At REI 2019, Hope Makes A Comeback, Against the Odds

The Renewable Energy India (REI) Expo 2019 began at the India Expo Centre of Greater Noida yesterday. The event will run till September 20, offering the largest assembly of players in the renewable energy and now, the e-mobility sector in India.

The Renewable Energy India (REI) Expo 2019, in its 13th year, justifiably claims to be the biggest such show in India. A fact that makes it a natural opportunity to gauge just how the industry is looking forward to the future. For perspective, keep in mind that the government representation is much lower at the REI, thanks to the elusive ReInvest 2019 that was also scheduled right after this event in October but postponed now to 2020.

While we are still to get a detailed breakup of the exhibitors by categories, this year it does appear that representation from the wind Energy segment is down, while the only category which has made a significant improvement is possibly solar pump manufacturers and EV charging players.

We had the opportunity to interact with all types of exhibitors, and the mood was distinctly different, depending on who you spoke to.

The solar sector representatives were almost uniformly apprehensive, coming off as they are from a poor year so far when total solar capacity generation additions have been struggling to keep up. Some key China-based firms have even stayed away, put off by the double whammy of a market slump in their home market and the obsession with driving down prices in India.

Polysilicon manufacturers and sellers seem to be the only ones smiling as they continue to push their stocks thanks to the lower cost advantage. This, at a time when the world is transitioning to Mono PERC and beyond, leaving us with the real question of technology dumping that we may be inviting on ourselves. Sorely missed were enough distributed solar product players, a category that is usually a crowd favourite with their many innovations. We did spot the odd solar-powered water cooler and more, though.

Solar pump manufacturers paint a slightly different picture, as most feel the sector has a bright future ahead with the many announcements that have been made by both the centre and state governments, besides the impetus from the KUSUM (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthan) scheme.

For those who are still unaware, the KUSUM scheme has been launched with a 25,000 plus MW target for installation of solar pumps, with a central financial aid of over Rs 34,000 crores – all by 2022. Thus, even as smaller players wait for the pumps pipeline to open up and with actual tenders too few and far between, they opted for a presence just to assure potential buyers in some cases that “they are still around and ready for business”.

Talking of 2022, mainstream solar players were clear that the 100 GW goal for solar by that year is looking increasingly difficult, although rooftop solar was frequently cited as a bright spot by smaller players. While the biggest Chinese suppliers like Jinko, Longi Solar, Canadian Solar, JA Solar, besides almost all the inverter makers like Huawei, Sungrow, Solis, Ginlong and more, did make the effort to mark their presence, some had relatively lower firepower in terms of senior management presence and stall sizes.

Top developers from the country were conspicuous by their absence, be it ReNew Power, Azure, ACME solar or others. Perhaps busy with their plans outside the country as we repeatedly heard the refrain that margins in almost every other emerging market, from South East Asia to South Africa to the Middle East, were significantly better for business.

The Electric Mobility contingent has clearly helped add the much-needed buzz to the event, with most present here. The segment is set to expand with the government rolling out incentives at both state and central levels for charging infrastructure.  In the words of one participant at a charging major, “the chicken and egg question of charging infra or enough electric vehicles first has been settled. The chicken (EV infra) comes first”. Prophetic words, we hope.

On the visitor side, one has to say that the ones we met seemed truly keen to do business or seek it, in some cases. From buyers to those out to keep an eye on new developments to the odd aspiring entrepreneur, we met them all.

As we collect specific data on the REI 2019 and its community, it seems worth writing that overall, for most, the mood seems to be lifting, but more in the hope that the worst is behind for the solar sector. It is a wish that is currently based more on hope than real action on the ground.

A sentiment that was surprising, common to the Chinese firms too, as they have also faced the shock of demand collapse in their home market after subsidies were slashed, and are now hoping for a sharp rebound from October. With their massive capacities, even a strong Chinese recovery will ensure their interest in India does not wane further.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh is the founder at IamRenew

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