Tuesday, July 16

BrightNight’s clear and distinctive focus lies in exclusively pursuing multi-tech dispatchable projects – Naveen Khandelwal, CEO, BrightNight Power

Q. You have been associated with BrightNight Power as a COO and CFO and now elevated to the role as a CEO, Can you sum up  your journey with BrightNight Power and, what aspects of your journey do you believe will be particularly valuable in spearheading BrightNight to the next phase of growth?

I have been associated with BrightNight Power, initially as a COO & CFO and subsequently as a CEO, marking a significant journey with the company. Over the past two and a half years in India, BrightNight has not only undergone its own evolution but has also provided me with invaluable learning experiences. However, what I believe has been especially crucial is my decade-and-a-half-long involvement in the renewables sector.

My foray into renewables began in 2008 with the inception of Green Infra, the first renewable platform by IDFC Alternatives. This extensive 15-16 year journey exposed me to a diverse range of disciplines and functions within the sector. While my core expertise lies in corporate finance, project finance, mergers & acquisitions, and capital allocation, I had the opportunity to delve into various other facets such as contracts, project execution, project operations, energy resource assessment, design engineering, and more. As one of the early team members, I witnessed and contributed to Green Infra’s remarkable growth, becoming a prominent player within just five years.

My trajectory then led me to Hero Future Energies, another startup, where our team successfully scaled operations to nearly 2 GW and expanded the pipeline. These two distinct experiences allowed me to gain insights into diverse business aspects beyond finance, enriching my overall skill set.

Moreover, even prior to renewables, I startedmy career with power sector, though with a focus on thermal power projects. This background equipped me with technical,techno-commercial and financial knowledge about the power sector, forming an integral part of my two-decade-long career.

The journey, coupled with the guidance and support of seniors, a robust network of industry relationships, and, of course, divine providence, has positioned me to assume a leadership role in steering BrightNight Power’s growth in India.

Q. Could you share some key strategies or initiatives you plan to establish a strong presence for BrightNight in a dynamic and fast-growing power market like India?

To establish a robust presence for BrightNight Power in India’s dynamic power market, we are strategically focusing on two key aspects: multi-year growth plan in a phased manner and differentiated positioning of BrightNight.

From the outset, BrightNight has maintained a clear focus on achieving dispatchability in renewables.

Recognizing the technological landscape’s limitations, we understand that a combination of multiple technologies is essential to attain this goal. BrightNight’s emphasis is on the development of multi-tech high PLF dispatchable renewable power, achieved through a blend of wind and solar technologies and various energy storage options, including battery storage, pump hydro, and other emerging technologies. While currently concentrating on these aspects, BrightNight also envisions exploring other renewable energy generation technologies in due course.

In terms of growth strategy, we have outlined various phases. Initially, our emphasis will be on Round-The-Clock (RTC) and hybrid peak power projects, as these are commercially deployable and accepted by counterparties, primarily utility and Commercial and Industrial (C&I) off-takers. As we progress, we plan to delve into more complex green energy solutions such as green ammonia, catering to the decarbonization needs of corporate entities.

It’s important to note that BrightNight envisions a long-term journey in the Indian market.Our strategic and long-term business approach aligns well with the evolving and growing market in India.

Over the past 3 to 4 years, the market has witnessed significant policy and regulatory support, attracting substantial global investment. We are grateful to all stakeholders for contributing to the current state of the market, which holds the potential to expedite the transition towards a low-carbon trajectory. BrightNight is poised to capitalize on this momentum, delivering on the promise of a swift and profound shift towards a sustainable energy landscape.

Q. Tell us more about the BrightNight’s proprietary software platform – PowerAlphaTM? How does the software help optimize project design for maximum value at the lowest cost?

BrightNight Power takes great pride in its proprietary software platform known as PowerAlpha. While several commercial and third-party software options are available in the market, BrightNight has been steadfast in its commitment to a distinctive approach, particularly in the realm of multi-tech renewables.

The uniqueness of PowerAlpha arises from the recognition that the optimization of diverse technologies is crucial, given their inherent differences. Managing their complex interactions with the grid, especially with a focus on achieving dispatchability, necessitates a tool that can not only differentiate but also provide precise control over various parameters. This led to the development of PowerAlpha, an in-house cloud-based multi-technology optimization tool.

