…says Victor Thamburaj, CEO, iPLON India Pvt Ltd, a leading player in the area of solar PV monitoring systems and total life cycle management.
IPLON has been providing innovative solutions for homes and industry for decades, how has the journey been so far?
IPLON is not just an automation company, but a solar company providing data acquisition solutions, power control & optimisation, and O&M services for renewables specifically in the solar industry.
Having gained an experience of commissioning over 4000+ rooftops in Europe, we set up our Indian operations in 2013. Tailoring the systems and solutions to the Indian market was a challenge as the trend at that time was to set up large-scaled utility plants and commercial or industrial rooftops were less heard of. Within a short span of time in understanding the geographical conditions, we set up our engineering team. It has been our biggest strength which many other monitoring solution providers lack.
The core engineering team greatly helped in improving and optimising the product to meet the technological demands especially in a very price sensitive market like India. We used this as a springboard to grow from nothing to over 1300 MWp to work with customers like partners such as Welspun, Tata Power, Amplus Solar, Avaada and many other larger clienteles. Overall, the journey has been a roller coaster and we certainly at iPLON have seemed to enjoy the ride.
How important is O&M to the manufacturing sector. What steps is IPLON taking to support the growth of Indian RE market?
O&M and asset management are the next big chapters in the solar industry. O&M is not simply about grass-root cutting or cleaning the panels or regular checks about the power electronic devices. It involves a deep understanding of the behavior of the plant, analysing the data to take data driven decisions in preventive maintenance, scheduled maintenance, etc. Resolving the communication issues is one big challenge and often the project developers seek help from the SMU, inverter and other field device OEMs to resolve it.
We have site engineers in all the states where there are iPLON SCADA systems installed. Since service is a key in sustaining businesses, we are also training our engineers with the appropriate instruments and tools to resolve the communication issues on-site and thereby reduce the dependability on the OEMs as well as downtime.
IPLON has also started India’s first multi-utility company near Dindigul, Tamil Nadu. The aim of this project is to create a self-sustaining environment to manage their own electricity and water supply as well as be a part of the waste management solutions. IPLON is supported by the Solar Cluster BW group from Germany and have technocrats visiting Tamil Nadu regularly for further steps in implementation.
The company has always been on a spree to expand and diversify its products and services. What is your present range of products and services and the breakthroughs, which we can expect?
IPLON in India began with SCADA systems for utility scale power plants. After a while, the rooftop market segment started to get its attention and since then we have also been able to diversify into cloud based services for data acquisition, which has been our core expertise. Some of the other solutions that we have provided are telemetry systems (data transfer to the electrical substation), unique power reduction control, weather stations, etc.
Now, the market is moving ahead towards hybrid systems - a combination of solar PV and diesel generators (DG). We have developed the Fuel Saver Controller, which focuses on maximising your solar output and minimising the fuel consumption of the DG. We have provided this solution in more than 70 plants across India. Some projects are located in the scenic beauty in Srinagar, J&K and the engineered challenged projects in the West which involved synchronizing of solar with
A few months or a year from now, the market for energy management systems and energy trading platform will grow rapidly. IPLON is ready with the solutions to take on this market segment.
How far you think India is in achieving the solar target of 100 GW by 2022? What more are needed to done and what is IPLON attempting to change or has changed so far?
The 2022 target of 100 GW of solar is a little optimistic. For instance, even if we execute 30 GW by Dec 2018, we have 5 years to achieve 70 GW which equates to 14 GW per year, i.e. about 1.16GW a month. It is definitely not impossible given the Government plays a vital role in the push-pull mechanism and provides all the support required for land acquisition, evacuation, and ensures the payment from the DISCOMs are made on time.
However, technically it is going to be a huge leap in order to achieve the targets. At the current moment, India does not have the transmission facilities in order to evacuate and transmit the power across states. The Green Energy Transmission Corridor’s work has only begun in May this year and hence the million dollar question remains – “Can the Green Energy Corridor development keep up with the rapid growth of RE?”
IPLON believes in decentral philosophy and believes that the future is smart cities, smart grids, and smarter villages. To this end, iPLON is focusing on creating a sustainable ecosystem which will provide more jobs in the rural areas and the local community will be and take responsibility for their own use of power, water, waste management, etc.
IPLON claims to design products as per “cost-sensitive” Indian market. What do you mean by “cost-sensitive” and what are the challenges of the Indian market place?
The tariffs which were floating around Rs 6-7 a unit in 2014-15 had dropped to Rs 2.42 in mid-2017. It is quite a significant dip. The falling price of the Chinese modules is a well-known story. But the developers are also passing on the financial burden to all their vendors which in turn results in drop in quality.
The problem that the distributors and its peripherals are facing is that the products are so robust and does not fail. Due to the prices hitting rock bottom, the distributors want to use components which just last the termed warranty period and fail the very next day in order to sell spares. Such is the quality and sad reality of the Indian solar market.
It was quite a challenge for us to meet the cost expectations of the developers. However, being a German company we have to adhere to our quality standards and engineering practices. Every time we take a hit, we had to re-invent the wheel. Thanks to the great contribution from the engineering and R&D team that we are able to survive and compete in this cost-sensitive Indian market and win projects in tenders against big automation giants such as GE, ABB, Siemens, etc.
Why do you think SCADA is important in the solar market?
Considering the growth of the solar industry during the past years, we could see that solar has achieved quite a competitive technology and market in the renewable sector. We have seen even in Germany where the plants have been existing for over 12 years now have gone sick due to design issues, improper preventive and scheduled maintenances, etc. critical importance to such a distributed decentral technology like solar is to have constant monitoring, be it at the site or remote. Several developers or asset owners don’t have a team for data analysis and are sometimes outsourced. After all, a monitoring system churns the raw data into a useful readable data with user-defined trends and reports. Further in-depth analysis varies between developers and must be done for further optimisation. This is typically one of the roles that an O&M department in any organization
With the solar market facing a steep cost reduction in tariffs, a SCADA will be a doorway to assess the quality and performance of all equipment in the plants currently being commissioned. A SCADA will function as the best O&M tool in the long-run.
How can a PV-DG Hybrid controller can be the critical need of today’s commercial rooftop market?
Diesel generator has been extensively used in the Indian market mainly in the commercial and industrial segment to meet the frequent power failure and peak load demand. The industries are now moving towards having solar rooftops due to the policies and target in the renewable sector. Also awareness in encouraging green technologies and reducing carbon footprints plays a vital role in industrial sector choosing solar panels to meet their energy demands.
Here arises a need for an intelligent controller which manages the solar, diesel generator, and grid effectively to ensure the best utilisation of power and result in better cost economics. With India’s optimistic target in rooftop solar of 40 GW by 2022, the commercial and industrial rooftops are just booming. Thus, a PV-DG hybrid solution is finding a way forward and its relevance will be deeply felt in the coming years.