Below are the excerpts of our recent interview with Mr. Rajnikanth Umakanthan, Business Head – Commercial & Industrial, South Asia, UL
What have been the progress and what work has been done at UL in the last one year?
From developing standards to testing and certifying products in accordance to various international norms, UL has a vast experience of four decades in the solar industry. Our core competency lies in testing and certifying PV equipment, including modules, inverters, batteries and solar lighting products. Consolidating our global expertise, we have started catering to the entire PV value chain, not just solar equipment manufacturers. Our suite of services now also extends to the project developers, EPC companies, O&M companies as well as banks and financial institutions.
Over the last one year we have enabled large solar plant developers in India source modules from China thereby helping them ensure the quality and safety of the imported modules. We have also expanded into a system level service, where we conducted due diligence projects on existing solar assets. Through our detailed technical investigation in existing assets, we make recommendations to guide developers acquire those assets which meet their requirements.
How are you leveraging your core competencies?
Perhaps the most critical component in establishing a solar project is meeting quality requirements while sourcing PV modules. To be economically viable, the longevity of a module is expected to be around 15-20 years. Most of the standards that are available today address only the infant mortality or the early failure of PV modules. To overcome this deficiency, UL has devised a program that goes beyond the standard, whereby we can evaluate the capacity of a module to work on a long term, fulfilling both reliability and durability requirements. UL’s rigorous certification process involves tests to ensure the durability of a module that worksover 15-20 years without failing and is able to deliver the power output withoutlarge degradation over time.
Tell us about some of the clients or projects that you have worked on recently.
Our distinguished clientele in India includes some of the most significant players in the PV industry - - ReNew Power, Suzlon Energy, PunjLlyod and Hero Future Energies, to name a few. We offer an array of services, ranging from quality inspections of PV modules imported from China bytheir suppliers to evaluation of performance and acquisition of existing assets. In some cases, we have helped our clients with independent, third party inspections, especially for insulations.
What are your future plans and how are the expectations of the clients changing especially from a company such as yours?
Currently, we are witnessing a trend towards large power plants - solar farms with a capacity generation of 10, 20, 50, 100 MW. While this is a positive development, it is pertinent to note that, owing to the huge investment involved, the financial risk factor also increases with the size of the power plant. This transition to larger solar projects is driving demand for owner’s engineer services. Large project developers are looking for independent owner’s engineers who can work on their behalf to ensure that the plant that is being built by EPC or a turnkey contractor, that their project is built as per the specifications and timelines agreed upon. Hence, the role of an owner’s engineer is something that we foresee becoming critical, and this is an area where UL wants to expand. There are companies today who offer owner’s engineering services but with the amount of installations that is going up, like the kind of 5-6 GW that India plans to add up in the coming years, the demand for owner’s engineer will increase manifold.
Finally, what is your message to new developers entering in the Indian solar sector especially in terms of quality?
As tariff rates lower with every successive round of competitive bidding, solar costs are at an all-time low. In UAE, for instance, there was a bid for 800 MW plant for 2.99 US cents which approximately two rupees. In this scenario, one key message is that, stakeholdersshould not compromise on quality, as we aredealing with an asset that has to work for at least 10 years to recover investment costs and generate profit. Ultimately, payback depends on the quality of the equipment that you use and the quality of the workmanship that goes into building these assets.