PowerAlpha conducts thousands of simulations for each project configuration, considering specific load curves or generation requirements.

Leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Optimization Algorithms, and weather sciences, the tool generates optimal project configurationtailored to meet the client’s needs at the lowest possible cost. Importantly, this optimization process does not compromise on safety, reliability, or quality – factors of paramount importance.

As a bankable optimization tool, PowerAlpha is slated for use in all BrightNight projects globally. Over the past three years, the tool has continually evolved, with an unwavering   commitment not only from the management but also from shareholders and investors.

PowerAlpha is positioned as a critical success factor in BrightNight’s journey towards renewable-powered decarbonization and the broader energy transition.

Q. Tell us more about BrightNight’s 100 MW inaugural projects that is coming up in the state of Maharashtra in India? How can the C&I customers benefit from this project?

BrightNight’s inaugural project in the state of Maharashtra, known as Project Optima, represents the smallest yet highly significant addition to our portfolio at 100 MW. Unlike most of our projects connected to the central grid, this co-located wind-solar hybrid project is directly linked to the state grid.

Designed with a focus on meeting the unique requirements of corporate clients, Project Optima offers a level of flexibility that stands out. Corporate and Industrial (C&I) customers partnering with us benefit from the project’s adaptability, allowing the combination of wind and solar in specific ratios to achieve the optimal balance between the lowest cost and the highest impact on greening initiatives. The project structure aligns with the specific needs of clients in the state of Maharashtra.

As of now, Project Optima integrates two technologies—wind and solar. However, it holds the potential and flexibility to incorporate additional technologies. With the integration of storage capabilities, this substitution can exceed 90%, and in some cases, even reach up to 95% of their current electricity requirements. Beyond merely meeting energy needs, the project empowers clients to maximize savings within the existing regulatory framework.

Currently progressing well, with evacuation infrastructure in advanced stages of construction, Project Optima is expected to be commissioned within the next couple of months. Following this milestone, the project will commence adding generating blocks, aligning with specific client Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) expectations. Project Optima embodies our commitment to delivering projects that not only meet but exceed the value expectations of our clients.

Q. What are the other projects that BrightNight is currently working on? What differentiates BrightNight from other renewable players in India?

To address the second part regarding differentiation, BrightNight’s clear and distinctive focus lies in exclusively pursuing multi-tech dispatchable projects. We are staunch advocates for substituting base load plants, whether fueled by coal or other technologies, with a primary emphasis on adding dispatchability and firmness to renewables. This commitment is integral to every project we undertake.

Additionally, BrightNight stands out through several other differentiators. Firstly, we place a significant emphasis on storage technologies, with expertise in deploying commercially viable solutions like lithium batteries and pump hydro. Our dedicated storage team explores a wide range of globally available technologies, positioning us as frontrunners in the deployment of storage technologies at scale.

Secondly, our commitment to firmness and dispatchability is complemented by a strong focus on digitalization and cutting-edge technology tools, including artificial intelligence and blockchain-related algorithms.This allows us to optimize and integrate renewable energy technologies effectively, ensuring that our projects deliver maximum value to clients without compromising on safety, reliability, or quality.

Moving to the first part of your question, BrightNight has ambitious plans for large-scale projects beyond Maharashtra. We are currently developing a 600 MW+ co-located wind-solar hybrid project in Rajasthan, connected to the central grid. Our expansion continues with substantial projects in Gujarat, Karnataka, and MadhyaPradesh, leveraging the high-quality wind and solar resources available in these states. This diverse portfolio, at various stages of development, highlights our active engagement in both utility and C&I segments, contributing to the fast-paced energy transition and decarbonization journey that India is leading globally.

Q. From your perspective, what are the key challenges facing the renewable energy sector today, and how is BrightNight positioned to address or overcome these challenges?

Challenges are inherent in any journey, and while India’s renewable energy sector has experienced impressive growth and evolution, certain aspects still demand attention. Despite significant improvements in policy support, regulatory frameworks, and on-the-ground execution capabilities over the past five to seven years, some challenges persist.

