At the age of 35, Inderpreet Wadhwa, shed his white collar job in Silicon Valley and decided to explore a totally unexplored sector — solar energy. Today, at 39, having successfully established Azure Power, he still has not lost his appetite for taking risks.
It was in 2007 that Wadhwa incorporated Azure Power, which is now one of the leading solar service providers in India.
Azure Power’s 2-MW Punjab facility was the first utility-scale solar power plant in India. The project provides electricity to 32 villages with over 20,000 people in Awan, Punjab. For Wadhwa, who had done his basic education in Punjab, it was a moment of pride.
Coming from a family of professionals, it was not easy for Wadhwa to convince them of his move. “It took me a while to convince them that I was serious about the venture…What I really wanted to do was to become a social entrepreneur.”
The family’s reservations were understandable. The sector in India was still in its infancy . For a graduate from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, whose last assignment was as Vice-President, Products and Operations, in Loyalty Lab (May 2005 to 2007), it was a risk.
Prior to his assignment at Loyalty Lab, he worked in Oracle Corporation for almost 10 years as Senior Director, Applications Development.
Passion for clean energy
Azure Inc was established in July 2007 in the US and, in February 2008, Azure Power set shop in India
Thus began his journey in a sector which had almost no policy support then. What drove him was his passion about rural electrification and energy security through clean energy sources. He has relentlessly lobbied generation-based incentives in the solar sector through Clean Trade initiatives across US and India.
When he started on his first project, the buyer was Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB), which itself had little experience in solar energy. Besides, to get investments for the project was also not easy, as investors were sceptical, he says .
He went for debt financing for the project. The financer gave him four months for financial closure. With a smile he says — the funds came from Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), an agency of the US Government that helps the US businesses invest overseas and promote economic development in new and emerging markets.
The reason behind that smile: To remind that Azure was the second venture of OPIC after the Dabhol debacle.
His business strategy has also been interesting. “We plan to drive development through providing our unique distributed solar power service to communities, Governments, and commercial customers throughout India,” Wadhwa says.
Plans to expand
Instead of buying land for his projects, Wadhwa opted for making the land owners partners. He took the land on lease and paid them from the revenue earned annually. Besides, he also involved the local populace in construction of the project and subsequently absorbed them as employees.
Wadhwa is now looking to expand his reach to other States. He was recently chosen as the head of the Solar Independent Power Producers Association.
The year 2009 was crucial for Azure Power, as it not only won a tender from PEDA to set up a 2 MW solar power plant in Awan, but also a 15 MW plant in Gujarat. It completed the Awan plant in six months, by November 30, 2009, and started supplying power to Punjab Electricity Board.
Subsequent to the successful implementation of the first project, Azure was able to raise funds from Helion Venture Partners and Foundation Capital, IFC, a member of the Word Bank Group, and DEG (the German investment and development company) to fund its products. Azure, which started with two employees — Wadhwa and his father — today has 160 on board. And from zero asset value, has projects worth 57.2 MW . Azure Power plans to commission 100 MW with capital investment of Rs 2,000 crore by 2014.
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