Companies

UB group calls for policy tweaks to go 100% solar

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 27, 2017

UBL   -  The Hindu

Fifteen per cent cheaper than grid power is a strong argument for going solar, and the country’s largest liquor manufacturer, United Breweries, has vowed to raise its power demand satisfaction from solar from 15 per cent today, to 50 per cent in the next three years.

But while ‘100 per cent renewable’ is a vision, achieving that would depend upon the State Governments coming up with favourable policies, says Shekar Ramamurthy, Managing Director, United Breweries Ltd.

Easier ‘open access’ and less (or no) wheeling charges are among the expectations that Ramamurthy has of the policy makers. “I am sure these will happen,” he told BusinessLine today, observing that provision of clean, cheap electricity is also politically sensible.

UB today has solar power plants on the roofs of three of its facilities in various States, and would soon have on three more. These plants, of total capacity of 4 MW, are owned and operated by the Warburg Pincus-backed CleanMax Solar, which sells the electricity to UB based on long-term power purchase agreements. When fully operational, these plants will generate 6 million kWhr of electricity. Ramamurthy did not wish to disclose the price at which CleanMax sells the power, but said in response to a question, that the PPAs provide for an escalation clause.

But the company plans to do more. Ramamurthy said that the company prefers the ‘opex model’, where the solar plants are owned by third parties who only sell power to UB, letting UB conserve capital to fund its core business.

Ramamurthy’s call for policy support resonates with that of many in the renewable energy industry. Although the freedom for anybody to produce electricity anywhere and sell it to anyone anywhere in the country has been envisioned in the Electricity Act, 2003, many state governments hesitate, or even actively discourage, a free market because it affects the business of the electricity distribution companies that they own. The hinderance is usually in the form of various charges.

Still, companies are finding it worthwhile to buy solar power. Andrew Hines, Co-founder, CleanMax Solar, which has commissioned over 200 projects across India, says that the ‘opex model’ is taking off well, as the consumers of power do not have to invest in generation assets.

CleanMax, apart from putting up solar plants on the roofs, also puts up large, ground-mounted solar power plants and sells the power directly to customers like UB. Hines says CleanMax would solarize four more of UB’s breweries in the next six months, “from a combination of rooftop plants and large-scale solar farms.”

Published on October 27, 2017
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