Land availability remains a significant concern, particularly for multitech and around-the-clock projects. Unlike solar projects, these projects require specific locations with complementary wind and solar resources, making suitable land parcels harder to find. The associated challenge lies in the process of land acquisition, an area that has improved but still presents its own set of complexities.

Evacuation infrastructure poses another hurdle. Although the central transmission network has expanded, ensuring adequate evacuation capacity in the right locations remains a key challenge, especially given the anticipated growth in the sector.

Supply chain dependencies also present challenges.Despite ongoing efforts by the Government of India to reduce external dependencies, changing and inconsistent policy interventions create uncertainties, impacting the timely and cost-effective supply of critical components.

Human resources and talent are vital considerations due to the sector’s rapid growth. Securing qualified and experienced individuals with the right attitude poses a challenge in a competitive environment with a high demand for skilled personnel.

While the availability of capital, both equity and debt, has improved significantly, it continues to be a critical factor. The sector’s rapid expansion demands a continuous inflow of capital, and although significant progress has been made, sustaining this momentum is crucial.

Inconsistencies in state-level policies add to the challenges, as implementation processes and approaches differ across regions. Despite central government efforts to provide enabling guidelines, varying state-level interpretation and implementation can hinder the growth and development of projects.

In conclusion, while challenges persist, the renewable energy sector in India is on a positive trajectory. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative effort from policymakers, regulators, and industry players. BrightNight remains optimistic about overcoming these hurdles and contributing to the continued growth and evolution of the sector.

Q. How is BrightNight actively engaging in tenders for utility-scale Round-The-Clock (RTC) and peak power projects, and what potential do you envision for these projects, especially considering the future role of energy storage?

Both questions are highly relevant, especially considering the current state of the industry. When discussing opportunities in the RTC segment, the market is currently brimming with potential. If we examine the tender pipeline, a significant portion of tenders is now emphasizing multi-tech solutions, with a particular focus on Flexible and Dispatchable Renewable Energy (FDIRE), essentially a form of RTC. Major entities such as NTPC, NHPC, SJVNL, and even railways are increasingly leaning towards RTC or similar solutions.

This trend is a testament to the realization that single technology solutions, while necessary, are not sufficient for phasing out fossil-based generation from the grid.The surge in these complex and dispatchability-focused tenders indicates a growing market for combining various technologies to enhance reliability.

Moving on to the role of energy storage, it cannot be emphasized enough. Storage serves as the linchpin and a critical success factor enabling the operations of these multi-technology, complex renewable projects in the grid. Energy storage is a vast universe, and while certain technologies like lithium iron batteries and pump hydro are commercially viable today, ongoing global efforts are focused on developing new storage technologies. The critical importance of storage in the transition and decarbonization journey is universally acknowledged.

Currently, India is at an early stage in fully harnessing the potential of energy storage. While lithium-ion batteries and pump hydro are viable, ongoing advancements in battery technologies and the exploration of alternative storage solutions utilizing different energy conversion aspects are expected to drive progress. Although Western markets have achieved significant deployment through diverse revenue streams, India remains optimistic about its own market’s potential. Anticipating multifold and exponential growth, we envision the rapid deployment of storage technologies in the Indian grid across various market and revenue models.

Q. What are BrightNight’s future plans in India, and are there considerations for expanding into new markets or regions? How does the company plan to sustain and build on its success in the Indian market?

BrightNight is poised to align with India’s ambitious targets set by the government, which have garnered commendation from stakeholders globally. As we look ahead, BrightNight aims to be a significant contributor to these targets, positioning itself as a key player in the realm of complex energy projects, particularly those emphasizing dispatchability and the phased elimination of fossil-based base load generation.

Without disclosing specifics in terms of numbers , BrightNight envisions a pivotal role in the development of multiple gigawatts in the near term, focusing on intricate decarbonization solutions. This journey will extend beyond generation projects to encompass more complex initiatives, including the exploration of green fuels and various decarbonization endeavors.

Crucially, BrightNight emphasizes that its commitment is strategic, transcending mere technical or financial considerations. This long-term strategic perspective is deeply embedded in the minds of shareholders and sponsors.

The company envisions a sustained and active presence in the market, actively contributing to India’s energy transition goals. In essence, BrightNight’s future plans revolve around a comprehensive and sustained contribution to India’s journey towards a greener and more sustainable energy landscape.

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