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Wipro expects to build 100 MW of solar projects next year

Not many people readily connect Wipro with solar energy, but within the IT giant a tiny nucleus of a clean-tech business has just completed building 40 MW of solar photovoltaic power plants for its customers. Five MW more is sure to come by March, and for Wipro EcoEnergy the 45 MW is good enough a record on which to build the business in the coming years.

According to reports, Mr G.K. Prasanna, Senior Vice-President, Wipro EcoEnergy, expects to do around 100 MW in 2012-13 – a figure that would put Wipro among the top EPC players in the solar industry.

Wipro EcoEnergy is building its ‘energy practice’ on two pillars – solar energy, comprising both large, utility-scale solar plants and roof-tops, as well as ‘energy management’.

Mr Prasanna believes that roof-top solar plants will be the big solar story of India and Wipro EcoEnergy, which has built 300 kW of capacity for companies, sees the business exploding.

Mr Prasanna told Business Line today that corporate customers were very keen on roof-tops. They are not quite looking at this so much as a source of cheap energy as a measure of energy security – the main motivation is to “lock-in the energy costs for the next 25 years.” He believes that enterprises will get on to the roof-tops, and households will follow.

“The market is very, very big,” Mr Prasanna said on ‘energy management’. Here is where Wipro is able to leverage on its IT and systems integration strengths for the energy business.

‘Energy management’ cleaves into two segments – management of solar power plants to ensure that they perform up to capacity, and energy saving opportunity in factories, offices – practically anywhere.

At present, Wipro EcoEnergy provides remote monitoring services to its EPC clients. Soon, it intends to take this business to its non-clients and then to customers abroad. Mr Prasanna said that the energy efficiency enhancement has been found to be between 8 and 15 per cent.

On the second segment, i.e., energy saving in factories and buildings, Wipro’s activities involve gathering “device-level information” (air-conditioners, heaters, etc). Wipro is providing this service to “a large customer in the US in retailing” with over 1,100 shops, where the saving already achieved is like $70 million.

Mr Prasanna stressed that Wipro is not an ‘Esco’, or ‘energy saving company’, whose model is “rip and replace”. Instead, Wipro strives to bring about energy efficiency of existing devices.

He said that the regime of ‘perform, achieve and trade’ (PAT) that is being brought in by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency will give a boost to this business, but the absence of it is not a deal-breaker. (Under PAT again, trade-able credits are given for energy saved.) Enterprises are realising that there is merit in energy saving and this business does not require much selling.

He said that Wipro be paid out of the savings brought in by energy efficiency and the customer would not have to spend anything out of his pocket. “All I want is an opportunity is to go after waste,” Mr Prasanna said.

Asked how Wipro’s MW-scale customers looked at the ‘solar renewable energy certificate (REC)’ regime (which are generation-based trade-able credits that a green power producer gets), Mr Prasanna said that he found that many developers were okay with the uncertainties that surround the REC regime. At present, the ‘renewable purchase obligation’, which requires specified ‘obligated entities’ to either buy green power or the RECs, is in force only up to 2017.

Some in the solar industry are concerned about what would happen beyond 2017. For instance, Mr Inderpreet Wadhwa, CEO of Azure Power, had told Business Line that given the vast income stream from solar RECs, the uncertainty over what revenue streams after five years was a sore point, especially with the financiers.

What Mr Prasanna says contrasts with this view. He says that some solar developers – especially those who have lands – see good economics in putting up the projects “even assuming that there would be no REC after 2017.”

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