The recently tabled Union Budget did not talk about the power sector directly. But it did...
January was full of news on the energy front. For instance, the World Future Energy Summit...
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Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani today said the intense resistance to his group’s Australian coal mining project was “abetted by some international NGOs and competitors” and termed personal attacks on him as “vicious”. The Adani Group entered Australia in 2010 with the purchase of greenfield Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland, and the Abbot Point port near Bowen in the north. Speaking at the SRCC Business Conclave, Adani said the group has lined up $15 billion investment in a greenfield venture in Australia to mine and transport coal that would replace a part of the poorer quality domestic coal being burnt in India. “However in recent years our project has faced intense resistance abetted by some international NGOs and competitors who have turned to vicious personal attacks and used the press to their advantage,” said Adani, who rarely addresses public forum. The coal mining project in Australia would create significant job opportunities within Australia, while bringing energy security to 18,000 villages in India that have no access to electricity. The group’s planned investments in Australia, Adani said, is the “largest overseas greenfield investment ever” by any Indian company.
Despite job creation opportunities, the Carmichael project has been facing opposition from environmentalists and indigenous groups. The Indian energy giant has for more than five years been battling the opposition to any expansion of the Abbot Point port. Stating that the Group’s journey from thermal power to coal mining has often come under criticism, Adani said that while he agrees global warming is a challenge and a cleaner energy base is critical, however, it is possible to believe in both coal as well as renewables. “The fact is that renewable energy technologies are not currently ready to provide uninterrupted base load power. The fact is that it is our responsibility to get electricity to the Indian child who needs to light that single bulb to educate himself,” Adani said. He said in India there are 300 million citizens that lack access to power and the country is one of the lowest emitters of carbon-di-oxide on a per capita basis. The Adani group is “aggressively pushing renewable energy” and has featured as one of the top 15 renewable players in the world, he said.
Adani interjected his address to the students of SRCC with his life story on how from a high school drop out at the age of 16, he created a global integrated infrastructure group with a revenue of about $11 billion. “You are at a point of time where the future of our nation is full of incredible growth opportunities. If I, against all odds, made it as an entrepreneur there is no reason why here cannot be a thousand greater entrepreneurs amongst you too,” he said in his 30-minute speech.
Energy and engineering solutions firm Jakson Group today announced a strategic partnership with the UAE’s Al Naboodah Electrics for the distribution of its solar products in the West Asian market. Al Naboodah Electrics is a part of UAE’s conglomerate Al Naboodah Group Enterprises (ANGE). The solar business is one of the fastest growing verticals for Jakson and has presence across the value chain, Jakson Group said in a statement. Its product portfolio includes solar modules, module mounting structures, solar power packs, solar water ROs, solar generators, solar street lights and solar water pumps amongst others. The company said with this partnership, Jakson and Al Naboodah Electrics will look to capitalise on the UAE government’s energy plan, which aims to increase clean energy use by 50 per cent by 2050 with solar based power playing a crucial role.
Besides the UAE, Jakson has operations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and several countries in Africa.
The Union Budget for 2018-19 has not proposed any specific measure or incentive for the $150-billion-plus Indian information technology (IT) industry but what has charmed the sector is the government’s strong intention in harnessing the latest technologies to give further impetus to the entire ecosystem. Finance minister Arun Jaitley while presenting the Budget emphasised the government’s intention to further the use of technologies such robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), digital manufacturing, Big Data analysis, quantum communication and Internet of Things (IoT). These are all new technologies which are projected to be the next frontier for the IT industry and the sector hopes that this will usher in wide-ranging changes which could result in all-round growth. “Combining cyber and physical systems has great potential to transform not only the innovation ecosystem but also our economy and the way we live. To invest in research, training and skilling in robotics, AI, digital manufacturing, Big Data analysis, quantum communication and IoT, Department of Science & Technology will launch a Mission on Cyber Physical Systems to support establishment of centres of excellence. I have doubled the allocation on Digital India programme to Rs 3,073 crore in 2018-19,” Jaitley said in his Budget speech.
It is very unlikely that any of these announcements would have a dramatic change but the government’s intention may show new vistas of growth for the IT industry in the country. B V R Mohan Reddy, founder and executive chairman, Cyient, said, “I am delighted to see the government’s increased impetus on emerging technologies to help India turn into a digital society. The investments in research, training and skilling in AI, robotics, digital manufacturing, and IoT will pay rich dividends by creating new jobs and re-skilling the existing workforce.” Similarly, the Budget also spoke about using blockchain technology, which is rapidly emerging as the new tool for financial services industry to maintain their transactions. “The government will explore use of block chain technology proactively for ushering in digital economy,” Jaitley said. On the long-term benefit from these new technologies, PN Sudarshan, partner, Deloitte India, said, “Successful absorption and indigenisation to local needs can provide the platform for scale and granularity that could bring these technologies towards mainstream adoption faster.”
