Soon after winning a stunning election, in July 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi set an ambitious target for India’s solar energy ambitions – 100 GW by 2022. However, in the following months, our solar power doubled to 7 GW and many now think we can achieve a higher target – 175 GW – which is the one. With India also pledging to wean itself away from dependence on fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels and renewable energy, this is an important target. It has also caught the eye of foreign investors. However, it is Indian startups like ZunRoof who are expanding the usage of solar power from rural areas to the cities by harnessing the sun’s energy on urban rooftops.
Pranesh Chaudhary, Co-Founder of ZunRoof Tech Private Limited speaks to Networked India about how trust and the simplicity of their model has been an important factor in converting housing societies to install solar PVs. Given that India is a power deficient country, he believes, we need to harness as much of the sun’s energy as we can to achieve our solar power goals as well as make our growing cities power independent.
Networked India (NI): Urban Solar rooftops is a fairly new concept? Tell us about what led to the thought behind this concept and what it means.
Pranesh Chaudhary (PC): It is a new concept for Indian home-owners – with Net Metering (option to sell electricity back to grid) working in most states and Solar PV system prices at an all-time low, this is the right investment for anyone with a rooftop. Most households in metro cities do not realize that their electricity rates are ~10/unit, so, with solar, they have an option to save on this recurring expense as well as to do their bit in saving the environment (payback period is now as good as 3-4 years in solar PV and the system has 25 years of performance warranties).
So, the only missing link in this is a trusted company where customers can get the optimum solution with transparent warranty and maintenance contracts, which is where ZunRoof comes in.
We are a power-deficit and growing country – with great growth comes greater need of power and solar energy is the answer to this need for power. Make money from sun, utilize your rooftops and save our planet from the polluting thermal power plants.
NI: Does this involve standalone houses or buildings with sprawling terraces? What kind of response have you received from building societies?
PC: All kinds of rooftops can be used for ZunRoof installations – the first step always being a thorough site assessment, which includes shadow profiling, layout design and finding the right angle of incline and direction for panels on your roof. This is where our in-house applications have made it completely transparent, accurate, quick and inexpensive for both customers and installer partners.
Building societies are tougher to convince as there is no clear decision maker, so, they would rather prefer an arrangement where an installer firm puts in the upfront capital and they pay per use. But, most installer partner firms wish to stay away from these arrangements with societies as it is extremely tough to enforce payments in our country and there is hardly any credit history data to underwrite these societies (compared to a factory or warehouse).
NI: Tell us about the process of converting a building roof or terrace into a mini solar farm. How easy is it for a society to maintain and monitor?
PC: It starts with site assessment, followed by net metering approval/NOC from the DISCOM. Then, a structure is created as per customer’s requirements (it can be roof-mounted or an elevated structure or a shed) and PV panels are installed on this structure. There is a grid-tied inverter, which then converts DC produced from PV panels into AC and sends it back to the grid. Lastly, your “uni-directional” meters are replaced by “bi-directional” meters to measure the inflow and outflow.
With remote monitoring systems/data loggers that come with modern grid-tied inverters, it is extremely easy to monitor the output on a daily basis. We are able to get best maintenance contracts to the customers too from our installer partners.
NI: Would you be able to share the proprietary tools ZunRoof uses?
PC: We do provide a demo of our tools during site assessments for our customers but at this point, intend to keep it for our and our installer partners’ use only.
NI: Since launching in April this year, what has the journey been like and how many solar projects has ZunRoof executed?
PC: The journey so far has been very satisfying, with extremely good customer feedback and developing relationships with installer partners – we are ahead of our own targets at this point in time and intend to keep accelerating. We have kept our operations completely lean and know every step of the process like the back of our hands, which should keep us in good stead as we plan to hire and bolster the team in the next couple of quarters.
We have now completed site assessments for close to 1.5 MW solar PV capacity and have multiple sites ready in Delhi and Noida. We aim to keep targeting all parts of Delhi NCR and will share innovative designs and installations on our Facebook page and website.
NI: Give us a little background on the founders and your entrepreneurial journey so far?
PC: Sushant (Sachan) and I have been friends for over 11 years now (since 1st year at IIT Kharagpur) and having done quite well in our respective careers, started discussing options to do something of our own last year.
A B.Tech from IIT Kharagpur, I have over 7 years experience across Risk Analytics & Management, Marketing & Acquisitions Strategy, Customer Segmentation, Expense Re-engineering and Operations Management in companies like Essex Lake Group and Capital One.
Sushant, also from IIT Kharagpur, has worked on thermal and heliosat projects for Sunborne Energy Technologies.
We realized our complimentary skill-sets (I have led huge marketing and operations projects as part of my stints with a bunch of blue-chip Financial Services companies in US/UK and Sushant has worked in Solar his entire career and has been great at product innovations since childhood) make us ready for solving a problem where technology is the only way for everyone to emerge winner – when our applications perform end-to-end assessment within minutes, the entire solar PV value chain wins and the customer knows that it is an engineer bringing them the best possible solution, not a salesman.
NI: Comment on India’s solar power landscape, where the focus has been on equipping rural households with solar panels while a number of urban and semi-urban areas also remain power-deficient.
PC: I think the government is doing a great job at incentivizing solar in all areas for customers as well as installers through subsidies and right policies – MNRE targets are aggressive and the onus lies on everyone in the solar value chain to make us meet the 100 GW level by 2022. The size of total rooftop installations in India has doubled this year already, so, the momentum is there now for both urban and rural areas.
NI: Where do you see the future of India’s solar energy sector heading and what role do you expect ZunRoof to play in it?
PC: We firmly believe that technology has to solve all customer concerns regarding going solar, be it about getting the right systems or the right prices or visualizing the post-installation rooftop look – and that is where ZunRoof aims to be the trusted answer. Our applications will make it impossible for you to say no to solar once we have had a chance to interact with you.