"One-Kilowatt-in-a-box" set for release to Indian consumers

Windstream Technologies is the American manufacturer of a new type of hybrid renewable energy source.  Called the "SolarMill", the device combines PV panels with savonius-type (helix) wind turbines and a built-in inverter.  The result is a compact source of energy that is able to make the best of both sunlight and prevailing wind currents.   Late last year, Windstream announced a JV with an indian-based technology firm to develop a new "kilowatt in a box" product aimed at the Indian consumer market.  I had a chance to talk to Venkat Kumar Tangirala, the president of Windstream's Indian division about the plans for their product in India and the prospects for government supported renewable energy in the subcontinent.

Cleanleap: To start off I'd like to ask you for a  bit of an overview of what Windstream is doing in India and what its goals are there?

Venkat:  Okay, the whole idea of starting Windstream in India ... let me go a year back, okay?  We did pilots for three or four customers. One being ACC - it's one of the largest cement factories in India, and we implemented these trials for a period of six to eight months.  After these trials we wanted to convert them to commercial opportunities and we considered importing Windstream products from the  U.S.  India has subsidies for solar and wind power, but a hybrid device is something very new, so the effort for us to educate people, obtain a  business subsidy for this new class of device ... we thought it would not be  commercially viable. 

The next thing we did was to begin building a factory here in Hyderabad, that way we can have 80% of the content of the entire system developed and made in India.  We'll have a product that's made in India, supplied in India, and also exported to other Asian countries, which helps us in bringing down the cost.

This is a whole new initiative that we have started, and the factory is coming up very fast and I think we'll be starting our manufacturing in April and the first product out of factory will be around the middle to end of May.

Cleanleap: And is that the Kilowatt-in-the-box product?

Venkat: One of the products is The One-Kilowatt in a Box. If you look at the reason for coming up with this product, it’s simple; today a customer can't find alternate energy components like batteries and inverters from the same supplier– they are all from different makers. So he has the problem where the panel provider or the device provider says it's not his problem it's a problem with the inverter, and the inverter guy says it's not his problem it's a problem with the battery.  This customer, who is more than likely a low-income guy, cannot really run around and solve all these problem, and eventually he would lose interest. 

If you look at India we have been subsidizing solar power for the past three years and this is only increasing. The reason that solar energy has not spread at the rate it is supposed to be spreading is because of service issues. So the One-Kilowatt-in-a-Box, comes with complete solar, wind, battery and Inverter. all of these things are from one source and one vendor, we'll be servicing everything in the box. Which will make it hassle-free for customers.

Cleanleap: So it includes the inverter, it includes the panel, it includes - obviously - the turbine, and batteries as well?

Venkat: Yes.

 

 

Cleanleap: It's not really meant then to be serviced by the customer? So they would just plug it in and away they go?

Venkat: We are trying to bring it out in a model where it's like do-it-yourself kind of stuff, you know? Like here you buy something from Ikea and you do it all by yourself.  Yes, and we have all the engineers and technicians of course helping people to learn about it, but we will try to educate people to install it by themselves.
 
 

WindStream engineers demonstrate the "Ikea approach" with a SolarMill

Cleanleap: Windstream in the United States seems to be aiming much more for commercial partners like, shopping centers or other big structures that require a lot of power – is Windstream India different in that it's targeting consumers directly?

Venkat: If you look at India, it's a big middle-class country. Now if you look at it, the buying power of the middle-class is much higher and decision taking is quicker than those big installations. We are trying to hit that sweet spot in India. If you look at the Windstream company, one of the unique features of our product is the space required to install it. We don't need any hard foundations, we’re taking up only 30% of the space compared to the wattage square foot that is required for a one kilowatt solar installation. We take 30 square feet or less.    So where size is a constraint for these middle class houses, we fit well
 

Cleanleap: In an Indian household that is relying on a diesel generator in the basement or an intermittent power supply from the grid – will that kind of customer be able to walk into a shop somewhere and buy a Kilowatt-in-a-Box and put it on the roof?

Venkat: Exactly! That's going to be our target.

 

 

Cleanleap: If it's designed to be easy to install, you wouldn't need even a specialist to come and install it for you, you could actually take the whole thing up to your roof and install it yourself?

Venkat: Yes. What we are trying to do is to make this product in such a simple way that it should be a do-it-by-yourself kind of model; Like Ikea furniture 

 

Cleanleap: I suppose limited space is always a problem isn't it? Especially if you're in a dense, kind of city-type situation, and maybe even if you're living in a flat or a building where you have multiple occupants. It gets a little bit tricky for a product like yours right?

Venkat: Any alternative energy device has siting issues, whether it’s solar or wind. We would talk to the client and inspect site before he buys it, we'll definitely say, no if the site does not suit the installation.  One of our biggest advantages is that our generation from wind starts from  2 meters per second. 

 

Cleanleap: So what about the wind part of it? In a big metropolis like Mumbai or Hyderabad, is there a significant amount of wind to actually turn the turbines?

Venkat: I live in Hyderabad and we have a couple of installations here with happy customers. If you look at our country, we are a peninsula. Which means that we have oceans on both sides of our nation.  We have very good wind in the coastal areas. If you look at a wind map of India, the average is about 5 meters per second which is very good for our device. In cities, obviously it's a concrete jungle these days and we try to go on the rooftops of apartment buildings where the elevation will give us the best wind power. 

And in rural areas, yes, there is good wind, but no matter where our device is located we will do a wind study analysis before we launch the product. We’re looking at 25% of the total Indian market where the wind and solar resources are available, and we are aiming to launch in those markets to start.

Cleanleap: So you'd be looking at a wind map and if there is not enough wind they would be better off just going with the straight solar PV?

Venkat: Yeah, simple.  We'll start with the south where we have a proven model, then we'll go to the north-eastern bay... I mean most of these states have all this hilly terrain, then go to the north, like Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh  where the wind speeds are 7 meters per second.  The geographical expansion of our business would follow the wind-mapping.

 

Next: How has India's solar-savvy PM Narendra Modi affected new renewable energy ventures in the region?