Harsh Sheth, Co-founder and CTO of Vivaan Power, On Innovative Technologies for Converting Solar Radiation into Electricity

By Team YS|17th Jun 2011
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Harsh, give us a quick introduction to Vivaan Power.

We are a Start-up. We do solar. And, we need money! :)

Tell us more. How is Vivaan Power different from other clean energy firms? What are your flagship  solutions?

Technology is the heart of clean energy. Everyone wants to commercialize, so do we. But when anyone talks about solar energy, the first thing that comes to his mind is either Solar Panels or Domestic Solar Water Heaters. But there are a bunch of non- photovoltaic technologies sitting out which don’t need expensive silicon or any other semiconductor and they definitely don’t need complicated machines to manufacture them. We have access to one of the world’s most innovative technologies for converting solar radiation into electricity. It belongs to a genre called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). The fundamental concept is to focus the sun light to an extent that it heats up everything in its way; this heat runs a thermodynamic cycle to generate mechanical power(which can be coupled with a generator to make electricity). The usual problem with most of these CSP techs is that it needs water which is a scarce resource where the sun rules the sky. Our solution is different. We have a proven technology platform that can operate with efficiency as high as 25% with minimal water usage (only to clean the units for dust settlement). At the core of our technology is an Intellectual Property protected technology called the “Stirling engine”. It is the Power Conversion Unit (PCU) which converts the heat generated by large parabolic reflectors. Its construction is very similar to a petrol engine used in automobiles (pistons, cylinders and valves) with slightly more complicated metallurgy and working fluid chemistry. This brings us to the point that sitting in India we know that we are a part of the world’s largest automobile industry (many manufacturers prefer India for their new plants even compared to China). In India it will cost 1/3rd of what it’ll cost in Germany! So we have something that can be commercialized in a short span, and has superior performance, life and scalability.

How did the idea for Vivaan Power come about? How did you zero in on the name ‘Vivaan Power’?

Vivaan

Our team was always interested in “Saving the world”, so we wanted to do something that would represent not only clean energy at low cost but also mark the possibility of an Oil independent economy (The recent petrol price hike is the best example of its oppression). And, sun is the universal source of energy for our planet, even the wind is an output of pressure differences created by solar heating. You might be surprised to know that every single hour our planet’s surface receives solar energy equivalent to all human energy consumption in the whole year. We wanted the name of our company to be related with Sun, India and Hope for a better tomorrow. Vivaan is a Sanskrit word that literally translates into all this. It means the “First ray of sunlight in the morning”. For us it represents the dawn of a new leader in solar power. And then Chirag is extremely addicted to company names like Adani power, Reliance Power, so we added a ‘Powerful’ suffix.How much capital was required to implement the idea?

It took us 4 Lakhs to bootstrap our idea into a possible venture, be it the research, conceptual prototyping and of course travelling to places like Germany for establishing relationship with companies willing to work with us.

Tell us about your background.

Well both of us, Chirag and me, have MBA in Entrepreneurship; our Alma mater is the Institute of Management, Nirma University. This is not our first start-up together, and yes we failed in the last one! We both have family businesses(like most other Gujjus) that have been around for quite a long time. My family’s business is into Offset paper printing since the last 75 years and Mechanical engineering since 36 years. Because of my technology background I am inclined to advanced engineering areas. I did my B.Sc in Information sciences and wasn’t a great scorer. After MBA I worked for an MNC as a project member on an M&A exercise (really worth an experience, got my addiction for big figures). Chirag comes from a real estate business background and also has a furniture manufacturing business. He did his BBA from Bangalore and worked for Deutsche bank for 6 months before moving on for an MBA. He is more inclined on selling things and concepts, has big plans for life and sets a bench mark for our achievements. We both travelled a lot and we love to work with people who don’t exactly share our sense of culture. Aggressive at times but most of the times we are thoughtful. I prefer to look before leaping; Chirag goes the other way around!

Let us know about the tie-ups that you have.

We wanted to have a tie-up with the best in the industry, and we did. We have collaborated with Stuttgart based Schlaich Bergermann Und Partners who have developed the best technologies in the area of Concentrated Solar Power. They are into designing and consulting but don’t manufacture anything. Great people to work with! They know India pretty well, they’ve done third part inspection of the Bandra Worli Sea link, Designed the second hoogley bridge, and two CWG stadiums.

Is there acceptance for your concept? Can you give us some incidents to illustrate the same?

There are currently 9 prototypes of our technology that have reported more than 40,000 hours of flawless functioning and are amongst the world’s most proven ones. There are other companies which sharing our efforts. A VC backed company called Infinia is seemingly doing the best job. A part of their technology is designed by SBP, and sources say that they are coming up with a 10MW power plant in Rajasthan with Dalmia Cement as their primary investor.

Where do you see the clean energy space in India and Vivaan Power five years from now?

India has a basic issue, we are growing extremely fast and we need huge amount of energy to run our growth engine. Unfortunately we will never have enough power if we go by the rate of current power plant installations and then there is the Kyoto protocol, to which India has pledged its allegiance. Another problem is that the shortage is eminent within parts that are Electrified. What about the ones those are not? We are fortunate in Gujarat to have all the power we need, but I have seen 100km long highway routes in Madhya Pradesh where there are no Ice Cream parlors, why? No electricity. We believe that until and unless clean tech companies like us don’t buckle up, many people will remain under privileged. There is definitely a large scope for Clean tech, be it Solar, Tidal or Wind (I don’t consider Bio mass exactly clean, there are still emissions to deal with, Hydro and Geothermal have social and flora/fauna damage). Five years from now we Vivaan Power will be a 50 people company at least managing a large supply chain of vendors and contractors to install at least a total of 300 MW. Not a big deal, but we would take the staircase before we take the elevator.

What is Vivaan Power’s revenue model? Are you looking at fundraising?

Vivaan’s revenue model is like that of an EPC, we will earn from the technology, equipment installation and its procurement. Slightly on the service side but has lot of manufacturing importance while dealing with vendors. We talk to Seed cap people, Angels, VCs almost on a daily basis, most of the time we are too small for their ticket size or they have other priorities. But lately we have had some attention, and maybe would get funded soon. There is a classic question, When we pitch an investor that can you be sure about this, how can you be sure that your partners won’t just join hands with a larger power utility company when they have the opportunity to do so. It sounds like an insult to an Entrepreneur, most of us don’t start big, and most of us can’t defend this question at any stage of the venture. We would ask them, “Boss, you want to bet on the Horse and not the Jockey?”

What are the challenges that you faced while developing your solutions? How did you overcome those challenges?

We had the classic issue of “We need money for technology, and we need technology to get money”, and this egg-chicken story had to stop. So we had to force either one of us to take a leap of faith with us, we started with the money side, but ended up convincing the technology guys. Luckily the team at SBP has had experience with Entrepreneurs including Indians and they know that everything has potential. We inked a deal saying that we will get prototypes from them, necessary information on the product and use it to lure investors, if that works SBP will be our technology partners and will work on a per unit installed royalty income. No obligation on either side, just a hope for success.

How big is the team behind Vivaan Power? Are you looking at hiring?

Just two of us as of now, one mentor and a few consultants. We want to hire people, people who understand engineering better than I do and people who know how to write slogans better than Chirag does.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

Currently close to 5 MW has been installed and more than 150 MW is in pipeline.Geographically Western and central states of India (Rajasthan, Gujarat & Madhya Pradesh), Spain and Australia are top destinations for these technologies.

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