Views of Suman Sharma: “SECI is planning to enter the C&I sector”

India is a front runner in the global quest for energy transition, being the third-largest producer of renewable energy in the world. The country has made several strides in its energy transition journey over the past decade. It has done so by creating a conducive policy and regulatory set-up for encouraging the uptake of non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources not only in the power sector, but also across various industries as well as at the individual consumer level. The country has laid massive emphasis on the need for a clean energy transition and is working on boosting domestic manufacturing to become self-reliant. Solar Energy Corporation of India Limited (SECI) has been actively working on projects to expand the solar industry in the country through large auctions. It has also seen some of the lowest-ever tariffs in auctions held over the past two years. At a recent event, India Energy Week, held under the patronage of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in Bengaluru, Suman Sharma, managing director, SECI, discussed the role of SECI in India’s en­ergy transition, the country’s progress in green energy and the way forward. Edited excerpts…

SECI is a front-row witness to everything that is happening in the re­newable energy sector in India. The unique selling point of SECI is definitely its bankable power purchase agreeme­nts, which are backed by sovereign gu­a­rantees. I would like to elaborate on an­other significant aspect, which is the tra­nsparent auction mechanism established by SECI. This me­chanism has provided a huge boost to industrial confidence, especially for potential investors based outside India. In a way, I can say that this decade-long journey of SECI has facilitated too many significant mo­vements in the Indian industry. The historic tariff, or the overall response to our auctions, is a thing of the past, but also shows the way forward. As we all know, we have a massive target to meet, and SECI is a member of the core planning team, which includes all mi­nistries and departments, working together to meet the nationally determined targets. In this regard, I can proudly say that every sixth solar pl­ant in India is under a SECI tender, and I do hope that in the coming three to four years this number will rise to cover a third of India’s ins­talled rene­wable energy capacity.

Having said that, up to this point, we have primarily dealt with discoms and local power generation companies for state renewable energy deployment, but we are now looking to diversify into new sectors, primarily the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector. Currently, SECI is plann­ing to enter the C&I sector because that is where the maximum growth pot­en­tial lies as far as the renewable energy sector is concerned, going forward. Gr­een hydrogen is another area we are wo­r­king in, and certain projects are already un­der way. Moreover, we hope to come out with a green hydrogen tender in the coming months. Additionally, we have launched a production-li­nk­ed incentive sc­heme. We also brought the world’s lar­gest energy storage tender of 1,000 MWh to the market. SECI has been a pioneer as far as innovation goals in the renewable energy sector are concerned, and we hope to continue the journey.

India is one of the countries that has witnessed rapid growth in the renewable energy segment over the past few years. A major contributing factor to this exponential growth is the synergy present bet­ween the government, private stakeholders and citizens. Without this synergy, this kind of robust growth is not possible. In India, we believe in collaborative efforts taken with the help of stable government policies. However, in these policies, along with stability, there is a sense of flexibility as well. The number of refor­ms that have been witnessed in the Indian po­wer sector over the past few years is probably unmatched by any other sector in India. Power and renewable energy sector-related guidelines, sc­hemes, rules and regulations are al­w­ays released after in-depth discussions with the concerned stakeholders.

Before every new bid, product or even a guideline, stakeholder consultati­ons are taken up multiple times to ensure that the end result is good enough. We re­ceive mu­ltiple queries from bidders, and all queries and inputs that are ne­eded to make a product commercially vi­a­ble are duly addressed to make sure that the po­li­cies address the challenges faced on ground. We play the crucial role of acting as a link between the government and the stakeholders.

Industries, however, only form one part of the story. The citizens of the country also need to be integrated into our re­ne­­wable energy transition. Citizens also need to be a part of the design and de­ve­lopment of the policy framework. As mentioned by our prime minister, the issues of climate ch­ange must be ta­ck­l­ed at the grassroots level. In line with this, India hosted a pavilion with the theme of “LiFE – Lifestyle for Environ­ment” at COP27. It emphasised the con­cept of a life cycle for the environment. It is very necessary for the yo­un­ger generation to understand how to make sustainable life choices, and foster sustainable development and en­vi­ron­me­n­tally res­pon­sible behaviour. To this end, nu­merous sche­mes have be­en implemented by the Indian gove­rn­me­nt such as the Pradhan Mantri Kis­an Urja Suraksha evam Utthan Maha­bhi­yan for agriculture, roof­top solar sche­m­es and rooftop portals.

Going forward, discoms will undoubtedly play a critical role in ensuring the success of power sector reforms, whether conventional or renewable. The discom-consumer relationship is also very critical. Co­n­sumers should now be able to supply to the grid and not just procure from it. The time has come for this relati­onship to evol­ve. In addition, it is im­por­tant to align central- and state-level policies so that the desired results are obtain­ed. Climate financing is another key area to be em­phasised, as financing renewable energy projects is the need of the hour. India is working in the right direction, which requires a collaborative effort wherein all the concerned stakeholders play a role in creating an efficient energy framework in the country.