Interview: Sourabh Sen, Director, Astonfield Renewable Resources Ltd

Financial Express 2008-07-15

Astonfield Renewable Resources Ltd, a group company of the US-based Astonfield group, has huge plans for India in the green energy segment. Sourabh Sen, director, speaks to FE?Äôs Indronil Roychowdhury about various aspects of the evolving green energy market in India. Sen an expert in cross border investment and strategic acquisition is responsible for the company?Äôs investment in India and South Africs.


How is the green energy market developing in India compared to the rest of the world and how do you position Astonfield in it?

To speak frankly, the renewable energy market in India is quite embryonic, but holds tremendous potential and promise. Not only does India have a multitude of natural resources that will support successful renewable energy power plants; the health and wealth of the nation will be immeasurably benefitted by an aggressive rollout of green energy projects. Pollution in India is rampant and a threat to the well being of the populous as a whole. To support the current growth of our nation, we have to provide power to the upward of 40% of the nation that is without energy.

When Astonfield first began work in India, we had intended to invest about $1.5 billion across three sectors of business. As a result of the opportunity and the passion our company has for the renewable energy mission, Astonfield Renewable Resources Ltd (ARRL) intends to spend $2 billion over the next five years solely on developing renewable energy power plants. With active business development operations in 9 states so far ARRL is poised and committed to securing an aggressive allotment portfolio.

Quite a number of big Indian corporates are poised to enter into the business of green energy. Do you feel that competition in an emerging sector will help its growth?

Competition and leadership are necessary for the green energy sector to grow, and ARRL is committed to setting the gold standard for how these projects should be executed. When ARRL was initially formed, I was told continuously that it would be impossible to execute a megawatt level grid-connected solar plant in India.

No one had done it before, and thus no precedent had been set for such an agenda. Today, ARRL is proud to be breaking ground on a 5 MW grid-connected solar plant in Bankura, and we will have at least one megawatt commissioned by the end of 2008. In addition, we have official applications and expressions of interest filed for over 500 MW of additional allotments utilising a number of renewable energy technologies. And now competitors of ours are beginning to receive multiple megawatt allotments of their own. The so called impossible has now not only been deemed possible, but an industry.

But the industry cannot stop with solar. There are too many viable technologies that can be equally or more effective, depending on the environment. That is precisely why ARRL has adopted a basket approach to renewable energy technology. In addition to solar, we have secured partnerships with world-class technology providers in biomass, biogas, and municipal solid waste-to-power. I cannot stress enough the importance of utilising top-tier, proven technology for executing renewable energy plants.

Most of the blame for failing renewable energy plants can be placed squarely on old technology that is simply sub-par and not as well thought out as today?Äôs modern technologies.

At present the government has to offer everything for the business of green energy (say preferential tariff) and there is nothing of market dynamics in it. As an investor, how long do you feel a business without a real market can survive? Do you believe that in the near or long future a real market for green power will emerge and setting up merchant power plants for green power generation will be feasible?

To sustain India?Äôs economic growth, a market for green power has to emerge. Until recently the government heavily subsidised petrol, kerosene, diesel, and coal- why not renewable energy? India has an abundance of domestically available raw materials that can be used to produce green energy. Soon the renewable energy sector will be self-sustaining, but the government subsidy and preferential tariffs are very important at this stage to kick-start the market.

Astonfield has already received substantial interests from private power producers to purchase power directly from our plants. The global benchmark is already tilting from conventional ?Ä?dirty?Äô energy to clean, green power. India should be a global leader in the green energy sector, and in doing so will meet the needs of the next generation, and be an example for the world community to follow. Astonfield is committed to meeting this challenge. We recognise and firmly believe in the need for renewable energy not only power deficits, but health and economic issues.