The Budget has also emphasised on other key themes of the government like smart cities, digital economy and creating a paperless infrastructure. These would augur well for the country as it keeps pace with latest developments in technology. Tech Mahindra CEO C P Gurnani, said, “The steps taken to strengthen the presence of fintech in the MSME space and the plans for Smart Cities such as Smart City Command Centres, smart roads and solar power shows that we are on our way to achieving our goal of being a trillion dollar digital economy by 2025.” There are also other initiatives in the education and healthcare sector which is bound to bring long-term benefit for technology companies in India as they could emerge as valuable partners in delivering the services. The government’s ambitious plan of providing health insurance to over 10 crore families will find an able partner in the Indian tech companies as they already have the experience of providing such a service.
Sudharshan of Deloitte India, said, “National Health Protection Scheme will entail significant technology investments, which could be catered to, very efficaciously, by the Indian technology sector already proficient in addressing this segment globally.” Even Rostow Ravanan, CEO, Mindtree, said, “We are also interested to learn more about the largest social insurance scheme planned by the government—this could be a large opportunity for using technology to deliver superior outcomes.” There was also the mention in the Budget on the use of 5G technologies and creation of Wi-fi spots to extend the reach of internet connectivity. This could give an impetus to the telecom industry which would have an indirect benefit for the IT sector. Prakash Mallya, managing director, sales & marketing group, Intel India, said, “The DoT’s establishment of an indigenous 5G centre is an encouraging sign of the government’s view of collaboration with the broader technology ecosystem as the best strategy to accelerate the rollout of 5G infrastructure in India.”
However, there was also certain disappointment from the PC industry which expected certain fiscal incentives similar on the lines of the mobile handset industry which would have further encouraged the theme of ‘Make in India’. Rahul Agarwal, CEO & MD Lenovo, India, said, “We are bullish on the ‘Make in India’ initiative and expect the Budget propositions to provide an impetus to the manufacturing sector. The revision of import custom duties on smartphones from 15% to 20% will significantly strengthen the manufacturing ecosystem within the country and increase domestic value addition. However, there is an immediate need to provide similar manufacturing incentives to the PC sector and accelerate the vision of Digital India.” The Budget has spoken the right words on technology revealing its very modern outlook. The IT industry now eagerly awaits further policy pronouncements which will allow technology to reach out to a wider population.
Opinion is divided on the recent proposal of Director General (DG) of Safeguards to impose a provisional 70% safeguard duty on solar cell imports for a period of 200 days. While the move has raised questions over the viability of upcoming solar projects, a section of the industry holds that it would boost domestic manufacturing and create a level-playing field before the awaited surge in renewable auctions – the Centre has already announced its intention to auction another 60 GW of solar projects by FY20. But first the essentials. Imported solar modules are 8-10% cheaper than those made in India, making them vital for cheap renewable power – solar modules comprise about 60% of total project costs. About 88% of module requirements are met through imports. In FY17, imports of 88% and 7% of solar cells — the basic component of modules — took place from China and Malaysia, respectively.
India’s production capacity for solar cells stands at 3.2 GW and that for modules at 8.5 GW. Given the targets set by the Centre, prioritising the ‘Make in India’ policy could thus hamper the green energy mission. The proposed duty came on the back of an application for probe filed by the Indian Solar Manufacturing Association (ISMA). Dhruv Sharma, governing council member, ISMA, says the probe found that “aggressive dumping of solar cells and modules from China, Taiwan and Malaysia is causing significant injury to domestic manufacturers,” and the duty “will trigger large investment in solar manufacturing in a short time”.
However, ratings agency Crisil has said that the provisional safeguard duty would put at risk about 3 GW of solar projects, worth over `12,000 crore, under implementation. A section of the industry believes the duty would cause significant financial distress to solar projects as hundreds of MW of inventory is in transit, for orders placed before the proposal was made public. It would also impact the 4,800 MW of tenders awaiting allocation. Nikunj Ghodawat, CFO, CleanMax Solar, says “the government should allow enough time for the industry to prepare itself for such a significant regulatory change.”
Research firm Bridge to India has estimated that a 70% safeguard duty would necessitate a hike of `0.90 per unit in solar tariff (35%) to restore pre-duty financial returns on projects. Since some tenders had been auctioned at ceiling tariffs as low as `2.93/unit, such recovery might not be possible, it has warned.Kameswara Rao, partner, PwC, points out that the manufacturing industry in countries that export solar equipment have benefited from supportive policy over years and what the domestic industry needs is a moderate longer-term measure. Calling the move a “heavy short-term measure,” he says that it “will fail to make a difference if utilities refrain from signing new PPAs due to higher costs, and interest generated in the sector dissipates.” Significantly, the issue has also made news in the United States, with US President Donald Trump imposing a 30% tariff on imported solar panels earlier this month. Raj Prabhu, CEO, Mercom Capital Group, holds that “the recently announced 70% preliminary safeguard duty recommendation, the ongoing anti-dumping case, and a 7.85% port duty on imported modules are creating an atmosphere of regulatory uncertainty that is taking a toll on the industry.”
The ball, then, is in the government’s court. While Power Minister RK Singh said recently that the proposed duty would not affect projects auctioned before its implementation, removal of uncertainty on the front is clearly in the sector’s interest.