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I was invited by the CII to be part of a panel discussion at the TN Solar Convention held on 21 Dec at Chennai ( here’s a detailed post on the same – http://panchabuta.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/cii-organized-first-tamil-nadu-solar-convention-2010-at-chennai-india/ ). The panel discussion’s theme was “Financing and Market Development for Solar in India”.

The discussion was part of a larger convention on solar energy, where quite a few luminaries had gathered and presented their views. I could attend only a portion of the convention as I had other work back at office, so there is no way I can do justice to writing on the convention as a whole – hence I will stick to details of my panel discussion and a few others observations I could make in the couple of hours I was there.

I also had the opportunity to have a brief chat with Christodas Gandhi, chairmal of TEDA. Dr Gandhi has been ably leading TEDA for the past one year and he is very passionate about making a difference to the state. TEDA in fact holds regular meetings at its offices where it tries to create awareness and promote renewable energy  sustainability in TN. While interacting with me and the other panelists, Dr Gandhi was  and he was very enthusiastic about solar companies setting up manufacturing base in India.

Zoom now to the panel discussion. The discussion was moderated by Pashupathi Gopalan, CEO of SunEdison India, and the other panelists were from HSBC (Manav Futnani from the Project Finance section ) and E&Y (Sanjay Chakrabarti, Partner)…

Manav spoke on the criteria his bank (HSBC) would use to project finance projects, risk assessment methodologies and his perspectives on financing renewable energy projects in India. Sanjay dwelt on the trends in renewable energy investing in India and finished on a confident note that India could be one of the star destinations for renewable energy investments during the 2011-20 decade. I spoke on creating a demand for solar. I stressed on the need for innovating on the four Ps (Product, Place, Positioning and Price). My talk was pretty much a summary of what I had done at the Solar 2010 a couple of months back (http://www.eai.in/ref/eve/solar_2010_conference_exhibition.html and http://eai.in/blog/2010/09/solar-2010-conference-at-delhi-by-renewable-energy-india-forum.html ).

(l to r: Manav – HSBC, myself, Sanjay – E& Y, Pashupathy – SunEdison)

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I also had the opportunity to have one-on-one interactions with Pashpuathy, Manav and Sanjay. That was the more exciting part for me, because while on the podium, everyone becomes formal and mouths what they are supposed to mouth, and not always what they really think (and pretty much includes me!).

Pashu was quite excited about the overall potential for solar in India, though I guess I could sense that he felt that things were going a bit slower than expected.

Manav seemed to have the banker’s caution for investing in renewable energy. HSBC in India has already invested in renewable energy (in wind primarily), but Manav was clear that he needed a more clarity and conviction in solar before banks like HSBC started investing there – he seemed to be particularly concerned about technology obsolescence and how that could affect project revenues. One thing I was glad to know from him was that most of the investments that HSBC had made were pure project finance (non-recourse) and not based on the promoter’s balance sheets (In fact, day after the seminar I met a senior manager from Canara Bank and he again mentioned that most investments the bank had made in renewable energy were based purely on the merits of the projects and not that of the promoter).

Sanjay mentioned how, in spite of the fact that E&Y did not have a division dedicated to cleantech / renewable energy until a few months back, they are convinced that this was one of the most important sectors for the company. In this context, he also mentioned that his company was keenly looking at partnerships with experts both in the business and technology domains in order to increase its depth of offerings to the clients (E&Y’s feelings were pretty much repeated by another person from KPMG who met me after I finished my talk; he also said KPMG had a number of clients who were keen on cleantech and the company was looking at tying up domain specific experts in this context).

During the brief couple of hours I spent there after my talk, I interacted with over a dozen entrepreneurs/companies. It was difficult for me to tear myself away from them – they were all so excited about knowing more! I could especially sense the enthusiasm for small entrepreneurs to get into renewable energy. I was hearing so many ideas discussed around me in the half hour I was hanging around after my panel discussion that I am convinced that what we need is a catalyst who can somehow take the good ideas out of these to the market quickly and cost effectively (more so because most of the blokes having those ideas are small entrepreneurs).

Talking of catalysts, that was the idea we had when started the EAI Club, both online (www.eai.in/club ) and offline. For those of you who might not know, at Chennai we hold regular offline meetings for the EAI club (usually every third sunday) and so far the meetings have been very stimulating, and we have met a whole lot of interesting folks along the way. Brief details of the previous EAI Club Chennai meets are provided here ( http://eai.in/blog/2010/12/excerpts-from-the-5th-eai-club-meet.html ) and here ( http://eai.in/blog/2010/11/3rd-eai-club-meet-chennai.html ).