5 Minutes With: Vikas Bansal, Sterling and Wilson Solar

Sun shining on solar panels (gallium)

Sterling and Wilson Solar achieved the title of world’s largest EPC solutions provider in 2018, from receiving its first project in 2011. With a recent trip to Australia under his belt, we chat to Sterling and Wilson Solar’s Vikas Bansal, who is head of international business development, about the company’s ambitions Down Under.

Vikas Bansal

From receiving your first solar EPC project in 2011 to becoming the world’s largest EPC solutions provider in 2018 is a huge growth. What’s the secret to Sterling and Wilson’s success?

Sterling and Wilson Solar commenced operations in 2011 as the Solar EPC Division of Sterling and Wilson Private Limited; and was demerged in 2017. The division was formed to tap into the growing market potential of renewable energy in India. Over a span of eight years, the company has grown to become the world’s largest solar EPC solutions provider.

As a global solar EPC company, we offer innovations and best practices that provide efficient and cost-effective engineering solutions. We adopt a consultative approach to our customers’ solar energy needs, which enables us to provide customised solutions to meet their requirements. We operate an asset-light business model, which generally entails low capital expenditures and fixed costs, thus offering flexibility and scalability to meet our customers’ needs, provide customised solutions and respond quickly to market conditions.

As part of our global network, we maintain strong relationships with a diversified group of global and local suppliers as well as other key stakeholders as they are critical to the success of our supply chain.

We are extremely fortunate and blessed to have the right set of talent and an experienced and dynamic team, which we have been nurturing over the years.

These are few factors that have helped Sterling and Wilson to not only be among the fastest growing solar EPCs in the world, but also catapulted to be ranked the world’s largest solar EPC globally.

As head of international business development, what was your involvement in choosing to expand into Australia? What was the decision-making process like?

We started targeting the Australia market in 2016. Australia had all the right ingredients to be a promising renewable market. The country had a lot of coal power plants. Although it was shifting to gas, coal still played a major role in the overall energy mix. The macro was great, and it was a good credit market. Considering these factors, we thought Sterling and Wilson Solar being a global company would add a lot of value to the Australian market. So, around 2018-19, after spending about one-and-a-half years understanding the market, we decided it was the right time to get in.

Wellington Solar Farm is Sterling and Wilson’s first project in Australia – why this project and why at this time?

We realised that a lot of local players who were largely into traditional infrastructure, for the lack of global exposure or understanding, were undercutting the market in terms of the CAPEX. We did not want to enter the market with such a low CAPEX. And we feel it was the right decision.

What is the significance of this project in the Australian energy market?

The Wellington Solar Farm project is one of the first big projects in Australia to use bifacial technology, which offers greater gains in energy production.

The project is being constructed on 490 hectares of land, northeast of the town of Wellington in New South Wales. Once operational, the plant will produce enough solar energy to power 70,000 homes, and save 336,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of taking 121,580 cars off the road.

What are Sterling and Wilson’s plans for Australia – are there any more Australian projects in the pipeline?

We have bagged two projects as of now. Wellington Solar Farm is Sterling and Wilson Solar’s first project in Australia and the second one, which is a large project of more than 100 MWp will soon go under construction. We are targeting three more projects in the continent, which cannot be disclosed at this stage.

Related article: Sterling and Wilson Solar begins construction of 200MW solar project

What do you think the Australian market for renewables will look like in five and 10 years’ time?

Considering the constraints on the grid side, which will take some time to expand, very few new projects came up last year. In the next two years, in order to overcome constraints in the grid, the market will move towards accommodation of solar + wind + storage. We feel that this entire market would be approximately about 2GW to 2.5GW.

Sterling and Wilson Solar aims to be the dominant player in the market. We would like to ensure that we have a large market share in Australia by taking up four to five projects in a year and implementing them well in time, cost and quality perspective.

What barriers do you see to the adoption of further renewable projects in Australia’s near future and how do we overcome them?

The development of renewable energy in Australia is important to address concerns about climate change and energy security. Though the market does offer a lot of potential, there are few barriers that need to be overcome.

Grid infrastructure is constrained, which is leading to a delay in connection of renewable projects. There is a need to reform the existing network as well as develop new network infrastructure. Australian Energy Market Operator is already working on an integrated system plan.

Solar and storage is a key measure required to stabilise the power grid thus reducing risks of grid failure for critical infrastructure. This will also provide much-needed backup power, which is essential to bridge the demand-supply mismatch. Such projects can be incentivised by offering higher prices during peak demand.

The current scenario of marginal loss factors used to determine transmission losses is creating distress among the generators. This needs to be addressed and a comprehensive review of the MLF calculations is required.

What significant global projects are in the pipeline for Sterling and Wilson?

Sterling and Wilson Solar has projects in 18 countries across the globe. Currently, we are constructing projects in India, Chile, Australia, Oman, Jordan, USA and more.  With regards to the storage, we have some projects in India and in Africa, which are currently under construction.

Going forward, we are strategically focusing on USA, Europe and Australia, which are key markets for us. We see huge potential in these markets and would surely want a piece of the pie.

We also have a strong O&M portfolio of approximately 7GWp as of December, 2019.

Do you have a message you’d like to share with your peers?

The situation in the market is tense due to grid stability issues, transmission losses and connection problems. These problems will no doubt be sorted out in time. Australia is well endowed with a range of renewable energy resources and has a lot of constants which make it worthy of investment. We need to work at the right CAPEX to be able to sustain in the market and provide solutions.

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