niche you understand and excel in. The solar industry’s diversity tempts new entrepreneurs to undertake multiple roles, from small EPCs to large projects, encompassing manufacturing, O&M, and more. However, it’s wiser to focus on one or two areas, ensuring excellence, rather than diversifying too broadly and risking subpar performance.

In essence, my advice centers on recognizing your strengths, assimilating industry intricacies, and adopting a focused approach. This approach maximizes your chances of success in a sector characterized by rapid evolution and immense potential.

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