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How has been Impulse Green Energy’s journey so far and what is its current scale of operations?
Impulse started operations around three years ago as a distributor of solar power equipment. We are the distributors for high quality and high performance solar brands including Huawei, LONGi Solar, REC, Hoymiles, Leoni and QC Solar.
In terms of growth in operations, we had a turnover of only about Rs 7 million in 2016-17 but last year, in 2018-19, our turnover was Rs 360 million. This year, in 2019-20, we are expecting to cross Rs 750 million in turnover. This also reflects the growth of the solar power industry in the country as well as the opportunities for good quality equipment manufacturers. The brands we are working with launched their products in the Indian market around the same time when we entered the market. The growth in our bottom line reflects how the strength of their product has increased over these years. The good quality can be gauged from the fact that we have had several repeat customers for these products.
When we talk about the share of inverters and modules, so far the majority of our revenue was from inverters. Here it must be noted that the cost of modules per MW is eight to ten times the inverter cost but we added modules to our portfolio only last year when we started distributing REC modules. LONGi Solar signed us up in 2019 so this year onwards we are expecting the share of modules in our total revenues to be 50 per cent.
What is the split between rooftop and utility-scale solar space?
Majority of our clients are sourcing the products for rooftop projects. So over 70 per cent of our revenue is derived from rooftop segment and remaining from utility-scale projects. Within rooftop, majority of the business is coming from the commercial and industrial (C&I) segment followed by SECI-sponsored government and institutional users. Residential rooftop has only started picking up recently and is expected to gain traction in the coming years.
Why would project developers source equipment from a distributor and not directly from the manufacturer?
Project developers opt for distributor mostly in the rooftop segment. In the utility-scale market, there is negligible scope for distributor due to the scale of projects. A distributor comes into picture when there is a small expansion or addition in the plant which is to be done in a short span of time.
Moreover, rooftop projects are widely spread across. The cost of supplying to such staggered and distributed projects for companies like LONGi and Huawei is similar to the cost of supplying to any large utility-scale projects. For multinational companies like Huawei and LONGi Solar as well, shipping products to a single company will be much more convenient than shipping to multiple small-scale players. A small rooftop project owner or developer would not want to bear such high costs. Moreover, a single glitch in the process can risk delaying the shipment leading to serious cost implications. In order to avoid the same, it is better to have a channel partner which will support the customer by ensuring that the shipment reaches in time. We maintain adequate stock in order to meet the immediate door delivery requests as well besides being the local and reliable point of contact to address any issues.
How does the after sales service function in this case?
Impulse has its own team of after sales service. The team is trained by our vendors. But this is mostly relevant for inverters as the after sale service for modules is negligible. The only challenge with solar modules is that they need to be handled carefully while being transported and we take full guarantee for the same.
Besides, we are planning to train our local service team to be well versed with various types of defects in modules and also provide them training to have onsite analysis capabilities. This is important to provide the customer quick support and opinion since the sites are staggered and at the company representative may sometime take longer duration to reach the site. However, in case of module defect, nothing can be finalised until the site is analysed by the manufacturer’s team.
What all new module technologies has LONGi Solar brought in the Indian market?
We started with supplying LONGi Solar’s Monocrystalline PERC modules. The company has recently diversified into Monocrystalline PERC half-cut technology which offers significantly better performance and efficiency. The company is now planning to offer higher capacity modules. Currently, they are offering 375 Wp modules which they plan to increase the module capacity to 420 Wp while keeping the dimension/size similar. This will be beneficial for C&I users which have limited rooftop space. A higher capacity module will make a significant difference when seen from a 25-year project lifecycle point of view.
Besides, LONGi Solar is also working on the bifacial technology which is suited for both utility and rooftop solar projects. The technology trials have already begun but we are yet to supply these modules. A number of our customers have shown interest for bifacial technology as the difference in power generation using bifacial modules ranges from 7 per cent to 39 per cent, depending on the surface. For instance, if the modules are installed on a snow covered surface, the reflection levels are significantly high and so is the efficiency. In case of a rooftop, the surface of the roof can be painted white to derive the maximum efficiency from bifacial modules.
The shift from polycrystalline to monocrystalline is already taking place and going forward, we are likely to witness the shift towards bifacial. The transition is inevitable given that the cost differential is not very significant. It will be an increase of only 7 to 8 per cent in cost terms but efficiency gains will be much higher.
How do these products compare with the competing products in the market which may come at a much lower price?
We are only dealing in premium products as our intent is to supply equipment for a project which can be sustainable for a period of 20-25 years. As far as pricing is concerned, products offered by companies like Huawei, LONGi Solar and REC may come at a 4-5 per cent higher price but the value proposition they offer are much more significant.
We try to convince the customer basis the long-term value, good quality and higher efficiency of the product for which they are willing to pay the premium.
Before associating with brands we have analysed the trust factor, the financial strength and the longevity of the brand and all our brands though they demand premium over prevailing market terms are the leaders in technology & innovation, along with being very reputable and recognised brands not only in India but international market too
Which industry verticals are witnessing a greater movement towards solar power?
All industries where power consumption is high are moving towards to solar power. Manufacturing industry including automotive, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, textiles and data centres, is emerging as one of the highest installers of solar power projects.
Large educational institutes are moving towards solar due the benefits offered under the net metering policy in most states. Breweries, distilleries, stone quarries and cement units are going for solar largely due to their RPO obligations. But the trend of moving towards solar is more in the mid-scale owner driven manufacturing units.
What is the company’s geographical reach? Which states are experiencing higher demand for your products?
We are a pan-India player. Headquartered in Mumbai, we have offices in Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. Our warehouses are in Navi Mumbai, Chennai and Ajmer. This is sufficient to cater to the central, western, northern and southern regions. We are now beginning to see demand from the eastern region as well. So we are planning to hire more people in the eastern regions.
In order to optimise costs, we are also taking the channel partner route. For instance, we have a channel partner in Rajasthan wherein we provide them a complete container of modules and inverters for supply within the state.
We are witnessing high demand in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. We are also beginning to witness activity in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh besides the eastern region.
What are the best practices for efficient and safe logistics of modules and inverters?
Inverters are much easier to transport compared to modules which are extremely fragile. We take guarantee for proper shipment of modules till the customer’s premises. If broken or damaged during the transfer, we either replace the module or provide refund. Proper packing of modules is crucial to ensure that they do not get damaged, especially if they are transported to remote locations for which the approach roads are generally of poor quality.
Therefore, special attention is paid towards packing and we have specifically trained our warehouse team to pack modules in such manner so that they can last the journey on Indian roads. This type of packing is important not only to avoid breakages but to avoid micro cracks too. We are also open to ideas from our partners who suggest new ways. Further, our team keeps an eye on the most effective and cost efficient processes of packing so that we can make the process fool proof.
What are the new technologies or products that customers of solar power projects can expect in 2019-20?
Mono PERC is the latest and most trending technology currently. The emphasis in the coming year would be on increasing efficiencies and watt-class in this technology by using half cut platform.
Bifacial modules are going to be the next big thing in the solar panel space in India. LONGi Solar has already released its bifacial PERC monocrystalline module and we are soon going to start supplying these as customers are showing interest in higher efficiency products.
In the inverter space, micro inverters, which are already available in the market, are going to be our next offering. While Huawei currently offers string solutions with optimisers for the rooftop customers in India, it is already selling micro inverters in the European markets where they are a big hit. But very soon, we are going to start supplying these in India as soon as the residential rooftop, which will have much smaller-scale projects, starts gaining traction.